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The Haunted Abandonments of Toronto and Beyond

Posted by Jonathan Castellino / October 29, 2009

Haunted House TorontoHaunted places are in vogue this time of year, so with Halloween fast approaching, I thought I'd share some of the beautiful yet terrifying abandoned places I've visited recently.

The longer a place rests unused and unseen, the more mysterious the items inside become; the longer the interval between being lost and found, the more imagination one must employ to create a story surrounding it. Since time distorts what it cannot destroy, even the items that remain in an abandoned building seem strange, out of place, and uncanny.

Telling stories about such objects becomes necessary, then, as the human mind refuses to accept total abandonment: we insist on furnishing an imagined genealogy for the orphaned objects that cross our paths.

In a way, ghost stories can be read as metaphors for the feelings that these objects and places evoke. Although they may be dismissed as mere superstition, I believe that on some level they reflect our imagination's need to see life in the lifeless.

The title photo is of the derelict Linseed Oil Mill, located in Toronto's Parkdale neighbourhood. Built in 1915, it has been abandoned since the mid 60s, and now sits quietly as a brick shell overlooking a park.

Although the building has been eviscerated, and is much more spare than some of the other places featured below, it has always been the archetypal abandonment for me, and I fondly snatch a quick glance of it whenever I pass by on the TTC. The aural experience of this hollow space is remarkable. The silence one feels inside of it is unlike anything I have ever experienced.

The only place which evokes a similar feeling of utter solitude is the ruins of the lonely mills on Victoria Island in Ottawa, adjacent to Parliament Hill (pictured below)...
Victoria Island HauntedThe next place I want to show you is Willard. This "Asylum for the Chronic Insane" opened in 1869 near Romulus in upstate New York. By the time it closed in the mid '90s, it had almost 5600 graves in its adjacent yard. Employing almost 700 workers in a town of only 2000, it was crucial to its surrounding environment.haunted placeshaunted placesWhen it closed, 427 suitcases were found in one of the hospital buildings, containing garments, photographs, and letters from the patients who had left them. Both an exhibit and a book were created from these artifacts, part of which may be seen here.

I was quite eager to visit the attics in which these artifacts were found, but the shrieking of hundreds of bats heard through the vents made me keep my distance. Besides, the psych is on the grounds of an active prison -- so obviously we had to be very careful not to draw attention to ourselves as we silently slipped through the Kirkbride building.

Some of the journals that were left behind were full of details -- sometimes humorous, sometimes quirky -- about the horrifying event that occurred at Willard in the early 20th-Century: fantastic stories of demonic possession and sudden disappearances, but also more mundane (and melancholy) accounts of neglect and abuse.
haunted places BuffaloI have always had an affinity for derelict psych hospitals: the subject matter is so emotionally charged, it is hard not to be moved. The infrared photo below depicts the Buffalo Psych, which sits conspicuously in the middle of the University of Buffalo's campus. Merely walking around the perimeter of the building is a 30 minute affair.
haunted placesSummit Manor was a place I had always wanted to visit. Beyond it being the last stop of the famous Underground Railroad, it was also rumored to be haunted by the spirits of the African-American slaves. These rumors were so pervasive that, until relatively recently, vacant scaffolding stood surrounding the structure, as work crew after work crew refused to continue restoration of the manor due to bizarre occurrences...

haunted placesHeading back toward Toronto, we stopped at one of the saddest and most profound forgotten landmarks I have ever encountered: Transfiguration Church. We crawled through trench-like piles of dirt beneath the floorboards, eventually emerging into the nave through a rotten space in the floor itself. What we beheld was absolutely stunning: a massive space, abandoned for decades, inhabited only by bats and wild pigeons.

haunted placesThe detail was stunning (despite being covered in about 5 inches of guano). Neighbours from the surrounding area claim to see flashes of light coming from the place at night, and also report hearing voices.

I always smile when I hear these stories, having a pretty good idea about what produced the phenomena they described...
haunted placesAbout an hour from the church is another beautiful yet disturbing location: Holley High. The auditorium is its main feature, sadly now falling in on itself...
haunted placesMany feet have been through this place...
haunted placesThe classrooms were in such a state of disrepair, they seemed like something out of Prypiat...

haunted placesContinuing on, we stopped at the infamous Physical Cultures Hotel - the brainchild of the eccentric Bernarr MacFadden. The locals call this place "castle on a hill," as it sits atop a green valley, peaking through the foliage over the small town of Dansville below...
haunted placesThe place is in a terrible state of disarray, and is almost completely gutted of any furnishings...
haunted placesOn a subsequent journey south, I had the pleasure of (somewhat ironically) exploring the ruins of an asbestos factory. The Flintkote factory is a perfect example of entropy, as the surrounding forested area has slowly crept over the entire property over the years...
haunted placesNone of these individual locations compares, however, to the level of decay in Detroit. This almost-ghost-town has recently graced the cover of at least three major publications. Cited as a warning to the rest of North America, it is both a symbol of urban decay and a cautionary tale about modernity's casualties. Much of the downtown core is abandoned; one area is now called the 'skyscraper graveyard'. The buildings we explored were chilling. Beyond the dated aesthetics and the hints of past grandeur, there was an overwhelming sense of sadness. Michigan Central Depot for instance, which you can see from the Ambassador Bridge, used to be a symbol of prosperity. I have now heard this edifice described by many non-explorers as 'the building you can see through'. What a place...haunted places

haunted placesThe Packard automotive plant, once a heart of industry, is now miles of abandoned office and manufacturing complexes...haunted places

Brush Park, once a nod to the glory of Victorian beauty, is now in utter ruin. Sometimes, it doesn't seem a shock that even the dead are leaving Motown...
haunted placesIt seems, sometimes, that we are surrounded both by ruins and the ruins of ruins. Endless redevelopments seem to replace derelict buildings, but they often reveal more than they erase, and, paradoxically, preserve what they supplant. The old buildings become silent shadows, held in the perpetuity of memory: when these places lose their place, they enter into our imagination. They becomes stories, legends, rumors. They become, as it were, ghosts themselves.

After the redevelopment of the derelict Danvers Insane Asylum, a friend from the area described it to me as what was once "that place on the hill, that no one could look at or talk about, but did, nonetheless - the magical place, the witch's house" - but, perhaps, precisely because it has been destroyed, the afterlife of the abandonment is more rich and more full: they live on in the community of people who remember, fondly, the ruined ruin, preserved in the mansion of the mind.

(To see high res. versions of the snaps above, as well as over a hundred others from similar places, you can check out my flickr slide-show below. I hope you all have a Happy Halloween.)

Discussion

22 Comments

Jay / October 29, 2009 at 09:47 am
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I'm sure the flashes of light coming from Transfiguration are camera flashes and the voices are those of explorers. It is a beautiful structure. Nice article.
JAMB / October 29, 2009 at 09:55 am
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Well done Blogto.... favorite blog topic and article yet.
neat / October 29, 2009 at 10:01 am
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The focus on the haunts of Toronto... Not so much. There are plenty of abandoned buildings in the city and in the GTA. While it was interesting to see all the places down in the states I question the relevance in a Toronto based blog...
mr hate / October 29, 2009 at 10:04 am
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Can we PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE make a P.S.1. style facility out of just one of these places?

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How long before someone complains that the photos are too photoshopped/filtered/not filtered/too black and white/etc etc
Jonathan / October 29, 2009 at 10:22 am
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Neat: Indeed! If you search me by author, I have covered most of Toronto's more popular abandonmnts individually, and will continue to do so : )

jonathan@blogTO
MelS / October 29, 2009 at 10:37 am
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This article is truly inspiring. Gives me ideas! And thank you for posting the locations i smell a roadtrip! (possibly guano)
Leigh / October 29, 2009 at 11:42 am
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Simply stunning Jonathan. Exploring abandon buildings was a passion of mine as a kid - growing up in Bowmanville, there were plenty of abandoned farm houses and of course the infamous POW camp to play around in - so these pics brought back that thrilling feeling for me, goose-bump inducing. I love your work. Beautiful.
Ste / October 29, 2009 at 11:53 am
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Great article, although I would argue that photos of abandoned places have been the soup du jour in this cities galleries for a while and it is very easy to grow tired of them - too easy a subject I guess to capture and shots of tires, grease, dust, holes in walls, paint peeling, etc., etc. can often induce yawns. They make lovely post card images though, however I don't think I would send them to anyone.
Jonathan / October 29, 2009 at 11:56 am
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Thanks, guys.

Ste: Haha - you aren't the first person I've heard this from ; P

jonathan@blogTO
sniderscion / October 29, 2009 at 01:02 pm
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Great article and images. Every time I read one of your posts I want to dig out my boots and get out to some of these spots and shoot them before they're gone.
conscious / October 29, 2009 at 01:12 pm
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Very cool, and I'm fascinated by the goodies left behind at The Willard. Being a longtime enthusiast of the paranormal myself, I have to ask if you have experienced anything you simply couldn't explain at any of these locations?
Micheal / October 29, 2009 at 03:19 pm
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Be nice if you could mention where some of these places are such as Transfiguration Church and Holly High.
Ando / October 29, 2009 at 03:26 pm
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Where are the remains of Transfiguration Church?
Eric / October 29, 2009 at 10:45 pm
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Who hasn't been inside MCS?
I think more people have been inside it now, than before it closed.
oterry / October 30, 2009 at 10:17 am
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Jonathan, this is one of your best posts. Thank you. These places are beautiful.
Elizabeth / October 30, 2009 at 10:21 am
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Or a map of the region,with the featured haunted spots on it!
Mike / November 21, 2009 at 01:06 pm
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Beautiful write up on the linseed. That place always holds so many stories and mystery's through its dark windows.
kiki / February 7, 2010 at 11:28 pm
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hello there jonathan i viewed your photos for the first time and they are spectacular. i was so inspired by these photos. I would absolutely love to know of the buildings that i can visit in toronto if it's possible. thank you for sharing this with us
yorface replying to a comment from Eric / May 8, 2012 at 12:54 am
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not me
Sharon / October 11, 2012 at 01:30 pm
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I enjoyed your blog and photos.Please provide addresses, map coordinates, whatever you've got on the locations of the Transfiguration Church in Toronto and Holley High.
brittney / January 7, 2013 at 02:47 pm
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some of these places are not haunted thier just abanded places
Rosie / March 30, 2013 at 03:59 pm
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These are absolutely beautiful. How did you manage to get permission to go into these buildings? Are they not privately owned?

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