My good friend knows how much I love ghost stories and ghost tours, so when she heard about the ghost & tunnel tour that Humber College’s Lakeshore campus was hosting for free as part of Culture Days, we knew we had to go. With one tour on Friday and 5 throughout the day on Saturday, we managed to snag the last three tickets for one of the Saturday tours.
What we were surprised about was the sheer size of the group. I understand that it’s a free event and they want to accommodate as many people as possible but, and I’m not sure on the exact numbers, but it looked like there were at least 85-100 people on this tour. WAY too many for a tour let alone one that’s going through the tunnels and supposedly a spooky ghostly experience. Thankfully our awesome tour guide, and Humber College professor, Steve Bang was fantastic and projected loud enough for everyone to hear.
Originally opened in 1889 and known as the “Asylum by the Lake“, the grounds consisted of cottages for the committed which surrounded the admin building, with the elusive (and now-condemned) Building G on one end. (Fun fact: for those that have seen Police Academy, a lot of it was filmed on these grounds!) This asylum had doctors performing shock therapy, insulin-shock therapy and frontal lobotomies. Visiting this former asylum-turned-school reminded me of the book I recently reviewed: Asylum by Madeleine Roux. The ghostly presence that’s most felt or seen is the presence of a nurse, thought to be a nurse that worked at the asylum who had had an affair with one of the patients before committing suicide by hanging herself on one of the orchard trees. 1517 people died at the asylum and are now buried blocks away at the corner of Horner and Evans in Etobicoke with only about 100 graves actually marked.
With such a huge group, the three of us tried to not only stick together but get a bit closer to the front since there were a surprising amount of kids (and one in a stroller) as well. Not that I’m begrudging kids from attending these events if they’re interested, or are aware of what is going on but they’re young, they’re kids and they’re noisy. Listening to someone talk about the history of a building is probably not what they want to be listening to while walking around for 1.5 hours. We also witnessed one guy literally push and elbow his way through the crowd until he was right beside the guide the whole time. His level of eagerness was made even more off-putting with the number of questions on asbestos and the placement of windows in the tunnels. It’s interesting to see how many people all suddenly become historians – where some questions being asked almost came across as confrontational and challenging, like they’d know better than the guy doing the tour.
Overall though, it was a really fascinating tour. Great history on the Lakeshore Asylum where all sorts of people deemed “insane” were sent from 1889 up until it closed in 1979. There wasn’t as much “ghost” about this tour but some really interesting history on the grounds. If they do these events again, I do highly recommend it for those who are interested in the history of older buildings and the city but don’t go in expecting it to be an hour and a half full of ghost stories – that’s not what this is. I’d also hope that next year they make the groups smaller and maybe put an age minimum. The tours were conducted all throughout the day starting at 9am and we picked the later one thinking it would be spookier, but since the buildings are not all very well lit, it was hard to get the effect of seeing the old buildings in all its glory. Definitely would recommend going to the earlier ones to be able to see the beautiful façades of the buildings that Steve is talking about.