Unknown Toronto Before Dead Links

These were really great links but now they are abandoned and missing. Disappointing.

Unknown Toronto “Sarah’s journal of secret Toronto facts and mysteries: TTC lore, hidden spaces, history, art, urban wildlife, film shoots and great Toronto food, clubs, bars, galleries, museums and shopping.” http://torontobefore.blogspot.com/ Historical photos of Toronto alongside of current photos from the same area.

Online and Underground – Archived Post

Online and underground

Thanks to the Web, the sport of infiltration — creeping through abandoned buildings and unused subway tunnels — is thriving as never before.

Julia Solis throws dinner parties in the subway tunnels of New York. Wearing period costumes, her guests dine on vegetarian cuisine while high-speed trains clatter by an arm’s breadth away. She invites friends to join her for games in the dark damp tunnels beneath abandoned lunatic asylums; she browses crumbling shuttered hospitals and reads the patient records that have been moldering there forgotten for decades.

L.B. Deyo likes to climb the Brooklyn Bridge in the middle of the night. He uses the bright wash of floodlights to see as he hauls himself up the support cables, hanging onto the guide wires of the suspension bridge for dear life until he reaches the top of the towers. The cars below pass oblivious to the spectacle above them: In New York, Deyo says, most people simply never look up.

Solis and Deyo are part of a growing movement of urban explorers, adventurers who go where they are not supposed to be and document their experiences online. Call it “off-limits tourism” or “infiltration.” It’s not exactly breaking and entering but, rather, visiting boarded-up ruins and underground steam tunnels and the roofs of forbidden buildings. At Solis’ Dark Passage webzine or Deyo’s Jinx Magazine, and dozens of Web sites such as Infiltration, Urban Explorers Network and Forgotten New York, these explorers are visiting places most of us will never see, and recording it so the future won’t forget.

The term “infiltration” encapsulates a whole range of activities ranging from the merely archaeological to the outright dangerous. Climbing through the broken window of an abandoned orphanage may not seem to have much in common with climbing to the top of the Brooklyn Bridge, but the two activities do share a common ideology. “The whole idea is to look at a sign or an area that’s obviously off-limits, where you’re not supposed to go, and ask, ‘What exactly is it that’s keeping me out?’” explains Deyo. “We don’t break locks or bolts or climb over fences; what we’re really overcoming is imaginary barriers that are just understood but barely questioned.”

Infiltration is in no way a new concept — after all, who hasn’t clambered through an abandoned building, ducked under a fence to explore or slipped behind a barrier to see what’s there? In the ’60s and ’70s groups like the San Francisco Suicide Club began to codify the modern movement with organized guerrilla adventure groups. But in recent years, thanks in part to the community powers of the Web, the infiltration movement has grown in strength. It’s no longer a solitary pursuit; instead, you can join mailing lists, Usenet groups, countless webzines or even the Urban Exploration Web ring to swap tips, scout out good locations and meet fellow explorers. “I don’t think there could have been an urban exploration movement as there is now without the Web,” says Deyo. “It’s a good case study of what the Web can do sociologically; people all over the world send e-mails each and every day. We’ve even heard from someone who explored a nuclear submarine base in Russia.”

Although adventurers hail from any land in which abandoned buildings or underground tunnels can be found, there are particularly strong outposts in France (especially the Paris catacombs), Australia (thanks to its adventurous culture), Detroit (with a crumbling downtown full of abandoned buildings) and the East Coast of the United States. If you live in New York, you can join the Jinx Athenaeum Society, which holds monthly meetings promoting urban adventure, or participate in Solis’ Dark Passage infiltration parties.

Most infiltrators have been lifelong adventurers, but for many the first real step into the explorer underground is by going literally under the earth, into campus steam tunnels. Most campuses have extensive underground routes for Ethernet wiring and steam and water pipes. Despite the heat and cramped quarters, the pipes are big enough to host the curious students who climb through open grates to see what’s inside. On some campuses, such as Cal Tech, exploring the steam tunnels has become such an undergrad tradition that authorities turn a blind eye, also ignoring the poetry and artwork that students leave behind to mark their stays. (Wondering if your campus has steam tunnels and how to go about getting in? The
<href=”http: www.urbanexplorers.net=”” “=”” target=”new”>Urban Explorers Network compiles information about as many campuses as it can.) </href=”http:>

“It’s kind of like punk rock — you’re into something not a lot of people are into,” says one student enrolled at Virginia Tech. He was initiated to the steam tunnels by an insider during his freshman year, and has since visited his campus library for maps and historical context; his Web site offers diaries and photos as well as advice to fellow students, although he keeps his name secret to avoid campus authorities. “It’s one of those weird paradoxes,” he says. “We want to be our own underground thing and yet we also want to brag about it and help others so they don’t get hurt or busted.”

Exploration of campus tunnels is a kind of gateway drug that leads infiltrators to more extensive tunnel networks — say, the New York subway system, which boasts level after level of abandoned yet oddly clean tunnels lit by eerie blue lights. Tunnels are probably the most common destination, since nearly every urban area is riddled with them. But Jinx’s Deyo and his co-editor, David Leibowitz, who began their magazine in 1996, pursue more lofty goals: Our “area of specialty among urban explorers is heights — a lot of groups like to go into the sewers and storm drains, but we really like to go onto rooftops and tops of bridges. I’ve always loved heights, getting that vantage point on the city that most people never get, having the whole city at your feet.” He prefers places like the Brooklyn Bridge and the rooftop of Grand Central Station, which have an “aesthetic tug … a certain epic quality.”

Infiltration is undoubtedly dangerous — there are always the very real risks of stumbling onto a live rail in a subway tunnel, falling off the top of a bridge or getting crushed under falling debris in a crumbling building. And there is the risk of getting caught, although most explorers I spoke with seemed relatively unconcerned about authorities. Of those I spoke to, only a few had been caught, and only Deyo had ever gotten in trouble. As a juvenile, he and Liebowitz climbed onto the roof of Grand Central Station and were immediately spied and apprehended — but even then Deyo merely got a ticket. “This is New York City and the cops have other concerns than some people who are basically participating in a minor victimless crime,” he shrugs.

Urban explorers admit that the appeal of infiltration is often about the thrill of being somewhere you are not supposed to be — or, as Solis puts it, of “confronting your fears, going into spaces that are dangerous and very creepy.” But despite the adrenaline rushes, many explorers say that it is also the poetry of this pursuit that draws them in.

Solis, for example, first began adventuring when she was a child in Hamburg, Germany, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that she started feeling compelled to document her explorations. She goes exploring several times a month and throws Dark Passage events — often based on a historical novel or film — in which she guides groups into forbidden places. Solis sees herself as “a little bit of an archaeologist, a little bit of a historian.” She specializes in the numerous abandoned lunatic asylums and hospitals that dot the Northeast, gothic monstrosities still cluttered with abandoned equipment, letters, furniture and records. “You are finding artifacts from a whole different way of life that you never would normally see,” she says. “I find file cabinets full of records and look at documents and try to figure out what went on in a place, reconstruct a story.”

The destinations are often doomed buildings on the brink of being demolished; many infiltrators feel driven to make a written or photographic record of historical places that will soon be lost forever. Photographer Shaun O’Boyle, whose Modern Ruins Web site is full of stunningly evocative images of abandoned hospitals, shipyards and factories, believes that “ruined buildings have an interest that goes beyond any interest that building may have had when it was occupied. It has become abandoned space; it no longer functions as it was designed to. The building is no longer sheltering anyone. The slow crumbling and decay make it less and less like architecture and more and more like shapes and forms, masses and planes for their own sake, much like sculpture.”

The infiltrators are not preservationists, however; rather, they are observers and chroniclers. Kevin Walsh, a 43-year-old copywriter for Macy’s, maintains the Forgotten New York site to document the smaller lost detritus of his lifelong home: lampposts, moldering signs and forgotten alleys that once were thriving roadways. It’s a trove of unnoticed ephemera: doorways in subway stations that lead nowhere, weed-encrusted station houses on the abandoned Rockaway rail line, long-forgotten sidewalk art. “I want to get there before the city notices that they are there and gets rid of them,” he says. “That’s why they’re still there, because people don’t notice them.”

Many infiltrators shy away from press coverage — such as Ninjalicious, the infamous founder of Infiltration.org and one of the movement’s heroes — for fear of trouble with authorities or encouraging too many newbies. But those like Solis and Deyo want to convey the message that the movement isn’t about crazy kids breaking, entering and vandalizing; after all, only a certain kind of person would dare to venture into the blackened basement of an abandoned lunatic asylum and brave the invisible ghosts simply to observe and understand.

Perhaps that person is just a little bit crazy, but the urban explorers have a unique perspective on the places around them. Consider them the secret keepers of the cities, above and below the ground. As Deyo puts it, “People have their own lives to lead and don’t feel much of a need to look up at architecture, which is a shame and is part of the reason why we’re doing it — it forces us, if no one else, to view the city as more than just a milieu for the mundane aspects of our lives, a place to work and live. It’s also an environment, and like any environment it can be explored.”

Janelle Brown is a contributing writer for Salon.

Simcoe County’s Haunted Past

Originally posted to the Barrie Advance – Oct 29, 2009. I don’t know who wrote it, the name wasn’t with the article when I found it. But, I wanted to keep the information saved and available.

Welcome to any one of countless chilling experiences from the numerous spooky locales across Simcoe County. These sites may seem innocuous during daylight hours, but once the sun dips below the horizon and shadows begin to stalk across the landscape they can take on a darker, creepier taint. That’s when ghosts and ghouls crawl out from their graves to frighten the unwary. Or so legend goes.


Our exploration of Simcoe’s spooky sites begins in Collingwood, home of two famous tales of the paranormal. The first begins with the sound of creaking wood out on the water. Moments later a steamship emerges from the mist. The vessel appears to be a derelict; it lists badly, its hull rotted. Not a soul moves aboard. Then, without warning, the ship simply fades away. Countless encounters of this kind, with startled witnesses observing an ageless ship plying the waters of Georgian Bay, have occurred over the past century and a quarter. Many speculate that the spectral craft might be the Mary Ward, a steamship that ran aground in 1872, drowning eight crewmen who were swallowed by the inky depths and never recovered.

Collingwood Caves [www.sceniccaves.com] is home to an even older spirit, that of Leuantido, a beautiful Indian maiden cursed to walk among the rugged hills for all eternity. Though she was already promised, Leuantido fell in love with a handsome chief from another tribe. Disobeying tradition and her own father, she began a torrid affair with her beloved. She cherished the stolen moments they shared. Tragically, Leuantido’s brothers found out about her deception and took matters into their own hands, bludgeoning her lover to death. They rid themselves of the body by throwing it over the edge of the cliff, and watched in satisfaction as it plunged to the rocky ground below.

Leuantido couldn’t bear the thought of living alone, so she threw herself off the cliff. Her body crashed on the rocks below, beside the man she loved. Legend says her spirit is tied to Suicide Rock, and can be seen on moody days when grey clouds blot out the sun.


Penetanguishene has its share of ghosts, many of them concentrated on the grounds of the recreated 19th century military establishment, Discovery Harbour [93 Jury Dr., www.discoveryharbour.on.ca]. At least four spirits linger after death. The recently restored Officer’s Quarters is home to Private Drury, a young soldier who froze to death while standing sentry duty one bitter New Year’s Eve. An unidentified headless figure aimlessly wanders the grounds after dark, looking perhaps for his missing skull.

The most heartbreaking story is that of John and Samuel McGarraty, soldiers of the 79th Foot, whose weathered headstones are the only identified graves on site. They marched from Barrie to Penetanguishene in the sweltering heat of 1831. The detachment was about halfway through its trek when one of the McGarraty brothers became ill and fell to the side of the road. The officer in command refused to hold up the company for the sake of a single soldier, and so ordered his men to press on. Unwilling to leave his brothers’ side, the other McGarraty remained behind as well.

When a relief party was dispatched from Penetanguishene the next morning they found the lifeless bodies of John and Samuel McGarraty. One had succumbed to illness, while the other was claimed by the terrors of night, literally scared to death. They were found lying in each other’s arms. The brothers cling to each other still, appearing to startled witnesses as a misty pair.


Sainte-Marie among the Hurons [off Highway 12 in Midland, www.saintemarieamongthehurons.on.ca] is also reputed to be haunted. And why wouldn’t it? The bones of the tortured and murdered Jesuit missionary, Jean de Brebeuf lie here. Elsewhere, there are tales that the spirit of Etienne Brule, the French explorer who was killed by Indians in 1633, wanders the forests in search of vengeance. Indian legend says he’s often accompanied by his sister who appeared as a specter and breathed the smallpox pestilence onto those responsible for her brother’s death.


Orillia has its share of ghostly tales as well. The Stephen Leacock Memorial House [50 Museum Drive, www. leacockmuseum.com] is a major tourist attraction and literary shrine, but it’s also a hotspot for paranormal activity. Some believe Stephen Leacock, the great Canadian writer, remains in the home he considered his sanctuary. But there’s said to be a darker presence as well that is responsible for a sense of foreboding and unease felt by some visitors. This malice is most often felt in the upstairs bedroom that belonged to Leacock’s son, Stephen Lushington Leacock, whose growth was stunted from an early age and led a troubled life.

Just across the lake is the hamlet of Uptergrove and St. Columbkille Church [4993 Highway 12, at Muley Road], one of the most famously haunted buildings in Simcoe County. Ghostly tales began almost as soon as the church was built more than a century ago. Eerie music will waft down from the organ loft, a figure in black hat and white face will float through the choir area, and mysterious candlelight will be seen flickering from the windows on stormy nights. Many believe the spirit responsible is that of a former priest, either the one reputed to be buried in the basement or the seemingly cursed Rev. Henry McPhillips, who lies in the graveyard and once found paperwork he was working on mysteriously completed in blood.


Some ghost stories can be easily dismissed as hallucination, misinterpretation, or outright fabrication. Others, however, are far more difficult to discount. Such is the case with Barrie’s Simcoe Hotel [31 Bayfield Street], where fact, fantasy and history have come together to tease the imagination.

People have sworn they’ve seen a woman wearing a long dress standing motionless and deathly pale standing amidst the shadows of the historic building, or that sudden cold breezes without obvious source can suddenly caress one’s face. On one occasion, an ethereal woman was momentarily seen stretched out on the floor stretched out on the floor inside the hotel. What these eyewitnesses couldn’t possibly know is that in the bitterly cold winter of 1872 a woman named Elizabeth Meyer had frozen to death outside the hotel after a lengthy bout of drinking and her corpse was brought into the Simcoe Hotel to be examined by the coroner. It seems the poor woman is bound to the spot where she died more than a century ago.

Fort Willow

Take a brief side trip to Fort Willow [Grenfel Road, north of Highway 90], a partially reconstructed War of 1812 military supply depot where a young soldier was said to have been flogged and hung for desertion. The tragedy of his death ensured the soldier would not rest peacefully in his grave. Instead, he walks silently beneath the partially reconstructed palisade and through the eerie woods to this day. For those perceptive enough to see or feel his presence, he invokes sadness and fear, no doubt reflections of those the ghost himself experienced as he was sentenced to death.


In the village of Thornton, a former hotel serves up fine fare under the watchful gaze of a tragic female spectre. The Thornton Village Inn [238 Barrie Street, www. thevillageinn.ca] is a beautifully nostalgic Victorian building and a fine dining establishment, its pleasing appearance and excellent food masking the dark stains of a terrible crime.

During the 19th century, the building was host to many travelers, but among the masses one pair, a young couple, stood out. She was beautiful and gentle, he abusive and unfeeling. One night, the woman and her cruel husband began to quarrel, and as it often did, the fight soon turned violent. The woman fell under a rain of insults and punches that left her body and spirit bruised. She was either thrown down the stairs from the second floor or fell as she ran from the assault. In either case, by the time her body had come to rest at the bottom, it was broken and lifeless.

Since then, “The Lady of the Stairs” is said to haunt the second floor of the restaurant. She can be seen standing atop the staircase, walking along the second-floor mezzanine, and looking mournfully down upon the village below from the second-floor balcony. Tradition states she appears most often on the anniversary of her death.


Simcoe’s spooky tour ends in the real ghost town of Ballycroy, located near Alliston [off Highway 50, about one-kilometre north of Highway 9]. Though the village and its inhabitants have long since faded away, it feels as if time has stood still here and one swears the echoes of those who lived and died in the village can still be heard among the trees, along the empty street, and in the foundation holes.

One of the few original buildings to remain in Ballycroy is the former McClelland general store and hotel, now lovingly restored as a private residence. The handsome two-storey structure, itself a relic of a bygone era, is home to a woman from the past that refuses to pass on to the other side.

An elderly woman who stayed here was awakened late at night by a female spirit in a Victorian gown standing over her bed. The ghost stared at the groggy woman for a time, then asked in a hollow voice, “Why are you in my room?” Before the woman could give a response, the spirit faded from view.

Others have seen this spectre, presumably a former resident, over the years as well. Was it some forgotten tragedy that causes her to remain tied to the building all these years later, or is it perhaps an unusually strong affinity for the building?