I was fed up of hearing about how great things used to be in the good old days. Luckily, Old Town Toronto History Tour, operated by Tour Guys opened my eyes on murder and disease, ghosts and chaos, catastrophe and struggles of the early days of Toronto.
Turns out Old Town Toronto has seen its share of calamity over the past 150 years. Thanks to our guide Jackie I heard the best stories of the past two centuries.
William Lyon Mackenzie, who served as the first Toronto mayor is known to still walk around his former house, now a museum located just steps away from Yonge-Dundas Square.
Down the road there is another hunted building – St. Michael’s hospital.
Originally this hospital was created by small group of nuns from St. Joseph’s hospital.
Ghost of Sister Vincenza is still taking care of her patients on the 7th floor of St. Michael`s Cardinal Carter wing. Room number 5 doesn’t exist anymore because patients were running out scared of there every single time.
Gorgeous inside and out St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica is right across the street from St. Michael’s hospital. Where else in the world do you have 2 hunted houses in a row and a church across the street from ghosts?
Believe it or not but the last public hanging in Canada happened on December 11, 1962 which was after World War II. This last public hanging took place in the Courthouse square next to Adelaide court.
A couple of men, convicted for separate murders, were hanged on that day. “You are the last 2 man to be hanged in Canada“ was announced to them. I doubt that this announcement made them feel any better. By the way, people used to wear their best clothing to public hangings.
Even though many countries still have the death penalty, I find it hard to believe that it happened this late in history as we do not kill people in Canada, we just don’t. Even if they are found to be guilty of awful things.
Around that time was also when the largest immigration of the Irish occurred. The Great Irish Potato Famine of 1847 was the cause of death, mainly from starvation. Since it was a very bad year for potatoes many Irish were arriving to Canada already sick and collapsing, and those who survived were not welcome to have certain jobs.
We continued to walk to one of the oldest neighbourhoods in central Toronto called Cabbagetown. Originally this nick name was given to insult Catholic European immigrants who were growing cabbage in their back yards. Local people found it disgusting. Isn’t it ironic that nowadays new European immigrants make fun of cabbage being planted in public flower beds in Canada? I guess Canadians learned to love cabbage too much. In Europe cabbage stayed right where it always was – in the back yard.
Almost every Torontonian knows Massey Hall – one of the most popular Toronto’s concert halls. But very few know the Massey murder story.
The Massey family came from the south and were a generous and wealthy family. They gave Toronto many of their buildings including Massey Hall. However the Massey family legacy was not all that perfect. Old Toronto saw a famous murder case: Made Carrie Davies killed her employer Charles A. Massey who was trying to get his way with her. It was clearly self-defence. She took the revolver and shot him dead, he died almost instantly. She was found innocent in 1915 which I find pretty shocking as women didn’t have too many rights back then.
I also learned more about Cholera than I probably wanted to know while we were making our way to St. James Park – a former cemetery that contains hundreds of Cholera victims left undisturbed to this very day.
A Cholera outbreak in 1832 killed at least 20,000 people in Canada. This disease was feared because it was deadly and no one understood how to treat it or how it spreads.
Eventually Cholera was killed by a beer! Specifically for this reason brewers started to make beer with lower percentage of alcohol so women and children also could consume it. That’s how Canada got its low buzz beer but we do owe the victory over Cholera to it.
Across the street from the cemetery is the St. Lawrence Hall. It was the first place of public gatherings because it was the first big hall that could fit all the people. Old legend claims that the Maple leaf became the Canadian symbol there.
As parliament was trying to decide what is going to be the Canadian symbol, a Maple Leaf flew into the room through an open window and an ‘AHA’ moment just happened naturally.
The tour ends at famous St. Lawrence Market, the longest running market in the world. Originally it was only operating on Saturdays and it was an outside farmers market. Now it is open Tuesday thru Saturday. You will find here fine delicious foods that you can’t find in a supermarket.
If you are a history buff you have to take this complimentary tour and learn about early history of Toronto, as it grew from the Town of York into the city it is today.
Hear the stories most would rather forget and may be you will even gain a better appreciation for being alive today.
When to go
Toronto is enjoyable all year round. Best weather to do a walking tour is April through September. Tour runs daily at 1:00 PM (90 minutes walking tour). October through March tour runs only on Saturdays and Sundays at 1:00 PM.
Where to stay
Really anywhere in downtown is good. I recommend to stay in Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel that is located right next to Old City Hall and overlooking the Nathan Phillips square.
Where to eat
Do visit St. Lawrence Market. Enjoy meals and snacks from all over the world along with the best Canadian foods. You can also buy souvenirs here.