Friday, June 29, 2007


the front view of Casa Loma

Stephanie from Haunted Hamilton helps to keep the "secret" in "Secret Staircase"!

Dan and Stephanie from Haunted Hamilton "horse around" in the Casa Loma stables

the chair in the basement kitchen of Mackenzie House that likes to start up
rocking on it's own

"Haunted Hamilton" on their way to Hanlan's Point

"The Lake Light" plaque

the lights are out, but the ghosts are home at the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse

the old stone stairs of Toronto's haunted Gibraltar Point Lighthouse

Last Saturday, June 23rd, saw about 44 residents of "Steel Town" come to "Hogtown" for an all day bus tour. Their main point of interest? Exploring the ghost stories and urban legends lurking behind the edifices of their neighbouring metropolis.

We met at 10.00 a.m. in the parking lot of picturesque Casa Loma. I was pleased to give them a welcome to the city of Toronto and talk about a question that haunts ghost enthusiasts in Toronto ~ "Is Casa Loma really haunted?" We also talked a little of nearby Spadina House, a wonderful Victorian mansion that was lived in right up until 1982, when members of the Austin family donated it to the city. Spadina House is a wonderful museum, well worth the visit, even though it is often upstaged by it's more grandiose neighbour. We had close to two hours to wander through the elaborate rooms and long hallways of Toronto's castle.

At noon o'clock, we got back on the bus and headed over to the Elgin Winter Garden theatre centre, located at 189 Yonge Street just north of Queen Street. On the way down from the castle, we talked about various other downtown Toronto attractions, some of them with their own ghost stories, like the Carlu (the forerunner of today's Eaton Centre) at College and Yonge Streets. We also drove past the Sam the Record Man store on Yonge Street, which sadly will close it's doors tomorrow, Saturday June 30th, 2007. What musical ghosts will stalk it's halls, I wonder?

Once at the Elgin Winter Garden theatre centre, I was able to conduct the group on a tour throughout this marvellous bit of Toronto history. We talked about the history of the building, from it's 1913/1914 origins as a showcase for vaudeville, through the talking movie era, into the somewhat threadbare days of the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s. Fortunately, the theatre centre was treated to a $29-million restoration between 1986 and 1989. The upstairs theatre, the Winter Garden, was open for the first time in about sixty years in the late 1980s ~ it had been locked up in 1928 and entirely abandoned for about six decades! The restoration seemed to uncover some of the permanent residents, as well ~ including the notorious and enigmatic "Sam", the most famous ghost of the theatre centre. Legend has it that he was a trumpet player at the theatre, who died sometime in the 1920s when he stumbled and fell into the orchestra pit. He has stayed on, though, giving special solo performances to only the luckiest of guests. For the rest of us, check back in with the Elgin Winter Garden theatre centre close to Hallowe'en, for their special once~a~year History Ghost Tour. Public tours of the theatre centre run Thursdays at 5.00 p.m. and Saturdays at 11.00 a.m. every week (costing $10 per adult).

Next, we ventured over to Mackenzie House, located just a few blocks north and east of the Elgin Winter Garden Theatre Centre. Our large tour group was broken into two smaller groups, and conducted around the building by guides in period costumes. The house was home to William Lyon Mackenzie for the last 3 years of his life (1858 until 1861). Mackenzie came to Canada from Scotland in 1820, and for about 17 years he published newspapers calling for democratic reform on Canadian shores. In December of 1837, he led about 800 men down Yonge Street, in open revolution. He spent the next 12 years in exile in New York State. During the 1850s, as an older man, he was involved in politics to a certain extent. Mackenzie died in his house on 82 Bond Street in August 1861 ~ but it's said he's never left!!! Caretakers who lived in the house during the 1950s claimed to see and hear him wandering about, and the stories have continued ever since. Mackenzie House now welcomes visitors to their museum on a seasonal basis ~ during the summer, the house is open Tuesday through Sunday from noon to 5.00 p.m.

After our tour of Mackenzie House, we took a break, and then went down to the Toronto Harbour ferry docks at 6.00 p.m. We caught a ferry to Hanlan's point, and took a stroll of about half an hour over to the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse. Gibraltar Point Lighthouse was constructed about 1808, and his home to a notorious murder. John Paul Rademuller, the first lighthouse keeper, had a side line business brewing beer to sell to local soldiers. On a cold winters night in early 1815, some of these soldiers confronted him, and chased him up the tight spiral staircase of the lighthouse. Once up top, they had him cornered ~ they clubbed him over the head and threw his body down to the ground dozens of feet below. They filed downstairs to dismember him and hide his remains. To this day, the cause of the murder is still contended ~ was he watering their beer down, or did the soldiers just turn up drunk and out of control? As a result of this grisly tale, stories abound that Rademuller's ghost still wanders around the base of the lighthouse. There was a lighthouse keeper looking after the old building regularly up until the 1960s, and the stories have kept up for decades.

At about 11.00 p.m., after night had fallen over Toronto, we boarded the ferry once more and headed back to the Saturday night streets of Toronto. The group boarded their bus, once more, and headed back west to Hamilton. It was a long day, but we saw quite a bit.

I'd like to thank Dan and Stephanie from Haunted Hamilton ( for bringing out their group, and a big thank you to all of you who came out! Also the tour would not have been possible without the staff of Mackenzie House, as well as a big thank you to Tracy and the staff of the City of Toronto who very graciously opened up the lighthouse for us on a Saturday night!

I offer weekly "ghost tours" of the city of Toronto!

"The Haunted Streets of Downtown Toronto" goes every Monday and Wednesday at 7.00 p.m., and lasts 2-hours.

"The Ghosts of the University of Toronto" goes every Monday and Wednesday at 10.00 p.m., and Fridays at 7.00 p.m. It lasts about 75-minutes.

Contact me for more details!!


Richard Fiennes-Clinton
Muddy York Walking Tours
telephone (416) 487-9017

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Sir Joseph Wesley Flavelle
February 15th, 1858 ~ March 7th, 1939

the exterior of Flavelle House

the Rowell Room

the beautiful interiors of old Flavelle House

ceiling detail, Flavelle House

looking north from one of the open windows of Flavelle House

the Bora Laskin Law Library


Sir Joseph Wesley Flavelle was born in Peterborough on February 15th, 1858. As a youth and young man, he was inspired by the Methodism and it's call for personal virtue, self righteousness and a certain stoicism. He overcame his humble origins to become on of our nation's most competent businessmen. He served as president of the largest pork packer in the British Empire, the William Davies Company of Toronto. He was also chairman of the National Trust Company, the Bank of Commerce and Simpsons Department Stores.

At the dawn of the 1900s, he began to devote a lot of his life and fortune to charitable causes. He was greatly involved in matters concerning the University of Toronto, the Toronto Gneeral Hospital, the Canadian National Railway, and of course, the Methodist Church. During the First World War, he was chairman of the Imperial Munitions Board, and dramatically altered the organization into one of well run efficiency. In 1917, he received a baronetcy and was the last resident Canadian citizen to receive a hereditary title. Unfortunately, his reputation was tainted somewhat near the end of his career, when the William Davies Company was accused of war profiteering. An inquiry did exhonerate Flavelle.

Sir Joseph Flavelle's Toronto mansion still stands on the grounds of the University of Toronto, just south of the Royal Ontario Museum. The house is used by the university's Faculty of Law. Much of the original house has remained (and better yet, is visible to the public), while some modern additions have been put on to the house.

As you enter what is currently the main entrance of Flavelle House, the Rowell Room is on the left. This room served as the original solarium for the house, and was recently refurbished through the generosity of a donation made by the Honourable H.R. Jackman, former lieutenant-governor of Ontario and Chancellor of the University of Toronto. It is now a bright, upbeat lounge space for students and faculty.
Other parts of the main floor that were part of the original structure include another beautiful (if more traditional) sitting space, which gives a sense of the decor of the original house. A stone fireplace is surrounded by elaborate wood carvings, and the ceiling is richly painted with the repeated images of angelic figures. Continuing through this lounge, one comes up to a staircase, with a window at the landing which provides a unique view of the Royal Ontario Museum, McLaughlin Planetarium building and surrounding neighbourhood.

New additions to the building include the Bora Laskin Law Library, named after (of course) Bora Laskin, who was the first Jewish Canadian to be appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada. The library offers hundreds of thousands of printed volumes to help support the study of the law.
Architectural and History Tours of the
Royal Ontario Museum and the University of Toronto campus
(including, of course, Flavelle House)
are available through Muddy York Walking Tours.
Contact me to find out how.
Richard Fiennes-Clinton
Muddy York Walking Tours
telephone (416) 487-9017

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


Just under one week ago, on June 14th, 2007 we passed the 107th anniversary of the death of William Mellis Christie. If that name is familiar, there's good reason, as there are plenty of things to remind the Torontonian of this man.

William Mellis Christie was born in Huntley, Aberdeenshire, Scotland on January 5th, 1829. He worked as a baker's apprentice in his native Scotland, but at the young age of nineteen he emmigrated to Canada. In 1848, he was working at a bakery in Toronto, and within just five years, he was a joint owner of a bakery in the city. Fifteen years later, in 1868, he joined with a man named Alexander Brown, to develop a new mechanical process for manufacturing biscuits. These biscuits would go on to be shipped across Canada. Together, these two men formed Christie, Brown and Company and their company went on to be very successful. In 1879, Christie bought his partner out, but kept the firm's name. Christie maintained ownership of all stocks in his company, and by 1899, the year before his death, the stocks were valued at a total of $500,000.00. The firm's cookie factory was located on Adelaide Street East and Frederick Street, where the George Brown School of Hospitality now stands. Across the street stands Toronto's First Post Office, which served as administrative offices for Christie, before it was eventually restored as a post office and postal museum (after several incarnations).

Apart from dedicating a lot of time to his bakery company, Christie had a number of other pursuits. He was an avid traveller, and in his later years, he travelled extensively through out Britain, Europe and North America. He was also involved in a lot of local extra curricular endeavours, including sponsorship of what has become the modern Canadian National Exhibition.

William Mellis Christie purchased a large mansion which still stands at the northeast corner of Queen's Park Circle East and Wellesley (diagonally across the corner from the Legislative Assembly). A present day view of the house is shown in the first picture for this entry, above.

William Mellis Christie died in his mansion on June 14th, 1900, and his son Robert inherited the house, and the mansion. The bakery company stayed in the family for about 20 years, until it was sold to Nabisco, an American based firm, which happily still produces the cookies under the Christie name. So, the company slogan can still ring out ... "Mister Christie, you make good cookies!!" Generations of locals grew up chanting that one.

A few final notes on William Mellis Christie, his family and his mansion ~ he is buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Toronto, along with a number of his family members, including his wife and son. His afforementioned mansion, pictured above, eventually came to belong to an order of nuns known as the Sisters of Saint Joseph. They are an international benevolent order, who founded Toronto's Saint Michael's Hospital.

Christie Street in Toronto is named after William Mellis Christie. Christie Pits Park, originally named Willowvale Park, reflects both the family surname and the street. It is located at 750 Bloor Street West, just outside Christie Subway Station. The park has over 20-acres and is home to a number of athletic facilities, including sports fields, an ice rink and pools. The sloped boundaries of the park are often used by taboggoners in the winter. The second picture posted at the top of this entry shows a picture of some children in Christie Pits Park in 1914.

The park's history has been tainted by an unfortunate riot. On August 16, 1933, an anti-Semitic gang clashed with a local pro-Jewish gang. One of the park's baseball diamonds was being used for a series of games between local softball teams. On the evening of August 16th, one of the teams that was playing was predominantly Jewish. A rival gang displayed a large blanket with a swastika design on it, and a riot ensued. Both sides had come prepared for a fight, as tensions had been rising for a while. Members of both gangs were armed with clubs and steel pipes. Most of the fighting was broken up within a few hours, but there were sporadic outbreaks of violence until the early morning. Only one person was charged ~ he was found carrying a lead pipe.


I have an historic cemetery tour that visits the gravesite of the Christie family, as well as many others of local and national historical interest ~ including Timothy Eaton and family, William Lyon Mackenzie King, the Massey family and many others. This tour is offered on Sundays at 2.00 p.m. and Mondays at 10.00 a.m. If you can't do this tour then, let me know and we can set another time.

I also have two tours that talk about the history behind some of Toronto's street names. Have you ever wondered where the names of Toronto's streets and communities came from? This tour will explain a lot of them to you.

The History of Toronto's Street Names Midtown tour goes from Summerhill to Queen's Park, and runs Wednesdays and Fridays at 10.00 a.m.

The History of Toronto's Street Names Downtown tour goes from Queen's Park to John and Welllington Streets, and runs Wednesdays and Fridays at 1.00 p.m. Again, a special day and time can be arranged for any of these tours.


Richard Fiennes-Clinton
Muddy York Walking Tours
telephone (416) 487-9017

Friday, June 15, 2007

For the thousands of people who ride the Yonge Street subway line every day, travelling in from the suburbs to go to work every morning, and then going back home every evening, Summerhill may just be another subway station. Like it's next door neighbour, Rosedale, we blink up at it from our ipods or subway reading material, and we think about how no one seems to get on or off there very much.

If you ever come across the luxury to wander around downtown one day, though, you should get off there. Summerhill is an idyllic neighbourhood, and has been for over 150 years, long before Toronto ever stretched north of Bloor Street.

Like so many neighbourhood names in Toronto, the name "Summerhill" comes from the name of an old family estate that stood in the area. If you were the head of a prominent (as in, wealthy) Toronto family, you built a great estate and then gave it a grand sounding name. A man named Charles Thompson made a fortune in the transportation business. He had stagecoaches running up and down Yonge Street, and steamboats cruising around the Great Lakes, all carrying mail, products and people, too. He was essentially an early Toronto shipping tycoon.

In 1842, an architect named John Howard designed a mansion for Charles Thompson and his family, to suitably reflect the family fortunes. The family had bought up 200-acres of land between Yonge Street and Bayview Avenue, just south of St. Clair Avenue. They named their estate "Summer Hill" - originally the name was two words.

After a decade in his new home, though, Thompson's fortunes began to decrease. By the early 1850s, the railway had started to cut into Thompson's business. He was forced to sell off some of his land. He then converted some of his remaining land into an amusement park to make money. The newly christened Summer Hill Spring Park and Pleasure Grounds opened up, offering various amusements and attractions, rides and picturesque picnic spots. He even went so far as to open up his own drawing room as a dance hall. The hard times continued though. By 1864, Thompson had sold off much of the land and two years later, in 1866, the house and the remaining 75-acres were sold to a man named Larratt William Violett Smith.

Mr. Smith had a slightly more stable (and highly successful) career as a lawyer. He also was involved in other businesses on the side, and with his fortunes he was able to add a number of rooms to the house. Under his care, the number of rooms in the house grew to a total of 30. He really fixed the place up. Maybe he felt that the parlour's career as a dance hall had damaged the floor, because he bought a 60-by-30 foot Persian rug to cover it. He invested a quantity of money in landscaping the exterior and growing orchards. He was a great lover of birds, so he didn't allow any hunting on his property. The land became a favourite safe spot for several species.

Unfortunately, in 1909, the land was all subdivided and the Summer Hill mansion (pictured above in the top picture) was demolished. However, the coach house that dates back to the time of the mansion still survives in Summerhill Gardens. Get off at Summerhill station and go take a look!

While we're on the topic of commuting through Summerhill, let's talk about what is probably the most prominent landmark in the neighbourhood. The North Toronto or Summerhill Canadian Pacific Railway Station (pictured in the lower picture up at the top of this post) was built in 1916 by an architectural firm named Pearson and Darling. It was part of the Canadian Pacific Railway line running through the city of Toronto. It's on the east side of the street just south of modern day Summerhill subway station.

The clock tower at the station soars to a height of 43-metree (140-feet). The main terminal is three storeys. The station closed in the 1920s, and eventually became an LCBO store. Much of the station’s interior was covered up by the liquor store, but was recently restored by the LCBO.

GO Transit has proposed a "Midtown Line" as recently as 2000, but there are no firm plans. If the proposed line was ever built, the North Toronto Station would be opened up again, together with several other stations along the CPR line. It would be used by commuter trains to bypass Union Station.


I offer two separate walking tours that focus on the history of Toronto Street Names.
The History of Toronto Street Names Midtown Tour begins outside Summerhill Station and goes down to the front lawn of Queen's Park. It's offered on
Wednesdays and Fridays at 10.00 a.m.

The History of Toronto Street Names Downtown Tour begins at
Queen's Park and goes down to John and Wellington Streets. It's offered on
Wednesdays and Fridays at 1.00 p.m.

As with all the other tours, if you can't come out when it's offered, let me know and you can come on the walk when it's convenient for you!


Richard (Fiennes-Clinton)
Muddy York Walking Tours
telephone (416) 487-9017

Thursday, June 14, 2007

It's June 14th, a warm sunny day, and this morning I was helping to take a group of students around historic Saint Lawrence Market. It's the time of year that I'm always surprised to see what I think will be one last school group until the Summer starts ... the field trips seem to be coming out every week and the clock is ticking 'til school's out for summer!

So maybe this is a good time to think about how public education got started in this city, anyhow. Free, public education in Toronto really owes its origins to a man named Enoch Turner. Enoch was born around 1790, in England and his exact arrival in the Town of York (as Toronto was then called) is not known. He started up his own brewery on the south side of Palace Street - better known to today's city residents as Front Street. The location was around Front and Parliament Streets, not too far from the windmill that once existed near the present day Distillery District. Enoch Turner lived on the same site that he established his business - commuting in early 19th-century Toronto must have been a lot easier than today!

Brewing seems to have been the cornerstorne of many York family fortunes. It brought Enoch Turner fortune and wealth, but he gave at least some of it back to the community. In 1848, he established a "free school" for the education of children living in the nearby working class district.

These immigrant families, by the way, were mostly of Irish descent. Many of the families were from the city of Cork, in southern Ireland, so the area became known as "Corktown". The school was established by Enoch Turner around 1848 and was in use for about a decade, until 1859. In the first part of the 19th century, the children of poorer families just did not get an education. They were too busy working six days a week, side by side with their families. But the mid~1800s started to see a change in social perception, thanks in large to philanthropists like Enoch Turner. For the next few decades, other social reformers would pick up the cause of public education, and as the 19th-century drew to a close, mandatory school attendance was finally being discussed and legislated in the provincial parliament.

The school building itself, pictured above, is thought to have been designed by a prominent architect of that period named Henry Bowyer Lane. He was an English architect who worked in Canada from 1841 to 1847. He was also responsible for the nearby Little Trinity Church. Perhaps one of his most well known buildings today is what remains of the front facade of Saint Lawrence Market.

The school was closed in 1859, but the building has been in regular use ever since. It was here that soldiers who would go off to fight in the Boer War (South African War) were recruited in 1899. Soldiers also knew it as a servicemen's club during both world wars. During the Great Depression it was a soup kitchen, and it has also been used for various purposes by Little Trinity Church. By the 1960s, Toronto had entered into that great devastating era of demolition, when so many heritage wonders were lost. The Enoch Turner Schoolhouse was at risk, but plenty of local residents and an architect named Eric Arthur ultimately saved the building. Governor General Roland Michener opened it as an historic site in 1972.

For thirty-five years, the Enoch Turner Schoolhouse as operated as a historical site and venue for lectures, community events and even weddings! You can visit them on the internet at

So, if you're still stuck in class, raise a cheer when the bells ring out signalling the last day of school!! If you're a parent, though, you might try to get through the summer by silently thanking Enoch Turner, the man who helped bring the idea of free public education to Toronto.

One tour that isn't listed on my site (yet) is one through historic Cabbagetown, Corktown and down to the Distillery District. Aside from residential communities, we visit Riverdale Zoo and talk about the history of the Necropolis Cemetery and overlook a sweeping vista of the Don River. Give me a call or send me an email to find out more

Richard (Fiennes-Clinton)
Muddy York Walking Tours
telephone (416) 487-9017

Friday, June 24, 2005

24 June 2005

First of all, let me say that the term "blog" sounds so unappealing. Especially for someone like me, who views technology with apprehension, at best, and insists that the word "access" is a noun, and never has been and never will be a verb. Blog. Take a minute. Say it out loud. Blog. Pretend you're Jeremy Irons or Christopher Plummer. Bllooooogg. It's a pet name for a poisonous frog.

That having been said, I have put aside my apprehensions - well, part of them - and thrown open the doors to marry the blogging trade with some of my historical enterprises. I make no bones about it. I am an historical walking tour guide, and proud of it. My own space on the internet is I have been in operation for about five years now, and I currently have six tour themes in operation.


I've always loved life in the past lane. I can't decide if I feel envy, contempt or sorrow for someone who can walk down a city street and not think to themselves "So what's the story? What was here before? Why did people come from where ever they came from to build a street right here?" I don't even have to listen for it. The past whispers out to me. Don't you want to know who has walked around downtown before you? They may have lived their whole lives here, and for most of it, they probably took wandering around where you do for granted, just like you. But maybe for them there was one defining moment that became a revelation to be handed down through the generations. They had just stepped out of the tavern or the tailors or the tannery, that is now the home of the neighbourhood Starbucks, and then they heard the infamous news. It was 1837, and a rebellion had started, or it was 1849, and it was a fire. A mayor, who was loved, or hated, had died, or maybe it was the stern Bishop who everyone had an opinion about. Maybe it was 1901 and The Queen had just died or it was 1914 and we were finally going to War. Look around you. Those things changed peoples lives. Whether you know it or not, they changed your life. And they happened here. Right where you are.

Well, that' s my take on it, anyway. For me, history is a living breathing thing, but it's not so for everybody. But take my word for it. Even if you have never liked history, it can be an entertaining distraction. It's worth hearing about.

We in Toronto have kind of shot ourselves in the foot as far as presenting our past is concerned. We live under this sort of delusion that nothing ever happened here. The Canadian National Exhibition kind of washed up on the northern shores of Lake Ontario, and then a couple of years later the CN Tower kind of errupted out of the dirt like some discarded metal maple sappling. But don't buy into that! It's okay to admit that some interesting things might have actually happened here. Your friends won't make fun of you, and even if they do, well, what do they know?


In the 1790s, John Graves Simcoe got off his ship and stepped on to what is now the parking lot immediately south of Saint Lawrence Market. Having the masts scrape under the Gardiner Expressway wasn't too much of a problem back then because the water came just about up to Front Street. It's all true. Everything south of there has been landfilled in over the past 200 years. He saw that the area had a naturally defensible harbour. He learned that some of the aboriginal tribes used the spot to meet and trade and fish, and he figured that if it was good enough for them, it was good enough for him. "Nice land. I'll take it." But the name had to go. Toronto, or whatever unanglised version thereof they used to describe the area, sounded too foreign. So we got a good British sounding name. York. Thus the town of York, the precursor to modern Toronto was born. We held the name for about forty years, until 1834 when we finally became incorporated, back into Toronto.

As a side note, that was the source of my company name. The streets didn't have any proper sidewalks - it would be a while before we even got wooden ones, let alone cement and asphalt. There were swamps everywhere, and mosquitoes. The whole thing was pretty sordid. And muddy. The town was soon nicknamed Muddy York. As in Muddy York Walking Tours. So there you go.


So, my enthusiasm for telling people stories about Toronto is pretty all consuming. There are so many hidden gems in town, and that annoys me. Why are they hidden? Come and find out about them. The main thing that I want to do is use this as a base for telling people fantastic things about what happened here. I really do believe that what happened here has shaped what we've become. Comparing the past with the present is illuminating, sometimes because you can see how things came to be, and sometimes because it's such a big contrast. But I also want to have an outlet for all the other, day to day experiences that I have as a respectable streetwalker. So there's that, too.

Check back regularly for updates. I want to post new stories of Toronto on a regular basis, and also let people in on what's going on. It wil be my Muddy York Gazette. Hopefully, for the three of you out there reading this, it will be a forum to encourage discussion, too. Please interact!! You'll make my day. Tell me what kind of a walking tour you'd like to go on.

That's all for now.

Muddy York Walking Tours
416 487 9017