I was a cadet for three years starting in 1996 and every year we would have a sleep over party at the Old Fort York.
One time we saw a strange women looking like she wanted to take my friends hand. Needless to say, we sat up in bed and we screamed as she tried to come toward us.
After that we have never saw a women in the place again which was a blessing as I was scared to death!
If you believe that ghosts/spirits/what have you are most active on important anniversaries, then mark on your calendar April 27th if you live in or near Toronto.
This will be the 187th anniversary of the American attack on York (Toronto).
The American forces landed with initially no opposition (a poor call by the British command as it allowed the American's established a beachhead,) around present day Sunnyside Beach (oddly enough, there is a historical plaque just North of the gates (at the CNE grounds) denoting the location of the landing on the West side of Dufferin St. South of King St.,) and were initially met by an attack force mostly made up of Grenadiers from King's 8th as well as a mixed bag of Newfoundland Fencibles (a British regular army outfit from (obviously,) Newfoundland,) and members of First Nation's tribes.
Of the 119 Grenadiers who were sent out, only 30 survived. (See our story on Grenadier Pond for a possible related story.) The Grenadier's and Fencibles were not trained to fight a "bush" battle but a set-piece European battle of standing shoulder to shoulder firing in platoons so the American's simply hid behind stumps and trees and picked off these brave if ill-used souls. (Before anyone thinks this "set piece" tactic poor, try having a war using the "Brown Bess" musket. A terrible and inaccurate weapon which is best used en masse in a quick burst of fire. If you study other battles, this "platoon" firing literally scared the militias of both sides into retreat on many occasions! American regulars (full time) soldiers ALSO used firing by platoon during the battles of 1812-1814.)
The next horrible carnage was caused by an accidental powder explosion at the Western Battery (located just West of the current fort,) when a gunners match lit a wooden magazine box loaded with powder and cartridges. This explosion killed, maimed and literally roasted many of the militia stationed within. Those who had survived then withdraw to the fort only to be caught in another dreadful explosion.
The British regulars, sensing the American victory, withdrew to the East and as they left, blew up the main powder magazine within Fort York to keep it from falling into American hands. The American general leading the attack, Zebulon Pike, was crushed to death by a rock launched up by this explosion. Although some of the Canadian defenders left behind knew the magazine was going to blow, the immense impact was not known and many of these defenders also died in the explosion.
So many men killed by musket fire, cannon shot and, of course, falling debris from the massive explosion would of course not only leave a mark in our history books but likely have lead to more than a few good "ghosts".
The Union Flag (Note: Did you know it is NOT a "Union Jack" unless flying on a ship? The British flag on land is properly known as The Union Flag... Useless fact #1263.) was lowered and the Stars and Stripes raised. The British flag was used to cushion the head of the dying General Pike as the American's finally had succeeded in taking York.
By the end of the battle, hundreds of men from all sides lay dead and dying around the fort and the Western lead up to it.
The real purpose of the American attack was to burn or capture the "General Brock", a warship being built in Toronto Harbour and to capture "public stores" for their own use. Engaging and capturing the badly outnumbered British regulars that were stationed there was also a goal but Major General Sheaff not only managed to retire the force of regulars to Kingston but also burned the "General Brock" en route thus denying some of the most important goals of the attack. Not only this but the American's only occupied York until May 1st and then left after looting the town (although, the did return twice... Once successfully and once the batteries at Gibraltar Point (Toronto Islands) and the fort managed to beat back the approaching American vessels), firing the parliament buildings and being constantly berated by a cleric (Rev. Dr. John Strachan). One wonders, had they HELD York, how long could the Niagara area have held out without a land link to Montreal or Kingston? Would Southern Ontario be a US state now???
Therefore, it seems poor Zebulon Pike and so many other brave souls died for not much of anything.
Oddly enough, although Sheaff did thwart the grand American plans by his removing the British regulars and firing the "General Brock", he was shunned in York as a commander who allowed the town to fall into the hands of the enemy and left the militia (citizen soldiers) to fend for themselves. The Rev. John Strachan (the thorn in the American's backside during the occupation,) made darn sure that the British command knew of this "disgraceful" situation and Sheaff was relieved of command shortly thereafter.
As far as the war goes in Toronto, this is the worst episode for loss of life and IF there are ghosts from that era wandering the ramparts of Fort York, this is likely When they came from.
Fort York is open on April 27th and has special events planned to commemorate this tragic event. If you believe anniversaries are important, this is the day to visit Old Fort York and to stroll along the avenues around it and absorb a bit of history.
UPDATE as of October 27th, 2000
Old Fort York is where we held our successful Anniversary Party of October 21st and boy did we get some new material...
James Waugh of Jessup Food and Heritage shared his own story about the first blockhouse where, while closing the fort down for the evening, the heavy door on the second floor slammed shut behind him without human assistance. This is NOT and easy trick and requires quite a bit of effort to close normally but it effectively shut him out of the building.
Matthew Didier and Jennifer Krutila also ran into the "door slamming ghost" while visiting the site one week before the Anniversary Party for TGHRS. They were in the officer's quarters at about 4:45pm on a Sunday and had just sampled some Derby Biscuits when upon walking out of the kitchen and into a sergeant's quarters then to the East doorway, the kitchen door slammed tight behind them. Upon investigation, they found that indeed, there was no one in the building.
We also recently received the following e-mail...
"My husband and I have been 'running our dog' at old Fort York for years. In 1998, my husband was standing there alone and my dog had run off chasing squirrels when he noticed a man wearing dark greenish clothes standing watching him about 50m away.
The man was leaning against a tree just watching him. Well this unnerved my husband so he looked over to our car to make sure that no one was breaking into it. There was no one at the car and when he looked back at the fellow who was staring, there was no one there! This really irritated my husband because he thought that something odd was going on.
He walked briskly to the tree and realized before long that there were no footprints in the snow where the man should have left some! He looked up into the tree and all around but nothing. Needless to say, he came home immediately.
It's not like my husband to make up a story like this to scare me. It hasn't happened since but it certainly changed our skeptical minds about ghosts. Very frightening."
UPDATE: March 31st, 2003 Another staff story has been told to us.
One night, while one staff member was closing and locking up the fort, they noticed after heading towards the front gate (canteen) that there was a light coming from the officer's quarters.
Assuming they had left a light on, which is odd as there are no lights in the upper parts of the officer's quarters, they made their way back to the building to extinguish the light source.
As they approached, they saw in the windows near the quarters what appeared to be an entire dinner party moving about in silhouette through the windows. By what we heard, this staff member was clearly able to make out the shapes of men and women moving about the dining room table through the windows and as they approached, this "apparition" seemed to get fainter and fainter as did the window's light source until, once they had arrived at the door, the light was gone as were the "phantom" diners.
The staff member simply turned and left the fort.
UPDATE: April 6th, 2008: The following was submitted by one of our readers...I just wanted to submit an unusual experience that I had on March 30th at Fort York.
I was with my family at Fort York in the late afternoon. It was a cool, windy day so aside from another couple we had the place to ourselves.
As we were walking towards the Officers Brick Barracks/Mess (bldg. 3 on their map), I noticed that the curtain on the window to the right side of the door went up and fell down again. I just assumed there would be somebody standing inside the door. My eldest kid was ahead of me and I was about to yell at them to not go barrelling inside in case they ran into somebody but they were at the door before I had the chance. As soon as they had the door open and we caught up I realized that there was nobody there. In fact there was nobody else in the building. As the family moved on I stood inside the entry with the door shut to see if the wind would blow the curtain up. You could definitely hear the wind hitting the door and even coming in the cracks around the edge but the curtains didn't even budge much less raise right up. I thought this was weird but continued on.
In the same building we continued on to the kitchen. We were all busy looking around when we heard a sound coming from the kitchen door. It sounded like somebody was pushing it to come through so we moved out of the way and then it just stopped and nobody came through. There was nobody on the other side either. My husband and I just gave each other a look like that was weird and continued on through the building. It wasn't until after we left Fort York that I started thinking about how strange it was. Make what you want out of this. It was likely just the wind playing tricks on us. I must admit I can't figure out how that curtain would have raised up like that without somebody holding it up to look out or somebody brushing by right beside it. I was so sure there was somebody there.
This is interesting as The Officers Barracks is a site of many report... and the kitchen in it was a place where Matthew Didier and Sue St Clair ran into something similar with the door a number of years back.
While talking with two staff members in the kitchen about "ghosts" (both of whom were more-or-less poo-pooing stories, but at the same time telling us about interesting events that happened there to other people, the latch on the door between the kitchen and the hallway to the dining area started to move back and forth with enough sound to attract everyone's attention. We all watched the latch move back and forth but never "up" which would open the door. After a few seconds, the movement stopped and Matthew ventured out to see who was there... and no one was. The staff members said it was the wind, but this did not make much sense... wind would have moved the door back and forth which making the latch move up and down on it's lever... not side-to-side... The only way this movement could be achieved is if the wind blew a small latch back and forth without moving the door... highly unlikely... but the staffers stayed with their explanation... it was the wind.
Update April 2012
When I was younger, my Girl Guide troop had a sleep-over at Old Fort York. We were staying in the barracks just north of the entrance. Sometime in the middle of the night, my bunk-mate woke me -- she had to use the washroom, which was located in the building next door, just south of the entrance. Since we'd been instructed to use the 'buddy system', I went with her. It was rather chilly outside, and there was a low-level mist covering the ground, no higher than our knees. Shivering from both the temperature and a sense of the creepies, I glanced across the field and spotted a man, in full regimental reds, standing at attention with a musket or a rifle on his shoulder. I stopped in my tracks, as did my friend, but he gave no sign of noticing us. He simply stared out towards the lake. Uneasy, I hurried her into the washroom. Being as eager as I to get back to the warmth of our sleeping bags, my friend was in-and-out in record time...perhaps a minute or so later, we were on our way back to the barracks. Glancing back to where we'd seen the man...there was nothing. We both looked around, seeing no sign of a bright red coat anywhere amongst the buildings, and even creepier...the mist that covered the field was entirely undisturbed. Heart pounding, I raced my friend back to the barracks, aware the entire time of how the mist swirled around our feet as we ran. There was no way anyone could have moved across that field without leaving a visible trail. Needless to say, neither one of us slept any more that night, we simply huddled together on our bunk until the sun came up!
In response to some of our questions the witness writes:
Unfortunately, I can't recall the exact date...it would have been either late spring or early fall, since it was rather chilly. Late spring is probably more likely, since most of our Girl Guide outings required planning, and we didn't resume meetings until the fall anyways. (I also learned that it would coincide with the battle fought there in April of 1813) It was probably around 1996 or so? I also considered the possibility of a re-enactor, but again, I can't reason why one would be in full dress in the middle of the night, or why he would stand in the middle of the field waiting to scare a couple of little girls. On a more recent visit, I casually asked the staff about security there at night, and they replied that if anyone is there at all, they are in plain street-clothes.
Update July 2013After the TURF Festival at Garrison Common/Fort York this past weekend (Sunday July 7th 2013) a group of 4 or 5 people that were working all heard a harsh voice say "one more song" they checked the monitors and speakers to make sure someone wasn't fooling around but everything was unplugged as they were tearing down from the festival, shortly afterwards my husband who was also working the festival was walking across the Garrison Commons field after all the guests had left and he heard a voice go by him as if someone ran past him whispering "never again". It frightened him so badly he has decided to never work there again. All of the people (all grown men) who had heard these voices were visibly shaken and one commented that he "just wanted to get out of there" after his shift because he was "creeped out" by it.
It's obvious to me that this is the work of the fallen soldiers. I had no idea until I researched a bit afterwards that there is a burial ground at Ft York (from what I've read). How heartbreaking to think of a loud music festival tearing up the grounds that these men fought and died on.The following was sent in to us by an experient in the Fall of 2014...
"This past Summer, I visited Historic Fort York. I was caught up in traffic as the 'ex' (Canadian National Exhibition) was on and I only arrived at Fort York as it was closing. There was an outdoor party being held and as such, I was allowed in for free.