Dusk was fast approaching as I sauntered up to the hulking behemoth known as Casa Loma.
A block of people were gathered around a fountain overlooking Austin Terrace. They gathered in packs, talking about ghosts and things not of the physical world. And as the last threads of light sewed themselves into the night, they cast a cowl over the stone fortress of Sir Henry Pellatt.
My mission for the night was to explain what that shadow was.
I entered the great hall, its 60-foot vaulted ceiling hovering above me, and was introduced to the resident paranormal specialist, Michelle Desrochers, who is also associate director of Canada’s Most Haunted.
Her wine-coloured hair framed her face as she shared the plan of attack for Casa Loma after normal visiting hours.
“I talk 40 minutes, which basically gives you a bit of the history because, let’s face it, you’re never going to understand why a place is haunted unless you get a little of the background,” she told me.
She ushered 30-40 of us into the former billiard room of Pellatt and began to discuss the history of Sir Henry himself and of the grounds, which were originally agricultural land with the stables and hunting lodge predating the castle.
Before playing examples of electronic voice phenomena — audio evidence of spirits — Desrochers encouraged attendees to uncover their own.
“The idea is not for you to take my word for anything I tell you,” she shared with the audience. “The idea is to hopefully get you to try to get your own evidence and your own experiences.
“Any information I share with you has come from management and staff who have been here.”
Some of the resident spectres seen by staff on the grounds include Pellatt, his wife Lady Mary Pellatt, a gentleman in the tunnel from the stables to the main house, as well as a possible phantom horse and, most famously, the White Lady.
Outside of the formerly alive crowd, the castle also includes a replica throne from Scotland, with the Stone of Destiny nestled under its seat.
According to Desrochers, the stone has been known to disappear in photos after people go home and look at them.
After a lesson in history, the gathering is guided down into the bowels of Casa Loma to tour the tunnels. Along the way more tales of ghostly emanations are shared.
One is of a doorway to a second tunnel, which once led to the hunting lodge. It is in this area where EVPs have been recorded.
Kathi MacDonald, a Bathurst and Eglinton resident who has taken part in the ghost tracking event multiple times, said she has been uncovering a story of a horse that’s said to be heard in the tunnels.
“I have got a lot of stuff in the stables — direct answers from the stables,” she shared. “(They) told me to beware of the demon the last time.”
The demon she’s referencing is a 7-foot-tall statue that had been uncovered on a neighbouring property owned by the castle’s architect, E.J. Lennox.
MacDonald says she also had her digital recorder spontaneously play at several points during the night. After another history lesson, this time in the stables, folks were left to their own devices, literally.
Being a journalist, I had my digital recorder in one hand, and camera in the other. I went about the talking to air, feeling only a smidge awkward with no one around to respond.
After 15 minutes the group reconvened on the second floor of the main building, touring both of the Pellatts’ rooms as well as the Windsor Room and the Round Room.
Moving up the stairs, we wound up on the third floor in the Austin Room.
The Austin Room is said to have housed child migrant workers that Sir Henry Pellatt brought over from Scotland.
It was in that room where the group took part in an EVP recording event. A poem, read in the traditional Scottish brogue, was
played and then it was up to us to ask our requests.
I posed the question, “How old are you?”
As expected, there was no response then. However, when I got home and skimmed through my MP3s of the night, there was what sounded like a sigh, followed by something unclear and the word “two”. Admittedly, there was noise coming from passing
cars on the street.
At that same time, two guest said they saw a child hiding behind one of the potted plants. I instantly fired off a few photos to see if I could grab anything that my own eyes had failed to see.
After the group recording we were left on our again, and I made a bee-line to the servants’ quarters.
It was there where I felt a peculiar chill radiate through my spine and up into the base of my skull. I didn’t feel cold, but the feeling was as if someone was playing my nerves like a xylophone.
That was the first time I recall having experienced something of that nature.
After the tour and do-it-yourself investigation, we gathered back in the Great Hall. Desrochers was eager to share what she hopes inquisitive minds take from the experience.
“Let’s face it, everybody’s interested in the paranormal,” she said of ghost tracking. “I’ve been doing this for years and it’s always been there for me, and for many.
“But, all of a sudden everyone’s on the bandwagon, and that’s fine. Now, we provide a safe environment to do it in.”
Though she’s been successful at capturing only EVPs at Casa Loma, Desrochers says some visitors to the castle have captured phenomena on camera and video.
“Half of the fun is looking — it’s the unknown, being able to find that answer, and you may never know,” she says, her eyes growing large. “And if you’re lucky you might get close.”