Mackenzie House a spooky gem

The Mackenzie House today. (photo: MacKenzie House)

The Mackenzie House today. Many ghost sightings have been reported here over the years, making this location a Halloween favourite. (photo: MacKenzie House)

Story by Rod Charles Deputy Editor

TORONTO, ONTARIO — From what I’ve read about Toronto’s first mayor William Lyon Mackenzie he would probably roll his eyes, and then roll in his grave, if he knew his home had become a Halloween destination.

Then again, it’s possible the legendary politician isn’t as close to his grave as we think he his. That’s if you believe the creepy stories that have oozed out of this house over the years and trust me, there have been many.

Mackenzie House is where the no-nonsense politician and journalist lived until his death in 1861. Mackenzie emigrated to Canada from Scotland in 1820, started a store but quickly moved into journalism and the political theatre. In 1824 he founded a newspaper called the Colonial Advocate and by 1834 was elected to the Toronto City Council and appointed mayor, the city’s first. He was a leader during the Rebellion of 1837 in what was then Upper Canada and when that uprising failed, Mackenzie and his family had to flee to the United States, where he remained in exile for 12 years before being granted amnesty by the British government.

After it was safe to come home, he returned to Toronto and his life in newspapers and politics. Mackenzie died in the bedroom on the second floor of the house, and some believe he never left. That’s why today this house just south of busy Dundas Street is such a magnificent Halloween draw.

Danielle Urquhart, a program officer at Mackenzie House, has worked within these walls for twelve years and while she hasn’t actually seen a ghost, she is aware of the stories.

“A lot of people feel the house is haunted. Former caretakers who have worked here in the late 50’s and early 60’s say they would hear footsteps going up and down the stairs at night when there was no one else in the house,” says Urquhart. “They also claim to have heard the piano in the parlour playing on its own. One set of caretakers, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Edmands said they saw the ghost of Mackenzie in his bedroom. They also say they saw the ghost walking down the pathway to Bond Street. The most dramatic story we know from the house is that Mrs. Edmands claims that while she was asleep in her bed she was awoken by a tap on her shoulder and when she opened her eyes she said there was a lady with long dark hair and a pale, narrow face bending over the bed, who then vanished.”

Urquhart explained that the same thing happened a few weeks later, but this time the ghostly lady drew back her hand and hit Mrs. Edmands in the face and then vanished. She doesn’t know who this might be – William Lyon Mackenzie did die in the house but his wife Isabel did not. After the Mackenzie’s left it was a rooming house, so a lot of people lived and died here.

“In the early 1960’s there was an exorcism performed by a deacon from Trinity Church and filmed by the CBC Broadcasting and it ended up on TV, which made the stories famous,” says Urquhart. “But there has never been anything odd reported after that exorcism, so most of the really interesting ghost stories happened about a half century ago.”

The Mackenzie House in Toronto circa 1930s.  (Courtesy of Toronto Public Library)

The Mackenzie House in Toronto circa 1930s. (Courtesy of Toronto Public Library)

Be that as it may, it hasn’t stopped this house from being a magnet for ghost tours, adventurers and just those who are interested in the unexplained. So are there spirits roaming around in this house? I wouldn’t know and I don’t want to know. If you appreciate honesty in a man, then here it comes – I would be the first one out the door if I got wind of an actual ghost. You think Usain Bolt has wheels? Wait till you get a load of me. The last person in the world I want to see tonight in any way, shape or form is William Lyon Mackenzie.

I’m not overly worried though because while the house is old, it isn’t that creepy. In fact, if I didn’t know I was in downtown Toronto, I would think I was at Doon or Black Creek Pioneer Village. No, I wasn’t worried at all – until I ran into my good friend Gloria Czomko who was on a ghost tour of scary sights in Toronto and to my surprise, she has a scientific way of tracking paranormal activity.

“I have the Ghost Meter Pro here that I picked up in Niagara-on-the-Lake. I travel with it quite often whenever I go on my ghost tours,” says Czomko. “It’s interesting going upstairs into Mackenzie’s bedroom, I didn’t pick up any activity, but when I proceeded farther to the left hand side of the room by the front windows where people have claimed to have seen activity from outside on the street it had gone off, and has hit maximum capacity on the meter itself. The meter also went off downstairs by the kitchen area near the front window. People have witnessed movement here, shadows from the street, and things like that through these windows. So I would say (the ghost meter) is quite accurate.”

That’s about the time I accurately decided that it was a good idea for me to make a dignified exit from Mackenzie House.

For those who are more interested in history than ghosts, there are several interesting artifacts and displays that bring to life the era in which Mackenzie lived. These include his printing press and a Greek Revival cast-iron stove, and the mahogany dining room table. The walls on the main floor by the printing press are lined with information that tell the story of the house and some of the historical events that were taking place around the time Mackenzie lived.

Program staff member Alex Sawa says the house is a fitting tribute to our first mayor, who fought hard for basic rights and freedoms. “It’s an exciting bit of Canadian history, and in fact a lot of the rights and freedoms we enjoy in Canada is thanks to William Lyon Mackenzie here in Upper Canada,” says Sawa.

More about Mackenzie House

Website: Click here
Address: 82 Bond Street
Phone: 1-416-392-6915
Prices: Adults: $6.19
Seniors (65 +): $3.54
Youth (13-18 yrs.): $3.54
Children (5-12 yrs.): $2.65
Children (4 and under): Free
Hours: September – December
Tuesday – Friday        Noon – 4 pm
Saturday – Sunday       Noon – 5 pm



Rod has previously worked for and is currently freelancing for Huffington Post Travel. He’s also written travel articles for the Toronto Star and Up! Magazine. Living in Toronto but raised in the small central Ontario village of Holstein, Rod is a country boy at heart who has never met a farmer’s market he didn’t like.

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