Toronto, the haunted … be prepared to be scared this Halloween

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The city is full of thrills, chills, and things that go bump in the night!

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We’re heading into Halloween, the spirited season of ghosts and apparitions, and paranormal activity, which one can expect in a city that’s over 220 years old and full of allegedly haunted buildings and properties — and the energy of those who have lived and died here.

Everyone likes to get a little bit spooked — just check how the many ghost walks, seances and haunted experiences being planned. Elora, Ont., has a month filled with spooky stuff, including ghost walks and cemetery tours and visits to Fergus, considered the most haunted village in southern Ontario. (https://monstermonth.ca/local-events).

Here in Toronto, you can scare yourself silly by just going for an evening stroll through some choice spots, including CNE, where a few years ago, a paranormal research team spent months investigating eight buildings on its grounds — and identifying over two dozen ghosts.

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They concluded the grounds are one the most haunted in Canada — and one of the most haunted buildings is Stanley Barracks, right across from the Direct Energy Centre.

Other places include Old City Hall, where a resident ghost lives in Courtroom 33, and the Don Jail, home to many a tortured spirit. And what theatre is NOT haunted? They say the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre is said to have a friendly ghost or two.

Out in the city’s west-end, one of the most haunted places is the Lakeshore Campus of Humber College — it used to be the old Mimico Home for the Insane. It’s a little unnerving crossing the properties at dusk.

And, of course, we have Mackenzie House on Bond St., home of former Toronto mayor William Lyon Mackenzie, along with the old George Brown estate, on Beverley St., where spooky séances have taken place.

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Why do people like to be scared silly on Halloween? According to Psychology Today (https://www.psychologytoday.com), when we get scared, “we experience a rush of adrenaline and a release of endorphins and dopamine.” We love to experience what’s forbidden or dark – hence the popularity of horror films. “The biochemical rush can result in a pleasure-filled, opioid-like sense of euphoria … the experience of fear subsides, and we are left with a sense of relief and well-being,” notes the site.

Legends of Horror returns to Casa Loma. Veronica Henri/Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network
Legends of Horror returns to Casa Loma. Veronica Henri/Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network

One place people are flocking to for a particularly haunting adventure is the famous Casa Loma’s Legends of Horror (www.casaloma.ca) experience — and, for those who loved to be scared silly, we’re mighty sure this’ll fit the bill.

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Now in its sixth year, the Liberty Entertainment event is sprawled over two kilometres of the castle property, both above ground and then through various  underground tunnels that have never been opened to the public before. The building where horses and carriages had been kept has been turned into an incredibly scary morgue, making for a particularly ghoulish experience.

Every single corner of the property is crammed with spooks, screams and dry ice, monsters and things that go bump in the night. Characters in costumes wander around and give you chills when they set eyes on you.

Legends of Horror is considered more of an immersive theatrical experience, and allows the audience to walk at their own pace through the incredibly detailed spaces, starting at the castle’s lower gardens and weaving its way throughout the property.

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Just recently SUN photographer/videographer Veronica Henri and I toured the site at dusk — the true bewitching hour — and the experience was exhilarating, sometimes scary and very profound. Some of the rooms were downright frightening, while others had you ponder the existence of the supernatural. Actors didn’t so much approach as cleverly meld into the background — you were startled when you realized you were being watched by a vampire or a ghoul or a beautiful yet terrifying woman.

Scary? Yes! — but people love the experience, explains Nick Di Donato, president and CEO of the Liberty Entertainment Group. “What better setting than a real-life castle?” said Di Donato during a recent interview. “It’s amazing watching the castle come to life in an atmosphere people have never seen before.”

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Di Donato says more than six months goes into planning – “we actually start the planning process the day after the show closes — this year it’s Nov. 1,” he added. “It’s an experience for everyone – before 7:30 it’s a bit more family-friendly…come 9 p.m., and a different atmosphere is in place.”

Di Donato explains the castle is not haunted but has been used in many films “including X-Men, Strange Brew and Warehouse 13, to name a few.” It’s a favourite of Guillermo del Toro, who filmed the deliciously creepy Crimson Peak as well.

However you choose to celebrate Halloween this season – be it visiting alleged haunted homes, ghost walks, dusk strolls through local cemeteries or a jaunt through one of the world’s most famous castles, it’s all about enjoying getting spooked. And how delicious is that!

(@CasaLomaToronto/www.legendsofhorror.ca.)

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