Tracking the history of Queen West’s iconic theatre involves both figurative and (supposedly) literal ghosts of the past.
If you’ve ever felt an unexplainable presence at the Great Hall, you’re not alone. On several occasions, paranormal teams have entered the cavernous event space at 1087 Queen St. W. and emerged claiming to have documented evidence of white noise and even the voice of a young boy. Hearing the spectral child is a regular occurrence among many who work at the Great Hall, and it’s not the only ghostly activity they’ve reported.
“I’ve had people—bands as well as other workers here—who have actually heard light footsteps walking [around] late at night,” says the hall’s production manager, Mark Foster. “When heading down the stairs, more than once I’ve had the feeling like someone is pushing me, guiding me out [towards the door] a little bit. It only really happens when you’re alone and you’re walking out. [It’s almost as if they] want you to leave.”
Though the Great Hall isn’t found on many lists of Toronto’s most haunted locations, the building’s rich history lends itself to spookiness. Originally established in 1889 as one of the first YMCA locations in Toronto, it was home to some of the earliest basketball games in history. The site also housed a large swimming pool that still remains in the dark basement: its crumbling remnants are buried in bricks and concrete, and only the deep end is visible.
The building was sold in 1912 to the Royal Templars of Temperance, who held church services in the main room, but it wasn’t until it was purchased by the Polish National Union in the 1940s that the hall served a notably different purpose. The union used the building to operate a newspaper and provide a space for refugees fleeing the Second World War. Those rooms are now used as office space, and current staff at the Great Hall speculate the refugee housing as the origin of their ghosts.
The Great Hall as we know it came to be in the 1980s, when the Toronto School of Art transformed it into a hub for artists and musicians. It’s since been home to the Music Gallery and the Theatre Centre, and now operates as a concert hall and private event space.
Foster says the paranormal presence isn’t malevolent, but it does make itself known. It’s most present near the staircases, which are old, windy, eerie things that run along both sides of the building. “The staircase actually creeps the hell out of me,” he admits. “Back when I started here, I didn’t have a place to stay, so I slept over. When you wake up at 5:30 in the morning when no one’s here and you’re walking down the stairs, it’s a strange feeling.”
But it’s the balcony that leaves him the most unsettled. “Recently, it’s been weird. Our front-of-house tech, Chris Levoir, passed away in June. He didn’t pass away here, but we spent a lot of time in this place together. Sometimes you kind of feel…yeah,” he trails off. “You can’t stay up here long without a little prickly feeling up your back.” Foster says he’s never sure if it’s just his mind playing tricks on him—that maybe the 124-year-old building just creaks. But one thing’s for certain, he says, “You definitely don’t feel alone.”