5 min

In search of gay ghosts

The 'hood goes bump in the night

SCARY COCKTAIL. There's ghosts in them thar bars! Credit: Jan Becker

If you’re a boy ghost in Toronto looking for some same-sex poltergeist company, you’re out of luck. After visiting a sampling of the allegedly haunted bars and restaurants in the gay neighbourhood, the word is in that most Hogtown spooks are of the female persuasion.

And while some accuse Torontonians of being less than lively, the same can’t be said of our dead citizens.

Psychic Paul Moriarty and I went in search of ghosts in the ‘hood – led on by the skeletons of stories heard from friends.

We start at the Fiddler’s Green (27 Wellesley St E).

Owner Paul Macdonald graciously gives us carte blanche.

After a few minutes, I find Moriarty staring intently into space. “I feel chills when I look out the window towards Wellesley and Yonge. There is a benevolent energy here, but sleepy. It’s almost as though we’re a hairs-breadth away from something physical happening. I get the sensation of a young blonde girl, with her hair pulled back. The apron she’s wearing over her dress is scuffed at the knees. There is no bad energy.”

Then I tell Moriarty what the owner has told me: When he first took ownership, he lived on the third floor for a year and a half. “Lights would go off and on by themselves, after closing time, on all three levels. And it wasn’t as though there was just an electrical surge or something. The switches – that had been turned to off – would be in the upright on position.

“Empty beer kegs that no one had had time to take care of, would be found neatly laid on their sides.”

Macdonald also says that a former staff member witnessed steam coming from a locked, unused bathroom. To top it all off, she also saw an apparition of a blonde woman.

What Macdonald knows of the history of the building, originally known as Somerset House, makes the whole thing even more interesting. The daughter of the first owner (circa 1867) was hit by a horse and carriage on Wellesley near Yonge. She was taken home to the second floor and died there. And, for 100 years, no one lived there until Macdonald took occupancy.

Moriarty and I head over to Spiral (582 Church St). Aware of the story that Sara Simpson (sister of the Simpson’s store founder, Robert) hanged herself after being jilted on her wedding day, I’m dying to see what my psychic will pick up. Moriarty goes off, leaving me to chat with Ed Devai, a regular customer with a passionate interest in the Sara The Spook legend.

“I first saw her on the other side [what is now Diablo, at 580 Church St],” says Devai. “I was sitting alone, but had the feeling that someone in the dining room was watching me. She was curious – almost like she wanted to talk to you. When I told other people about my experience, they said, ‘Oh, you mean Sara!'”

Devai says that he has been told by psychics that when Sara is on the Diablo side, they feel comfortable, but when she’s hanging out on the Spiral side she’s royally miffed.

Paul Moriarty, however, finds the Spiral spirit to be a less straightforward energy than the Fiddler’s Green one. “There is so much vitality here, but it comes from many, many human stories – not just from one person. There’s also a strong sexual energy, but again, not from just one person or couple.” In general, though, he feels there’s more of a collective feminine energy than a masculine one.

Well, if we’re going to make an evening of suicidal Victorian ladies, it’s time for the Keg Mansion (515 Jarvis). When Lillian Massey (of the famous Massey family) died in her second floor bedroom, a particularly devoted maid hanged herself in the oval vestibule above the main foyer.

Loving the lesbo connotations, I hurry Moriarty up the stairs and past the rather flustered staff who have no idea what we’re up to.

In my excitement, I pass him and reach the landing first. I am practically hurled backwards by a wall of the densest, coldest air I have ever felt. Without saying a word, Moriarty knows what I’m feeling. Standing in front of the window seat on the landing between the first and second floors, he says, “It’s as though there is a glass barrier sealing off the window seat from the rest of the place. I’m getting the sensation of words that mean, ‘This is our space!’

“I feel very intrusive, as if I had walked in on something.”

Not wanting to disturb what we hope is the love that dare not speak its name, we head upstairs for a drink and decide to call it a day.

Before setting off on night two of our ghost hunting mission, I need to find out whether we’re going about this business the right way. Maybe we’re supposed to light incense or something.

Rob McConnell, a parapsychologist and former detective with the Montreal police force, eases my worries. As host of a syndicated radio show devoted to the paranormal (The X-Zone on CKTB 610AM), McConnell has heard about and claims to have met more ghosts, ghouls and goblins than you can shake a stick at.

He tells me that the first rule in “ghosting” is “to look for cold spots, significant and abrupt changes in temperature. Be aware of any tingling sensations you might have, like you would during an electrical storm.” What is most fascinating is that he claims that “Two different people can see two different entities or spirits. They can also hear two different things.”

Still wondering whether night two will bring us in contact with a guy ghost, we hurry off to Episode (a restaurant at 195 Carlton). This 130-year-old building simply oozes paranormal potential. We are not disappointed.

Chef Phillip Thompson usually comes in at two in the afternoon when “no one else is here. But I’ll hear the downstairs bathroom door closing. And I’ll also hear things being moved on the shelves in the basement.”

Owner Carol Meunier remembers seeing a pan simply get up and fly across the room. As well, she says, “The flames on the [kerosene] lamps will go very low and then pipe up on their own.”

It’s off to the cellar for Moriarty. Returning, he tells me that right beside the office in the basement, he had the sensation of someone pricking up their ears and saying, “You’ve been talking about me, haven’t you?”

Moriarty says that there was a definite impish energy. He adds: “There is no hint of any trauma whatsoever.”

But have you finally found a guy? “No,” he tells me. “I’m 56 percent sure this entity is female.”

If Episode’s spectre is happy-go-lucky, then the one at Pimblett’s and the Queen’s Head Pub’s (263 Gerrard St E) certainly isn’t.

Bartender Glenn Dwyer says that he has seen people run screaming out of the ladies’ loo if they had the misfortune of using the stall on the left. “One woman heard the toilet paper rolling and rolling in the next stall. Thinking she should be friendly, she asked how the other woman was. No answer. No feet! Leaving the washroom, she checked the other stall and saw a full roll of toilet paper absolutely intact.”

Former bartender Joe Medeiros remembers being alone in the bar at four in the afternoon when “a pillar of intense yellowish light about five feet tall came rushing from the washroom towards the bar.”

Other psychics, according to both Medeiros and Dwyer, insist that the place is haunted by a young girl who drowned in a well. All Moriarty is willing to say about the stall (which he picked up on without prompting) is that: “This [stall] is not a pleasant place. There is a female energy, but not a very happy one. The energy is also very cold.”

It seems that Toronto has more than its share of things that go bump in the night.

But the up-side is that the next time you’re sitting alone at the bar – you really won’t be.