The Distillery District in Toronto, Ontario was once an active Whiskey making area … which means it was home to prohibition violators, gangsters and gunrunners – all fodder for murder and mystery tales. Tonight, though, it’s the haunting ground of a ghost-chasing dog named Victor.
The District’s dark cobblestone alleyways between large stone industrial buildings once teamed with illegal activity, and the water’s edge touching the district’s south side made for easy ship transport of whiskey barrels – legal or otherwise – for almost 100 years.
Today, Toronto’s Distillery District is a hopping locale for art galleries, hip restaurants and even hipper boutique stores selling brands like Fluevog and Desigual and artisan wares from jewelry to lumberjack wool silk-screened socks. (Check out our coverage of the annual Christmas Market.)
There’s a lot going on here.
Including a ghost tour, which happens every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, year round and that’s what my dog Victor and I are here to do.
The Distillery District is home to the Haunted Walks of Toronto’ Ghosts and Spirits of the Distillery, one of three tours the company runs in Toronto and the only one you can enjoy all year.
Toronto’s trendy Distillery District is an area ripe with ghost stories given its nefarious past – a fact not lost on the Haunted Walk tour company that has locations in Toronto, Kingston and Ottawa.
Most guided walks are dog friendly. The Haunted Walk of Toronto even sponsors a ghost tour for people and their pets the third weekend of September, donating tour fees to Paws for a Cause, a local pet rescue.
Tonight, the dog-friendly Haunted Distillery District tour is a mix of entertaining facts and recounts of ghost sightings carefully researched. The company claims it verifies all stories by listening to first-hand accounts from ghost witnesses and confirming historical facts surrounding the sighting.
For instance, in a kitchen now belonging to a trendy patio restaurant, employees frequently report seeing a ghostly image of a man’s mangled body dangling from a rope. It appears then disappears high above the floor. In the early 20th century, when this building was a distillery filled with dust, explosions happened easily.
One recorded accident involved a vat (located in what’s now the restaurant kitchen) blowing up and killing the one employee assigned to monitor it. His body was found blown to pieces. Apparently, he hasn’t left.
Like Scooby Doo, Victor relishes a good ghost story and even a few meddling kids.
Ok, truth is he prefers not being left at home and loves moving as part of a pack.
Today, he’s in luck. We’re joining a large group.
But thanks to a hockey festival going on (hockey is a big deal in Canada) there are even more crowds and chaos than usual, including flashing video screens and loud speakers. Victor’s easily distracted.
Yet he does ok, even following the tour leader into a vestibule corner where she stops to tell us about the ghosts that still haunt the former warehouse storage building, now an expensive bed shop.
“I don’t know what’s scarier,” the tour guide says, “the ghost who’s forever doomed to walk the catwalks that once filled this former warehouse … or the $100,000 bed they’ve got for sale now in this trendy store.”
From the bed store doorway, our guide lifts a lantern and tells the tale of what’s been sighted along the catwalks, still part of the former industrial building sometimes a site for film shoots. Apparently, crew members report following a distant figure, believing it was an intruder on set. They follow him and until he turns and speaks:
“I’m just here to check the vats,” he says then moves along, sometimes through walls.
“So be warned,” our guide says, “choose your career carefully, because you might be doing it for all eternity.”
Ok, that’s the scariest thing I heard all night.
The Ghosts and Spirits of the Distillery tour lasts 75 minutes and is $20 per person – no charge for dogs.
Check out our other ghost tours adventures. Victor’s becoming an expert.