Every city and town has a haunted story to two. Toronto has many paranormal hotspots including the Exhibition Place near the Lakeshore. Makes sense as the first Canadian National Exhibition (aka CNE) dates back to 1879. Many historical records, photos, press, and artifacts have been kept on the heritage site that are quite fascinating. We also recently learned that there are historical (ahem, haunted) walks offered to the public.
Fiona Crawford, Records and Archives Supervisor at Exhibition Place, tells us the first official Ghost Walk took place in 2006 which evolved out of reports of paranormal activity experienced by staff at Exhibition Place over the past 17 years. These reports inspired the Archives team at Exhibition Place to document the dozens of stories and reports of sightings on the grounds.
“The team presented their findings during the CNE in 2009 which piqued interest from paranormal investigator, Richard Palmisano and his team, The Searcher Group. With our permission, they conducted a 13-month excavation which validated and expanded on previous reportings from staff,” said Crawford. The group, she explains, then later went on to write a book based on their findings called “Ghosts of the Canadian National Exhibition”.
Currently the Exhibition Place team works with Steve Collie, founder of a local paranormal touring group to lead the Ghost Walk tours at Exhibition Place. Since its inception, Crawford tells us Collie has worked closely with their Archives team to develop the tour experience and ensure historical accuracy. “He is a captivating storyteller, who consistently mesmerizes participants with his vivid accounts of the numerous deaths and haunting sightings that have occurred on the grounds. He is the perfect person to bring these stories to life in a fun, yet educational way.”
As Records and Archives Supervisor, Crawford works closely with Collie to ensure any historical information is accurate. She, and her team, also provides any additional interesting background or historical facts to help paint a more vivid picture of historical events and individuals.
“Archives staff provide details about the background of the grounds, buildings and significant events at Exhibition Place,” said Crawford. “They have also worked closely with Collie over the years to validate and provide details relevant to the darker side of Exhibition Place’s history. For example, several deaths have occurred at the General Services building over the past century, including a murder and an accidental electrocution. The details of these deaths and the surrounding details have been confirmed through newspapers accounts published at the time of their occurrence.”
Historical Events at Exhibition Place
What’s one of her favourite historical stories of Exhibition Place?
Crawford tells us she finds most interesting historical events happened during which Exhibition Place played a role in supporting the city and the country as well as residents. For example, during the Second World War, Exhibition Place transformed into Camp Exhibition and provided facilities for the army, navy and air force. “The Horse Palace was used as accommodation for new army recruits in training before being shipped to the Western Front,” said Crawford. “In 1949, a cruise ship (the SS Noronic) caught fire in the middle of the night while docked in Toronto Harbour. This resulted in over 100 fatalities and Exhibition Place’s Horticultural Building was used as an emergency morgue for victims awaiting identification.”
Has she personally experienced any paranormal activity?
“I am relatively new to Exhibition Place and the Records & Archives team, so this is my first year supporting the Exhibition Place Ghost Walks. So far, I have not personally experienced any paranormal activity – but have to admit that after listening to Steve’s narratives, I am now a little nervous in my office after dark. Records and Archives is located in the General Services Building which has been the site of some of the most dramatic deaths that have occurred at Exhibition Place,” said Crawford.
A Rare Opportunity for the Public
We wanted to know if we should be looking out for anything that might not stand out immediately.
Crawford tells us the tour offers a rare opportunity for members of the public to enter two buildings at Exhibition Place. The Horse Palace was built in 1931 to accommodate 1200 horses and is now home to the Toronto Police Services – Mounted Unit and Toronto Equestrian Downtown. The General Services Building was built circa 1912 by Ontario Hydro and originally used as an electrical laboratory and storehouse for testing and supplying municipal customers.
She also believes that Ghost Walk participants will be amazed at the diverse and rich history of Exhibition Place as well how the grounds and buildings have been variously used over time. Past examples include the establishment of Fort Rouillé by French fur traders in the eighteenth century, the development of New Fort York in the nineteenth century, site of an extensive collection of public art and, as mentioned earlier, as Camp Exhibition during the Second World War, etc. Currently, it is home to a range of tenants and host to many conventions and events each year as well as a community destination.
To learn more about the Exhibition Place Ghost Walks link here: www.explace.on.ca
*Photos courtesy of Exhibition Place archives