Toronto’s Haunted East End: Riverdale, Leslieville & Riverside Ghost hunting
With the holiday season giving me a little bit of downtime I found myself with the time to ask otherwise insignificant questions and ponder things I might not in the busy spring and fall real estate markets in Toronto.
For this blog entry I pose the question:
“Where do the ghosts hang out in Toronto’s East End?”
In 2014 we know where the hipsters roam and frolic but the big question is: Where are the ghosts?
Like my father always said “Sometimes, It’s fun to be scared!” (R.I.P Dad). So let’s investigate, but if you’re easily spooked,read no more. You have been warned!
In the beginning there was…
For this story we must start with some history. In the early days of Toronto’s (York’s) east end (yes, before Starbucks landed at Queen Street East and Logan), there wasn’t a funky shop or cool restaurant anywhere in sight. It was the late 1700’s and two important figures arose east of the Don River. Let’s call them two of our founding families and look to them for guidance in possible hauntings.
Founding Family #1: John Scadding and Family
John Scadding’s Cabin on the Don River. Steps from Riverside. AKA Cottage Country in the late 1700’s
The story goes that John Scadding, one of the east ends first land holders, still wanders these parts. He met an untimely and tragic death in 1854 when a tree fell on him as he walked near Queen Street and Broadview. He was an expert farmer whose land was located on the site of the Riverdale Hospital(currently BridgePoint Health), Don Jail, and the Riverdale Park East.
Gerald Whyte, president of the Riverdale Historical Society (RHS) says “If anyone wants to haunt Riverdale it’s probably John Scadding. I’m sure he wasn’t happy when they tore down his farm and built a jail on it. Also, the Scadding Cabin – the oldest surviving building in Toronto – was moved to the CNE grounds in 1879”. John’s cabin remains as Toronto’s oldest surviving house. Details can be found here. Do ghosts travel with houses or remain at their original home?
Let’s get this straight: We took his land, moved his house, killed him with a tree THEN we built one of Canada’s most notorious buildings on his land after his death. This leads us to our first haunted location:
Old Don Jail, Built in 1858. A few years after John Scadding’s death.
The Creepy Faces of Don Jail
Prior to capital punishment being abolished in Canada, the Don Jail had 34 hangings on its grounds. If that’s not enough, it has more recently had an unmarked burial site discovered on its grounds. Staff and visitors to the Don have felt sudden temperature drops, unexplained anxiety, and feelings of heaviness and sadness. There has been more than one reported sighting of a ghostly presence, said to be a female inmate who hanged herself in her cell. Ever since I was a child growing up in the east end (The Beaches) I would get the chills every time we drove by the Don and I’m sure most of my friends and neighbours have had similar feelings! What happens here now? Nothing! And the city is eerily quiet about it. It sounds like a Canadian AREA 51 to me but of course with ghosts not aliens. Let’s Call it Riverside 51?
We asked our friends in our awesome FACEBOOK GROUP and we found an ex-staffer of the Don.
Jo-Anne Cameron had this to say “Working in the kitchen one afternoon I saw what looked like a garbage bag, clear one float down from the top of one of the ovens, it flew off the top and then hovered by an inmate worker for a second floated down almost to the ground then disappeared. I asked one of the inmate workers if they had seen it, and they said it was one of the workers who had recently passed away while incarcerated. The worker said it was him looking out for us…….
We often saw at night doing patrols the shadow of one of the nurses who worked there many years before, she would just stand over the bed of an inmate who was housed in a particular cell in one of the worker units…….often the workers would tell me the next morning, “Miss, there was someone in my cell last night”, when I checked the cell number it was the same cell that I had seen the white shadow the night before, often the other officers who worked nights would say they saw the same shadow in the same cell at night”
Founding Family #2: Sarah Ashbridge and Family
The same family lived at the Sarah Ashbridge Estate for over 200 years. Sarah and her family moved into the area in 1794 and moved out in 1997. She was widow and ran a tight ship – trying to make a good life for her family in a new land. The last remains of her once gigantic estate were recently left to the ONTARIO HERITAGE TRUST with the provision that the family could stay as long as they wanted to and that they would pay no tax. The estate once stretched from the lake to Danforth Avenue and Woodbine to Greenwood Aves. The last two ancestors to live in the home recently passed away. Dorothy Bullen (nee Ashbridge) died in1996, and Betty Ashbridge died in 2002.
The Ashbridge history is rich with reputation and tradition. The intention of this blog is not to insult anyone. But with 200 years of history it’s safe to assume there might be more to this story than meets the eye. Many homes on the former Ashbridge Estate (including my own) have experienced ghostly encounters (look below for actual stories). There just might be skeletons in Sarah’s closet. On that note, we can only assume they buried their dead somewhere on the land. Perhaps somewhere on the existing Duke of Connaught / Applegrove property or the houses that surround it. If you live on Greenwood, Woodfield,Cherry Nook Gardens, Kerr, or Kent, you might want to take a good look in your backyards. The local graveyard (St John’s) didn’t open until the 1850’s, many years after the Ashbridge’s arrived. Ashbridge family timeline is here.
Here are some possible sites of hauntings on and around Sarah’s house!
Sarah Ashbridge House
The house itself.
The Current Ashbridge House: Built in 1854, the second floor was added in 1899. Sarah was gone by then but this most recent Ashbridge home must have experienced many deaths. Sarah’s Original Frame house foundation still sits on the property to the North. It’s currently a rock garden. Ghosts love old rocks don’t they? If you live in the area and you haven’t walked the grounds you should! Its quite an interesting home and property. It’s just east of Greenwood On Queen Street East. You can’t miss it. Say hi to Sarah for me!
The home of Thomas Beatty and Ella Winnett circa 1860
6 Cherry Nook Gardens
This was Thomas Beatty’s house built in 1860 (just 6 years after the current Ashbridge residence). He worked for the Ashbridges as their Farm Manager. The families were very close so they gave him some land on their property and built a house for him. Since 1985 this is a home of Innstead Housing Co-operative. We haven’t spoken to anyone who currently lives there but if they stumble across this blog please email me here. We would love to hear if you have had any ghostly visitors.
Methodist Church built on the Ashbridge Estate.
The Ashbridges as well as Thomas Beatty were very religious and involved with this church. All of them would probably not be very happy with the current state of the church. You may not have noticed that this Church still stands?
Because it is almost completely engulfed by the “Leslieville Place” building which houses delicious Queen Margherita Pizza, Rakia Bar,A Yoga Spot,and a real estate company. You never know though, ghosts into yoga might be a big fan of this building. You can see the peak of their church and the west wall if you walk down the laneway. We learned about this here.
100 Greenwood Avenue
This is the John Price home. The Price family was one of the local brick making families. One of the Price clan married a woman named Kerr – Kerr Road is named after her. Lots of history here. History means ghosts in my books! This is a big beautiful house that recently sold at a street record price. If the owners ever want to host a haunted house on Halloween we could do it up really nice. We checked the realtors youtube videos for apparitions – no luck. Of course most of the bricks that built the neighbourhood were purchased through the Price’s so they have certainly put their stamp on our hood regardless.
The Maple Cottage (Built in 1873)
Once the home of Toronto’s Alexander Muir – a Local songwriter,poet,soldier and Educator
As seen here with its famous tree still standing. The tree that inspired Alexander to write Canada’s national song “The Maple Leaf Forever” in 1867 you can see the full history here.
Unfortunately the historic tree was knocked down during a storm in the summer of2013. On a side note – this is one of my favourite spots in Leslieville. It’s so secret most people don’t even realize it’s there. Our plan is to have a big party here this summer. It’s a great location that people can walk to – and its hidden off the major streets. Have you ever checked out Leslieville’s favourite cottage? No insult meant to our second favourite cottage (The Ceili Cottage of course!)
Possible Ghost: Alexander Muir
He certainly can’t be happy his tree fell down. And just a few weeks after the anniversary of his death.
The few city staff i’ve asked haven’t run into old Alex, but they do say the space is creepy. We would love to hear some stories from anyone else that may know if Alex still sings next to his tree. His death is listed as happening in Toronto,1906. Perhaps at the cottage?
Now onto more of our real ghost stories from Leslieville,Riverside,Riverdale, and The Beaches.
Ghost Story #1 from Rhonda Gray Location: Pape and Eastern Ave
I was sitting in my living room with a friend and out of the corner of her eye I saw a man walking down the hall of my apartment and go into my kitchen. I went into the kitchen to look and no one was there. After a few moments we were sitting on the couch again and talking and a pot and a frying pan came flying out of my kitchen into the living room. Needless to say my friend left and never came back to my apartment.
Ghost Story #2 from Andreea Julia Gasca Location: Walpole near Woodfield Street.
Once my daughter and I were going upstairs where the bedrooms were located. I was walking right behind her. She got to the top of the stairs from where my bedroom was visible and suddenly turned out around with a puzzled look on her face asking how I got behind her. I said I had been there the entire time but she insisted she had just seen me in my bedroom. Upon entering said room, we were speechless to see that my bed had clear signs on the duvet of someone who had been sitting on it. The window was open (it was -5C that day) and one of my dresses (which I’m actually wearing in my FB profile pic) was out of the closet on the floor.
Over the next few days I kept finding my daughter’s bedroom door closed in the morning despite always leaving it open, lights turned on and an overall feeling of…unease. One day I had enough and I said out loud that I didn’t mind whomever had history in there but that I was asking to be respectful of the fact that it was now our place. Exactly 6 days later to the hour I found myself pushed from the top of the stairs and fell 12 steps, ending up with a fractured ankle and torn bicep. We moved the following month.
(From Ben @ leslieville.com: This House built in 1923, On what was originally Ashbridge Estate Property. Woodfield Street – then Moberly – was originally the farm lane that the Ashbridges used to go North & South). If an apparition went straight North on Woodfield from the Ashbridge house up the lane it would end up at Walpole at this house!)
Ghost Story #3 From Kymberlee Ide Location: Near Greenwood Park
I was lying in bed one night with my previous dog (he passed 2 years ago). It was late at night and the tv was on – it was the only thing lighting the room. I was dozing off when my dog started to growl. It woke me and his growling became louder. My house is 108 years old and has those beveled glass door knobs. I could see the door knob turning and then my door flew open real quick and then stopped before hitting the wall. I was the only person home. I won’t lie – it scared the living shit out of me. I remember only being able to hear my heart beat. What was super weird is my dog stopped growling when the door flew open. I simply got up and closed the door.
I have more stories, but that was the freakiest. I do still live in the house and I absolutely love it.
Ghost Story #4 From John Oldroyd Location: Logan Avenue
It was 1974 and on Logan Ave my father heard knocking on the front door for three nights in a row…no one was there…that weekend I was driving to Kitchener and around Kelso Dam I heard a high variable pitch coming from my car or so I thought!
I pulled off the 401 at 12:16 pm and the sound stopped…when I arrived in Kitchener around 1:00 pm I was told to call home at which time ideas told my grandmother died at home on Logan Ave at 12:15….. Irish lore…maybe but I wonder!
Ghost Story #5 From Lisa Casino Location:House on the Former Ashbridge Estate
I have many stories, but one that I remain curious about – I often smell a burning wood scent at certain times of the day in a particular spot in our house. I believe our house was built where the old apple orchard used to be (east of Greenwood south of Dundas)…does anyone know if there was a fire or if the orchard was burned?
(From Ben @ leslieville.com : If anyone has anything to add please comment below)
Ghost Story #6 From Hasse Chacon Location: A house on Greenwood Avenue (Former Ashbridge Estate)
On Boxing Day of 2011, two good friends had me over for dinner at their house, near Greenwood andDundas. There was nothing unusual about that evening: Steve made a roast while I helped make a caesar salad. We ate, listened to music, reminisced about happy days, had some wine, etc.
At around 01:00 I told my friends that it was late and I should go home. Both, Barry and Steve, insisted that I stay in their guest bedroom because it was too cold to wait for the Gerrard streetcar. Thus, we said good night and each went to their respective bedroom.
I woke up when I heard the bedroom door open. I looked around as best I could, but saw no one inside the bedroom. On top of the chair, I could see the outline of my clothes, where I had left them, and on the dresser, there was just the TV. I took my phone from the bedside table and looked at the time: it was03:19. It must have been the dog, I thought.
As soon as I closed my eyes, I heard a soft sound, as if someone were walking on the carpet. I opened my eyes, only to see the door closing. Strange, I thought and went back to sleep.
Some time later, I heard the door once again. I opened my eyes and heard the same steps of someone walking in, but I could see no one. When I tried to move, I realized that I was paralyzed. The room was cold and deathly quiet. I kept trying to get up, but nothing happened until the steps left my bedroom and the door was closed.
I quickly got up and opened the door to find nothing: An empty hallway faintly lit by a nightlight; an empty bathroom; the bedroom door across from mine, closed. I considered waking up my hosts to tell them what had happened, but I was also aware of how ridiculous it all seemed. After an hour of tossing and turning and staring at the door, I finally dosed off. It happened once more.
I didn’t know if I should wake up my hosts or simply leave the house, but I knew I couldn’t sleep any more. I lay in bed and recalled a prayer from childhood. I said it over and over, hoping the visitor would stay away, but he didn’t. I was lying on my side, when the door opened yet again. I felt goosebumps on my skin as the air became colder and I felt my heart pounding. I tried to cry out for help, but even my mouth was frozen. Then there were the steps, slow and steady until it climbed onto the bed. In my mind I kept praying, trying to get up and scream. Whatever it was, I could feel it next to me, its breath on the back of my neck. It took all of my concentration to roll onto my back, and as my arm swung to one side, I touched its cold flesh just before it climbed down from the bed and left the room.I could not stay in the room a moment longer. I got dressed and went downstairs to wait for Barry and Steve to get up.When I finally told my friends what had happened, Steve took a deep breath before telling me that I was not the first of their friends to experience something strange in their house and that even they had been having strange goings-on in their home.
This was not the last time I would experience something unusual in that house.
That’s all for now friends.
I would love to put together another set of ghost stories so if there is something strange in your neighbourhood don’t call the ghostbusters, put pen to paper and send it to me. Please comment below on this thread or email me firstname.lastname@example.org
And if you’re wondering if my dad has visited me yet, he has come to me in dreams that’s about it. We have had our share of ghostly encouters though including knocking and footstep sounds walking up and down stairs in our basement. My sister has some great family ghost stories from the house we grew up in in the Beaches, I will include that in our next ghostly blog entry.
If you are curious about other possible eerie east end locations to investigate try : The John Cox Cottage on Broadview Street; The Guild Inn grounds in Scarborough and of course the many old homes and buildings in Toronto with a history of ghosts like Colborne Lodge and The Keg Mansion. If only those walls could talk.
Expert Realtor and Rookie Paranormal Investigator
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