by Karyn Klaire Koski
There are bodies buried in High Park.
Before the turn of the century, there are reports of impoverished immigrant families who took to the forests, concealing bodies of still born children and other lost family. Funeral expenses were unobtainable. Nights were dark.
In an effort to patrol such injustices, security was added. On a hot day in July of 1882, over zealous High Park Constable John Albert, fatally shot a teenage boy who wasillegally boating in Grenadier Pond. His companions scattered and summoned police. Albert was found guilty of murder and sentenced to the gallows that autumn.
In 1921, just outside of the park, eight skeletons coated in a red powdery substance were found in a seated position, arranged in a circle and buried deep within a sandy ridge, nearby were several smaller skeletons, clearly identified as children. Experts confirmed these remains as the Red Ocher, Indigenous peoples who lived sometime between 2,500 BC to 800 AD. It was a thrilling find in its day and time.
There are ghost stories about High Park.
Most popular are tales of the Grenadier Soldiers. Scholars insist that there is no validating historical record, proving soldiers have been marching, boating or even present in High Park, yet there are many testimonies of seeing spirit soldiers. Some stories say they are in red coats, others state they are in black. The only existing record of any soldiers, was when military training exercises were held there during WW1, but no lives were lost.
In 1903 The Toronto Star ran a story about many people witnessing a horseman and stag emerging from the waters of Grenadier Pond and then, urban folklore had the phantom travelling throughout most of Parkdale. Another Toronto Star article, dated April 22, 1913, stated that police were alerted after several eyewitnesses saw a phantom coming from the pond’s swampy depths. Two weeks later a follow up story revealed that local pranksters with flashlights had been caught.
High Park has had many tragedies.
In 1947 the bodies of Iris Scott and her lover George Vigus were found in the trunk of a car, parked along High Park’s Lovers Lane. Decades later, researchers from the TV Series, The 5th Estate, were given a tip that identified Edwin Alonzo Boyd, as their murderer. Toronto’s first Chief of Police, John Chisholm, who lived on nearby Indian Grove, was found dead in 1958. He parked his car, used his with his own revolver and shot himself in the head.
In 1969 a patrolling police officer called in, that he himself, saw a woman in the upstairs bedroom at Colbourne Lodge. A search found nobody on the premises. Paranormal researchers contend that this apparition was the lingering spirit of Jemima Howard.
Mrs Howard died in that exact room, painfully, slowly, as she succumbed to breast cancer.
Many lives have been lost in the Park as a result of misadventure and death by suicide. There have been frightful stalkings and sexual assaults over the decades. A particularly brutal incident happened during the summer of 1982, when a young woman barely survived repeated bludgeoning with a brick. Most horrifically, a group of teenage boys beat a forty-year-old male librarian to death in 1985, a gay bashing gone horribly wrong.
Yet there are peaceful lingering energies too. There are literally thousands of reverent sites from scattered creamains and buried ashes. They’re the gentle breezes that grace the beauty of the land.
Not too long ago, Watersnake Mound, a 3000-year-old Native Burial site was damaged unknowingly, by BMX bicycle enthusiasts and eventually, with media pressure, measures were taken to correct this desecration. Forgiveness was ceremoniously asked from the Spirit World and we’ll assume that it was accepted and honoured.
Every life spent leaves an energy pattern; turmoil, angst, pleasure, joy – so many combined emotions have been left behind in High Park and they scatter softly in the wind and emanate distinctly from the soil. The Park is literally teaming with the souls of mankind because High Park is haunted.
So as the crisp autumn days of October slowly end and the coldness of November prepares us for winter, remember that the lingering spirits of persons’ past join the forest and all of the Park in its seasonal end, lingering gently, only to eventually disappear.