Ghosts sparks trades to walk off the job

Built in 1860, the building known as the Customs House has had its share of ghostly visitations.

Contractors who specialize in renovating historic buildings occasionally have a ‘ghost story’ to share. 

And when previous residents come calling from the ‘great beyond’, they have been known to unnerve a construction worker or two.

Two buildings that boast paranormal visitations are the Workers Arts and Heritage Centre (WAHC) in Hamilton and the old Humber College Lakeshore Campus in Etobicoke.

Formerly known as the Customs House, WAHC was built in 1860 and still stands in Hamilton.

In 1996, the building underwent extensive renovations and, according to Renee Wetselaar, executive director, WAHC, “Things seemed to get busier when Jim McDonald came on the job.”

McDonald, the painter at the Customs House, claims to not only have experienced a ghost, but to have also communicated with it.

“We were not aware the building was haunted until we did a little research on it, and we did not know Jim was a ‘channeller’.”

According to staff, the apparition most common is that of a lady in her mid-80s.

Apparently MacDonald was the catalyst in witnessing the apparition and poltergeist activity, leading to four or five electricians walking off the job and refusing to do any further work. The activity involved toolboxes.

“Workers were freaked out. They were so scared that they did not want to come back,” added Wetselaar.

Humber College’s Lakeshore campus was originally the Mimico Hospital for the Insane. Built in 1888, the community of buildings was a source of pride in Toronto, offering the best therapeutic practices available in 1911.

Several of the Mimico buildings were renovated in 2003 and 2004 to accommodate the college campus.

Aecon Construction was the general contractor for Buildings H and J, working with Lions Group Demolition and State Group Inc.

The major renovation included demolishing interior walls and floors and dropping the basement.

Sheldon Podmoroff, superintendent on the Humber project for Aecon, noted there were a few ghost stories while working at the former asylum.

“One of the electricians saw a ghost in one of the rooms. He refused to go back in the area,” Podmoroff said. “He swore up and down there was something in that room moving across the floor. He was a real level-headed guy, close to retirement. Everybody more or less believed him, but they took it with a grain of salt.”

Tales from the old psychiatric hospital include lights turning on and off on their own volition, and a faceless spectral nurse who walks the dimly lit corridors.

“There were all kinds of weird things happening —power going off and stuff like that, but nobody ever gave it much thought,” Podmoroff said.

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