In mid October, my Facebook feed indicated that a friend was planning to attend an upcoming tour of a haunted building in Toronto. Intrigued, I clicked on the link and saw that the place was the home of The Royal Conservatory of Music, at 273 Bloor Street West.
By coincidence, I happened to be in the midst of researching this building for a post I was planning. I’d been there briefly during the summer with my friend Isabel, who works there. She and I had been in the adjoining building, at Koerner Hall (which I’ve written about and photographed recently – here, here and here) and after the concert, she had to pop into her office to get some things before heading home, so I went with her.
I really wanted a look inside that building, so we slipped through an arched doorway connecting the modern hall to the historic part. This was well after business hours, so things were very quiet, and very much looked like a place I’d only ever seen before in movies. To be honest, horror movies immediately came to mind, and at that point I knew nothing about this building’s reputation for being haunted.
Originally called McMaster Hall and opened in 1881, it was financed by Senator William McMaster as a Baptiste Divinity School. McMaster University later moved to the city of Hamilton, and the University of Toronto took it over in 1936.
In 1963, The Royal Conservatory of Music moved into the building and have been there ever since. It was restored in the mid 2000s, at a cost of $5 million donated by former alumni of the conservatory, Mr and Mrs. Ian Ihnatowycz. Today, the historic portion of the whole property (this old part, as opposed to the newer one that houses Koerner Hall), is called Ihnatowycz Hall.
^ Where the new part meets the old, from the outside front. ^
^ … and where they meet around the back ^
When I saw that Facebook notice about a Halloween Ghost Tour happening there, I wanted to go. However, I could not make the date it was set for. But still planning to create a post about the place, I contacted Isabel and asked her,as someone who works in the building, what her thoughts on the subject of the building being haunted were. I wondered whether she’d ever had any personal experiences with ghostly apparitions there.
It turned out that my pal was the very person giving the tour, for which hundreds of people had signed up. Since they’d had way more interest than originally planned, she and a colleague ended up each taking groups of people through the building, in staggered 20 minute shifts.
Knowing the right person certainly had its benefits because when Isabel heard about my disappointment about not being able to be there for the official tour, she offered to give me a personal one. I was excited, and also a bit nervous about the “haunted” part. The stories that I read online (here and here) about this aspect of the building were quite convincing. There had even been an overnight visit by a real-life group of ghost hunters, psican, Paranormal Studies and Investigations Canada. Their study revealed what was thought to be a male telling them to “get out” and a female voice suggesting they “leave”.
So, on the following Thursday evening, a couple of her other friends who were also interested, Isabel and I met in the lobby. After most people had left for the day, the four of us walked the decidedly eerie hallways, climbed the old staircase, explored back rooms and the basement, with Isabel pointing out the spots where there’d been most sightings.
At one point we met up with a custodian who told us about her many interactions with the spirits inhabiting the place, including a particular male-ghost who was often seen looking out a particular window. She nonchalantly told me that he would tap her on the shoulder on occasion. She said he was a good spirit though, and she wasn’t afraid of him.
^ When they restored the building they installed higher banisters because the original ones were far too short for today’s taller person. ^
^ Most of the ghost sightings have taken place on this central staircase, where it is said that a man wearing Victorian era garb — a black suit with tails and a top hat — has been sensed (seen?) rushing by on the stairs. I can’t help but notice that the founder of the building William McMaster, meets this description. ^
^ Some beautiful brickwork detail on the interior. If you look at the photos from the outside front, you can see what looks like a little balcony over the entrance. The office beyond this wall has the opening to that balcony, although I don’t believe it’s used these days. ^
^ The old meeting the new on the western side, enclosed within the new part. ^
At this point I wish I could tell you that I saw something ghostly myself, either while on the tour, or when looking at the many pictures I took afterwards, but I didn’t. That said, there was a spooky feeling in that building that cannot be denied.
My thanks go out to Isabel for showing me this beautiful building, and allowing me to share it with you.