Friday, 27 October 2017

THE REAL GHOSTS OF TORONTO

GHOSTS OF TORONTO'S PAST

BY: KATIE PAOLOZZA

Seeing as this will be my last posting before Halloween, I thought it appropriate to explore the ghosts of the past in a more literal way. Canada may be one of the youngest developed nations on the planet, but we have our own extensive lexicon of spooky stories.

First I want to delve a little into why we're so preoccupied with ghost stories in the first place, and why it's been such an enduring cross-cultural fixation.

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Joseph O. Baker and Christopher D. Bader wrote a fascinating paper in 2014 called "A Social Anthropology of Ghosts in Twenty-First-Century America," where they posit that supernatural entities are important cultural constructs:

                                     By definition, ghosts violate a number of binaries held as 
                                     central tenets of human, and especially Western, thought. 
                                     Primary examples include body/soul, life/death, past/present,                                                                       presence/absence, human/inhuman, and material/ethereal. 
                                     This violation of fundamental categories of thought, this 
                                     ‘in-between-ness’ (liminality) lends spirits a potentially powerful 
                                     cultural position onto which varying cultural manifestations can 
                                     be projected.

Another, simpler way of looking at it is this: when we stop dismissing the concept of ghosts and spirits as foolish superstition, it becomes clear that we have no way to properly classify them in any empirical sense. Therefore they are malleable concepts and can be shaped and twisted into whatever we need them to be as a culture. 

This is also why Toronto is such an interesting place to ghost-hunt. The city has grown so much both physically and as a culture in such a short span of time; relatively new parts of the city are already dead and gone with ghosts of their own. Look at these views of the skyline in 1914 and 1990, from the ever bountiful blogTO:

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I remember what the city looked like in the 1990s, and at first glance it looks pretty much the same. But look at this photo from last year:

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There isn't one neighbourhood you can visit that isn't mired in construction, which in turn ratchets up the anxiety on the streets and on the TTC. Things have been real tense lately, and I personally think that one reason the business of Halloween has grown so exponentially the last few years is because culturally we are in greater need of escape and catharsis. That's true of Toronto, and that's true of western and global culture in general. I don't share these ghost stories to exploit legitimate tragedies, I share them to fill the void of drudgery and uncertainty with something deliciously extrasensory.

O Torontonians, we are truly spoiled with our share of the macabre. Does everyone remember Mr. Christie? He made good cookies and did his part to develop the city as we know it today, but after he was interred in Mount Pleasant Cemetery he gave his business and mansion to his son, who supposedly locked his mistress in a secret room hidden behind a panel so he could visit her at his leisure. She eventually hung herself, and her body was then smuggled out. 

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The building is now Regis College, and the space where the poor woman was rumoured to have been kept prisoner is referred to as Room 29, with wildly varying legends about how her and the younger Mr. Christie's ghosts haunt the grounds. A popular article about the story can be found here

Has anyone ever eaten at the Keg Mansion? Diners have reported seeing the ghost of a woman, maybe Lillian Massey, maybe her devoted maid, in the upstairs halls and in the bathroom. People have also reported seeing/hearing children run and laugh around the main staircase. I've been there several times and have never seen a thing. 

I've also never seen any hint of the ghosts that haunt University College, despite numerous reports of students seeing both Paul Diabolos and the slain Ivan Reznikoff roaming the quad. Visit this page and this page for a more detailed history of U of T ghosts.

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I can't speak for anyone else, but I like the idea of ghosts or any bonafide supernatural activity because I like knowing that we have limitations as a species. I tend to follow empiricism and be highly skeptical, but I would love to be proven wrong. I would love for something beyond the realm of human understanding to exist and confound us in all our righteous glory as an intellectual species. I don't ever want my search for truth to come to an end, or be so vain as to think I can truly know it all.

Besides, who doesn't love a good mystery?

References

Baker, Joseph, and Christopher Bader. 2014. "A Social Anthropology of Ghosts in Twenty-First-Century America." Social Compass 61 (4): 569-593, 584-                                5. http://resolver.scholarsportal.info/resolve/00377686/v61i0004/569_asaogita.

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