Do you believe? Debunking Toronto’s ghost lore… and more
“If you want a story to fall apart, ask a question.” Our tour guide Julian Munds, a forensic scientist in his “other” life, explains how he debunks the many urban legends woven around several Toronto ghost stories.
We arrived at our meeting place on the steps of Toronto’s Old City Hall; an impressive, hulking Romanesque Revival “fortress” built in 1899. We scan the area looking for our guide. I spot a young woman in a cape holding a lantern. Not ours, she is hosting a different tour.
There, seated on the steps below the watchful eyes of four gargoyles atop the clock tower was a man in his late 30’s, dressed in a casual ensemble of pants, pullover and light jacket, he was perfectly prepared for a fall evening. “Are you the Tour Guy?” I ask. He looks through me and slowly nods.
OK, that was kinda creepy.
My friend Diane and I signed up for the walking tour hosted by The Tour Guys, a local company that offers walks in and around Toronto. We opted for the free ‘Toronto Fact or Fiction Ghost Tour’; it was October so the theme was fitting.
Judging a judge’s account of a haunting
Our first story took us around the back of Old City Hall outside the stairs that lead to the judge’s chambers. For decades adjudicators reported sensations of being pulled back as they ascended the stairs, accompanied by pressure on their chest. This is when Munds told us about his profession as a forensic scientist. Impressive, but why then is he ushering groups of people around to the haunted sites of Toronto, for free no less?
Apparently Munds dressed like a judge and walked the stairs several times himself, experiencing the phenomenon one out of three times. He deduced that the judges, wearing their traditional garb of floor length robes, were causing the restrictions themselves. The action of lifting their feet on the stairs would occasionally cause them to step on the rear of their robes, pulling them back, in turn enabling the garment to tighten around their chest.
Boo! That’s too logical; I wanted to believe it was the apparition of someone wrongfully accused, then executed, seeking vengeance and unrest upon those that wielded the gavels.
The woman with the cape glides past with her group, they are huddled together for safety, she lights the way with her lantern.
We move on to the Yonge St. entrance of the Elgin Winter Garden Theater, the last surviving Edwardian stacked theater in the world. This place should be steeped in ghosts, especially since the upper level Winter Garden Theater was boarded up for 61 years (1928 – 1989). There have been several reports of other worldly inhabitants; a woman murdered in a theater washroom, a child that tumbled from a balcony, a trombone player who fell to his death into the orchestra pit and a special opening night seat set aside for the late theater mogul Ambrose Small. Small sold his chain of theaters on December 1, 1919 for $1.7 million, the next day he deposited his cheque in the bank, purchased a newspaper from a street vendor then disappeared. To date there has been no definitive explanation for what happened to him. The cold case was officially closed in 1960.
Munds offers a story about several people hearing haunting music playing on various occasions in the theater. “If someone were to ask what the name of the tune being played was, the story would fall apart because it isn’t music at all, just auditory sounds being created by any number of things,” Munds reiterates his ‘ask a question’ theory.
“Pig flesh is the closest thing to human flesh”
Along the way Munds tells us that he teaches an ‘Introduction to Forensic Science’ course through the University of Toronto.” I get over 500 students signing up for that course. I weed them out by the first class, I drag in a garbage bag containing a six month ripe pig carcass. Those that can smell it and remain standing, they can puke a bit; will get into the course. I end up with about 15 students.” He surveys our group, “Pig flesh is the closest to human flesh.”
“Does it taste the same?” I ask. He ignores my question and goes on to debunk another ghost story. At this point I’m more apt to believe in ghosts than his claim of being a forensic scientist. Who keeps a rotting pig in a bag for several months and where do they store it?
The next day I did some digging, if you Google Julian Munds you’ll find that his occupation is listed as:
- Assistant Director
- Music Composer
- Story Analyst
No link to any kind of forensics, not even a part in an NCIS franchise.
In the spring of 2017 Munds debuted his play, ‘Good Doctor Holmes and the Children of God’ at Toronto’s Theater Passe Muraille Backspace. Not surprising, the play is based on the story of America’s first serial killer, HH Holmes, which Munds shared with us in a dark alley.
Fact or fiction?
Art imitating life (and death)?
An artist’s muse?
A fantastic evening, in every sense of the word.