9.32 Hauntings of High Park

This is a transcript of a bonus episode of the Storytime with Paul Dore Podcast. Listen to the episode HERE. A special Halloween episode, the Hauntings of High Park is seven scary short stories that have all been verified through historical research and documentation. If you find yourself in Toronto, this episode can be used as an audio guide to a ghost walking tour through the park.

1. The Playground of Death

The playground is usually filled with screams of joy and laughter as kids play on the Jamie Bell Adventure Playground. But in the early hours on March 17th, 2012 there was a different kind of screaming going on.

Click on the image to listen to the podcast episode.

Click on the image to listen to the podcast episode.

A local boy named Jonathan often played here, especially in the mornings while on his way to school. One of his parents usually accompanied him, but on this day, Jonathan’s parents felt he was old enough to go to the playground alone. While he was climbing amongst the structures, a man entered the playground.

Jonathan got scared and hid inside one of the structures. The man appeared to be dousing the playground with some liquid. He then set fire to the area, the gasoline combined with the wood caught immediately and the fire quickly overcame Jonathan, who burned to death. Since the playground was rebuilt, some parents have reported seeing their kids talking out loud to no one. When the parents ask the kids who they were talking to, there have been at least five official reports of the kids saying, “Jonathan. I was talking to Jonathan.”

2. The Graveyard of Trees

Past the playground, there is a large pond devoid of water with a stone border, and beyond, a large field surrounded by trees. It’s serene, often the site of picnics and families spending some time together. What they don’t know is that this site is a graveyard.

During the 1800’s, soldiers lived all around High Park and enjoyed fishing at the pond and other activities. There were many soldier’s lives lost during the war of 1812 and a major battle took place in this field. When the battle was over, the dead were buried in mass graves and marked by the planting of trees.

They didn’t know about the underground stream below ground. The reason why there is never any water in the pond with the stone border is because femurs, skulls and other human remains were carried by the underground stream and surfaced over in the pond. There have been many reports of sightings of ghost soldiers peering out from the foliage.

3. Colborne Lodge

Colborne Lodge is located in the south end of the park. Jemima Howard and engineer and architect John G. Howard were the original benefactors of High Park. Jemima had many long term physical and mental health issues, it was believed she finally succumbed to breast cancer. 

There is a trapdoor behind Colborne Lodge. Back in those times, people did not understand how to deal with mental illness and when Jemima’s pain got too much, she became erratic and at times violent. John would sometimes have to lock her up under that trapdoor. He sat inside listening to her wailing from underground.

Jemima spent much of her life in great pain and was often heavily medicated. Her last days were spent gazing through a morphine and laudanum haze at the site of her future burial. She passed away in 1877 at the age of 75.

Over the years, including a police report from 1969, there have been sightings of a woman peering out of the second floor window of the house. Wailing, as though it was muffled, has been heard coming from underground. In addition, people have reported cold spots around the home and there has been poltergeist-like activity inside the lodge.

4. The Ghost Soldiers of Grenadier Pond

The 35-acre pond is a one of a kind geological feature in Toronto. Wave action on Lake Ontario combined with sediments that washed down Wendigo Creek accumulated over the ages at the creek’s mouth, eventually blocking the watercourse and creating Grenadier Pond behind it. Because the pond is so murky, people believe it is bottomless.

The Leather Hats, a regiment of the British army, were established in 1685. During the War of 1812, the regiments first large-scale engagement with American forces occurred in February 1813, at Ogdensberg, New York. Braving a fierce snowstorm, the grenadiers led a successful charge across the frozen St. Lawrence River, capturing an upstate New York village.

Two months later, the American forces initiated the Battle of York, and the Leather Hats were among the first troops US soldiers encountered. The Leather Hats were outnumbered and their feeble bayonet charge was soundly defeated. The story goes that they were outnumbered because the Leather Hats attempted a similar charge across the frozen Grenadier Pond, but the ice wasn’t completely frozen and a number of them broke through, drowning and being sucked into the bottomless water.

A two page story in the Toronto Daily Star many years later said that police had been alerted to the existence of a phantom arising nightly from the pond’s swampy depths. Several eyewitnesses claimed the phantasm appeared first as a gathering mist, then came together into a towering figure mounted upon a base of white light. Since then, there have been many reports of nighttime growling around the pond, and others observed apparitions passing unimpeded through solid objects. These apparitions appeared to be soldiers marching across the pond, and dressed in the uniform of the Leather Hats.

5. Scattered Ashes

Everyone knows that many people scatter the ashes of their deceased loved ones throughout High Park. Often, the park is a favorite place for the elderly in their later years and request that their ashes get scattered. Some have felt that with so many ashes spread throughout the park has created an incredible amount of ghostly activity.

Here is a report, from April 2012, that is typical of the many trails throughout the park. In the words of the eye witness Jordan Trudel:

"I was on a typical jog into High Park in the very early morning. After exiting street lighting and entering the woods at the north west corner of the park, I was confronted by a figure and an experience I really don't understand.

“It was late October, it was chilly outside. When I slowed my run to a walk to adjust to the approaching darkness, I suddenly encountered a large man who was wearing nothing but a pair of red summer shorts. I halted and watched as the figure walked slowly out of the bushes, stopped, then craned it's/his neck mechanically to look at me. There was only extreme dark where his face should have been - darker than the rest of the surrounding. I felt drawn in. I suddenly saw images in my mind's eye of this person and their life in the park; I saw him relaxing by the pool, hiking, smelling flowers, that sort of thing. Then I was back in real time - I had suddenly found myself off the path a number of feet, struggling to find my way.”

The rest of the jog was loaded with apparitions and strange dark shapes roaming the woods. Jordan saw more apparitions in some regions of the woods as he ran past in complete wonder and astonishment. A shock settled on him in which he forgot to get scared. At some point he felt like he was being followed by two dark shapes that kept a distance just out of his field of vision.

It was at that point, having received multiple experiences, Jordan finally felt a fair bit of terror. Unable to explain what was happening, he fled the park by the brightest lit routes available, the two dark shapes still in pursuit. Immediately after he crossed the border of the park and back on to the city street, he felt the shapes no longer behind him, as though they were trapped inside the park.

6. The Crying Ghost Child

Beside the swimming pool and skating rink is a large open field. There is an administration building that used to be the home of James Mangold, his wife Margaret and their two young sons. During the 1950s, James and his wife were the head caretakers of High Park. I just wrote they had two young kids, but originally, they had three.

Long before James and Margaret had their two boys, they had a daughter named Jessica. At the age of five, she was playing out in the open field. A common way that the men working at the park would cut the high grass was with a sickle. Jessica was small and barely could be seen over the tall grass. She came up behind one of the workers, a big strong man, who brought the sickle up and with all his force cut more than just grass.

For years, James and Margaret’s youngest son Jeremiah, could often be seen in the field by himself talking to someone. One night when Margaret was putting her sons to bed, Jeremiah said, “Jessica wanted me to tell you that she loves you and she is okay.” Margaret started crying because after Jessica’s death, they never talked about it, destroyed any sign of her. There is no way that Jeremiah could have known about Jessica. There have been many reports of the sound of a little girl laughing when people walk through this area of the park.

7. The Elderly Gentleman Stuck in Time

In 2008, Lucas Walker moved back to Toronto from England. When he was younger, he lived along Roncesvalles Avenue and would go jogging into High Park via Howard Park Boulevard. Upon entering the park, he would sometimes encounter an elderly gentleman of about 63 years of age, dressed in old timey clothes, with short, neatly cut hair and a giant moustache. This was in the early 1970s and he must have seen this man around 20 to 30 times and thought nothing of it.

It wasn’t until Lucas was talking to his friends on his rugby team (he played rugby in the park) when he realized something else might have been going on. Talking with his mates, he realized that he always saw the man at the same exact spot every time, roughly 100 feet from where the streetcars turn around. Even more strangely, when asked separately, his friends had also seen the gentleman at the same exact spot in the park.

After talking with his father about this strange coincidence, Lucas was met with a blank stare. He had seen the exact same man, in the park, 15 years before Lucas, when he first moved to Toronto.

As Lucas said, “It’s funny, maybe, however, I don’t want him following me home, for I have heard stories in Britain about that sort of thing happening. My nephew, a young lad, was telling me, without knowing of my experiences, a story about him and his mate biking through the park. On the same stretch of road, they came upon an ‘old fart’ as he put it, dressed like he wandered off the set of an old movie from the 1920s. My nephew is now the third generation in my family to have seen the ‘old fart’.”

Paul Dore