MACKENZIE HOUSE – A OCPRS, Toronto, Canada, Investigation

Posted on October 3, 2011

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By: Demetrius (Co-Founder of the OCPRS)

            Among the supposedly haunted locations to be found in the city of Toronto is a 19th century house located at 82 Bond Street. The house is known as Mackenzie House, named after William Lyon Mackenzie (1795-1861). He lived there only a few short years up until his death on August 28 1861. He died in the very same house he lived. Like many other so-called haunted locations, Mackenzie House is also a historic building, and now serves as a landmark and museum thanks to the Toronto Historical Board.

            History remembers Mackenzie as a publisher, the city ofToronto’s first Mayor, reformer calling for independence fromEngland, and a leader of the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837. As for other details of Mackenzie’s life that could have some bearing on the investigation, there was not much that could be located. He was raised as a Presbyterian, but was not very religious himself. Mackenzie’s political career was of greater importance. Also, there was nothing associated to the house itself to suggest other causes for paranormal disturbances.

            Concerning the reports of “ghosts” and other paranormal phenomena taking place at Mackenzie House, there are a few accounts provided but all occur after 1960. Prior to this date, there are no known reports of anything supernatural taking place at this house. This fact stood out as something that raised many questions, one of which was whether or not Mackenzie house is truly haunted. The Ontario Catholic Paranormal Research Society needed to examine all such reports in an objective and critical fashion. Of course, if there was any truth to be discovered from such reports, then a practical investigation could potentially yield some supporting evidence. If so, whatever occurred – or continues to occur – at the Mackenzie House would have to be further examined through the wisdom of the Church. After all, one of the main issues with which the OCPRS is concerned isn’t necessarily if Mackenzie House is haunted or not, but has more to do with the type of spirituality that is promoted as a result of such reports. What is often promoted indirectly – sometimes directly – as a result of reports claiming paranormal phenomenon is an ambivalent world view of spirituality. An ambivalent spirituality can leave people open to many dangers, such as exposing people to occult beliefs and practices.

Earliest Reports Examined:

            The earliest reports claiming that the Mackenzie House is haunted were made in 1960 by local newspapers, the Toronto Telegram, and later followed by the Toronto Star. The newspaper reports based their articles on the accounts from two couples who worked as live-in caretakers at the Mackenzie House – Mr. and Mrs. Charles Edmund, and Mr. and Mrs. Alex Dobban. The Edmunds worked at the house from 1956 to 1960, and the Dobbans worked there for only a short time, from April to June, 1960. Prior to these accounts, there have never been any such reports to suggest that the Mackenzie House is haunted.

            Among the various paranormal experiences reported by the Edmunds (and Dobbans), the better known will be noted here. Mrs. Edmund claimed to have seen an apparition of a short, bald, frock-coated man, whom her husband believed to be William Lyon Mackenzie. There is also an apparition of a woman who violently struck Mrs. Edmund. Strange mechanical sounds were also reported by the Edmunds who also believed that such noise was owed to Mackenzie’s printing press working on its own. There are also reports of mysterious footsteps on the stairway, although no one was there except for the caretakers. The parlour room piano was also heard playing on its own, late in the night. The Dobbans short stay as caretakers at Mackenzie House were owed to the same disturbances reported by the Edmunds.

            There are a few good reasons to doubt some of the reports of paranormal activity publicized in the Toronto Telegram and Toronto Star newspapers. The Mackenzie House was transformed into a museum by private investors and opened to the public during the 1950’s. According to a well researched article, Ghosts at Mackenzie House? by Chris Raible, the museum was experiencing financial difficulties. The reports of “ghosts” could have been nothing more than a hoax in order to attract visitors. The City of Toronto’s historical board took ownership and administrative responsibility for the house by the end of 1960. If the stories about ghosts and other paranormal activity were indeed a hoax, then why did these reports circulate after the Edmunds and Dobbans left the house? The belief that Mackenzie House is haunted circulates up to the present day! Was the publicity intended to help the Mackenzie House despite the fact that the former caretakers and investors no longer had anything to gain? The answers to such questions cannot of course be adequately answered here with absolute certainty, but perhaps the reports of “ghosts” simply took on a life of their own. There is also the possibility that the truth may be forever lost due to all respective parties involved. For instance, the Toronto Historical Board may have initially distanced themselves and the Mackenzie House from the reports about “ghosts,” but they ultimately benefited from them. Maintaining such supernatural stories for the purpose of drawing in visitors has certainly continued in one form or another. For instance, this upcoming Halloween season, the Mackenzie House’s reputation for being haunted is promoted through the annual Spirit Walk. The event includes a retelling of the various reports concerning William Lyon Mackenzie’s ghost and other experiences thought to be supernaturally occurring in the house.

            Despite the suggestion that ulterior motives may rest at the core of such reports of paranormal activity, there is evidence to suggest that Mackenzie House is not haunted. In Chris Raible’s own examination of such stories, he does mention that the Dobbans were quoted by the Toronto Star newspaper as having retracted their stories. Of course, this does not suggest that the other caretakers, the Edmunds, were part of any publicity stunt, but only that the Dobbans themselves withdrew from any such experiences. What is certain is that the reports of William Mackenzie’s ghost began with the Edmunds, and continued to circulate and promote interest in the Mackenzie House long after the Toronto Historical Board assumed responsibility of the house/museum. If the claims that the Mackenzie House is haunted served as a publicity stunt, they certainly continue to be used in the same way under the care and administration of the City ofToronto. For one reason or another, Mackenzie House maintains a supernatural reputation.

            As stated earlier, some of the paranormal phenomena claimed to have occurred at the Mackenzie House is doubtful. It should be noted that the doubt spoken of here does not necessarily mean that the reports are all lies, but only that they are questionable. The investigation conducted by the OCPRS attempted to explore theses claims in order to determine if Mackenzie House is haunted or not.

The Investigation:

            Unfortunately, a night time investigation within the Mackenzie House could not be arranged, although exceptions have been made for various reporters and individuals in the past. There was, however, a night time investigation held outside the house and its grounds. It was the hope of the OCPRS that the apparitions and other paranormal disturbances said to take place within the house could somehow be documented from the outside. The limitations here are obvious and frustrated the possibility for any concrete conclusions. Ultimately, the OCPRS had to rely on a daytime investigation during the operating hours of the house/museum.

            The first visit to the Mackenzie House was held on July 30, 2011 during the afternoon, between 2:30 – 3:30 pm. As always prayers and other preparations were made prior to entering the house. During this brief investigation, photography, EMF, and EVP were used to document and conduct tests. If anything supernatural was occurring within the house, there was good reason to suspect something demonic. The reason for this suspicion had much to do with the type of paranormal activity described by Mrs. Edmund who experienced a violent attack from an apparition. As a matter of record, the Toronto Telegram quoted Mrs. Edmund’s desperation and desire to leave the house due to such experiences. Mrs. Edmund stated:

“I had to get out of that house. If I didn’t get out, I knew I’d be carried out in a box.”

The disturbances which drove Mrs. Edmund to fear and hopelessness, and the violence committed against her are obvious signs of demonic activity. In some of the writings of the Church Fathers there are references to demonic activity and what purpose such activity serves. From the writings of St. John Chrysostom, one can compare the circumstances of Mrs. Edmund. In one of his homilies St. John Chrysostom wrote:

“Nothing is as strong a weapon to the devil as is desperation.”

Mrs. Edmund did indeed become desperate to leave the Mackenzie House. Her fears are a clear indication that she may have experienced something demonic rather than what most people believe to be the spirits of dead people. Based on this possibility, some holy water was brought to the Mackenzie House for the purpose of provoking any evil spirit – if any – in order to document and conduct tests. If there was any evidence to suggest that evil spirits (demonic activity) was present, a treatment would become necessary.

Inside the Mackenzie House:

            A tour guide typically escorts all visitors throughout the house. On this particular occasion the tour guide was a young lady named Kate. She was very knowledgeable about William Lyon Mackenzie and about the house. After explaining the purpose of the visit, Kate was very helpful and accommodating. Although accommodating and forthcoming with information, Kate did not have any knowledge of the various tests that would be conducted by the OCPRS.

            Among the more interesting details shared by Kate, she provided her own personal experiences at the house. Kate explained that she was working late one night at the house, and that she was startled by the sound of clanking metal. She said she could even feel the house shake. At first she recalled the Edmund’s belief that Mackenzie’s printing press was responsible for such a noise. Kate rationalized that the noise and vibration was caused by the 505 street-car which passes alongDundas streetnearby. During the day there is much more traffic onDundas, and the street-car travels at a much slower speed compared to the night. It is typically during the late evening, just after rush-hour, when the street-car creates the loud metal clanking as it travels at a much quicker speed alongDundas street. This seemed to be a reasonable explanation. As a matter of record, the Edmunds did suspect something similar, such as the subway system nearby, but ultimately failed to turn their attentions onto the Dundas street-car. Described as a “rumbling” sound which also shook the house, what the Edmunds experienced seemed to match the same description provided by Kate the tour guide. The rumbling sounds the Edmunds heard may have indeed been the street-car onDundasand not the printing press.

            Another questionable aspect to the reports surrounding the Mackenzie House was the piano that was heard late in the night by the Edmund family. In Chris Raible’s article he mentions this incident along with some further considerations worth mentioning here. Once again, Chris Raible’s article is available at the Mackenzie House and can provide greater detail, but some of his ideas will be mentioned here since they were taken into account as a part of the overall research.

            The Edmunds described the parlour room piano playing on its own in the late night. The sound coming from the piano wasn’t described as any recognizable musical piece. Instead, the keys on the piano were struck at random. In Raible’s article he notes that the piano currently located at the house did not belong to the Mackenzie family. Kate, the tour guide, helped confirm this fact. Why it is important to mention here is because many people believe that personal belongings of the deceased may help explain a spiritual connection and presence between the spirits of the dead and the living world. In other words, the paranormal phenomena occurring at Mackenzie House may be owed to the personal belongings connected to William Lyon Mackenzie (the house is a prime example of such a belief). Here, Chris Raible uses the fact that the piano did not belong to the Mackenzie family. What this suggests is that the testimony provided by the Edmunds may be looked upon as questionable since there is no personal connection between the piano and the Mackenzie family.

            In order to examine the legitimacy of the Edmunds’ claim concerning the piano the OCPRS simply took into account the incident described and not what is implied by determining if a physical object belonged to the deceased or not. After all, Mrs. Edmund’s personal experiences and fears appear to have been demonic in nature, and any such paranormal activity has nothing to do with the souls of dead people. For this reason the OCPRS could not simply find any legitimacy in the assumptions between “ghosts” and the personal property said to have belonged to the deceased in question. Otherwise, an assumption would be made which promotes the belief that “ghosts” are the souls of dead people. Cursed objects are another matter entirely, and would not be ruled out, and while this was taken into consideration it seemed unlikely. The biblical and patristic evidence suggests that “ghosts” are in fact not the souls of the dead. The evidence points towards evil spirits (demons). Unknown to most paranormal researchers/investigators – and the general public – such an association between “ghosts” and the personal belongings and/or abode of the deceased (having some sort of spiritual connection to one another) is a belief found across various occult philosophies and religions – modern spiritualism, mediums and psychics, etc.

            Taking into account the reports concerning the piano, an EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon) and EMF (Electromagnetic Field) experiment was carried out. Some of the holy water was used to provoke a demonic manifestation. A camera was used to record anything unusual. Nothing supernatural or even slightly unusual was observed during the experiments. The data collected with the digital audio recorder would be examined at a later time to determine if any EVP occurred. There was nothing found on the digital audio recorder, and the EMF meter did not register anything. Likewise, none of the photographs provided anything that could help indicate that there is something paranormal occurring around the piano.

            In addition to the piano, the parlour room did contain a piece of furniture – a tiny chair – that did belong to William Lyon Mackenzie. What is odd is that the belief previously discussed and applied towards the piano has not been measured against a personal item which did in fact belong to the Mackenzie family. The same experiments conducted on the piano were applied on the tiny chair. The results were all negative. Here, a personal belonging of the Mackenzie family did not provide any evidence to support the belief that the spirits of the dead are somehow bound or connected to physical objects. Despite this opinion, it should be noted that the house itself is said to be haunted and can be considered the personal property of the Mackenzie family. Why objects or houses can be regarded as haunted rests on beliefs associating the spirits of the dead to those things. Of course, this is a belief that the OCPRS does not agree with. Since the house is said to be haunted the OCPRS decided to continue the investigation by examining the various paranormal phenomena described by the Edmunds. Whatever beliefs have been applied to the supernatural activity at the Mackenzie House in the past simply provided an opportunity to examine non-Christian beliefs and expose them. However, the OCPRS’s purpose was to establish if the house was indeed haunted and to understand why in Christian terms.

            Another area of the Mackenzie House investigated were the wooden steps leading upstairs. The Edmunds claimed that footsteps could be heard on the stairs after they went to bed. The stairs between all levels of the house were investigated. The only exception was the stairway leading to the top floor, which is off-limits to the public. Although these particular stairs could not be examined thoroughly they were still examined just outside of the gate blocking them.

            The very first observation made about all the stairs was that they are all made from wood, and would creek and crack when climbed. What the Edmunds described as footsteps would have been very easy to identify and could not be easily confused with any other sound. An EVP and EMF experiment was conducted on all the stairways. Again, using holy water, the OCPRS attempted to provoke a response. The EVP data was examined at a later time but it yielded nothing. As for the EMF meter, it did not register anything out of the ordinary. Photographs were also taken at both the bottom and top of the stairways (with the exception of the stairs leading to the top floor, which was blocked off). The photographs also failed to provide anything of interest. Nothing unusual was observed, and any noise heard was owed to people moving up and down on the stairs, and not “ghosts.” Of course, the Edmunds stated that the footsteps were heard late at night, and the OCPRS investigation was held during the light of day. Without an opportunity to conduct the same experiments at night, the OCPRS was only able to establish the absence of paranormal activity during the day. The investigation did not end until other accounts provided by the Edmunds had been closely examined.

            The apparitions of William Lyon Mackenzie and of a woman with long dark brown hair appeared to Mrs. Edmund in the room they slept. Unsure of whether or not the Edmunds slept in the same room in which William Lyon Mackenzie died, all rooms were investigated using the same EVP and EMF experiments previously described. The upstairs room in which William Lyon Mackenzie died was investigated twice on two separate occasions. On the second occasion (Sept. 10, 2011 / 2:30-3:30 pm) the gate was removed allowing entrance into the room. Despite the ability to closely examine areas and objects in the room, the EVP and EMF tests yielded nothing. Kate, the tour guide, was kind enough to mention that the dresser and a small framed hand-stitched picture belonged to the Mackenzie family. Exploring the same argument mentioned earlier (concerning the parlour room piano) these other objects were tested. Nothing unusual was observed or documented.

            Kate had mentioned that the rocking chair in the basement was another piece of furnishing which belonged to the Mackenzie family. She also described that there is a history of experiences given by other people who claim to have seen the rocking chair move back and forth when attempting to photograph it. Such a curious account prompted the OCPRS to examine this chair. The rocking chair was examined and an EMF reading provided nothing out of the ordinary. The chair was photographed, but there was no rocking back and forth movement observed.

            Other areas of the Mackenzie House were examined and documented. There was one area of the house which sparked some interest. In the hallway at the foot of the stairs of the basement, the EMF meter was registering unusually high levels of electromagnetic energy. At first, it was thought that the source may have been coming from a wooden dresser resting against the wall in the basement hallway. Kate was kind enough to open the drawers to verify the contents, but there was nothing contained within them which could provide such a strong electromagnetic field. There were no electrical receptacles behind the dresser. When the EMF meter was moved closer to the floor, it became obvious that the source was coming from underneath. The rug was moved aside but revealed nothing which could indicate a power source of some sort (such as an electrical receptacle box). The furnace and power box were located nearby but when the EMF meter was moved in their general directions, the EMF meter did not register anything. This was in itself very strange. The wiring of the house did not include any subfloor electrical conduits, yet an electromagnetic field was coming from the floor. As strange as this was, there was no explanation for the EMF meter measuring anything at this location. There has never been a report (from the Edmunds or anyone else) describing any paranormal activity from this location in the house. The area in question was photographed and noted for future examination.

Night Time Investigation (Outside the Mackenzie House, Oct. 1, 2011):

            Although an investigation during the night within the house could not be arranged, an investigation could still be conducted outside of the Mackenzie House. In itself, such an investigation would depend heavily on photography to document anything unusual, and personal observations could be made and noted. However, an EVP experiment could also prove useful despite conducting the experiment outside of the house.

            It was the OCPRS’s intention to begin the night investigation in the early evening and continue until midnight. Having arrived early that evening, a tour group exploring haunted locations inTorontowas already at the house. Such “ghost tours” often promote the paranormal but do so without placing much attention on what type of spirituality they are impressing on their audiences. What is often promoted through such “ghost tours” is a promotion of ambivalent spirituality. Although regarded as a form of entertainment, such flirtations with ambivalent forms of spirituality do have a larger impact than most people would like to admit. Ghosts are very common in popular culture, especially concerning views on the afterlife which have little or nothing in common with Christianity. The influence of such popular culture in the paranormal community often leads people into occult perspectives. The “ghost tour” group eventually departed and continued on to their next “haunted” location. The OCPRS could now begin its first part of the night investigation.

            Although the investigation was limited to the outside of the house, some photos were taken through exposed windows. The basement lights were left on and provided some clear photo opportunities. Nothing unusual was photographed through the windows. The audio digital recorder was left on the door steps of the front entrance. No religious provocation (or any type of provocation) was used for the EVP experiment during the night investigation. An EMF meter was used at various locations around the outside of the house. There was one location where the EMF meter did register the presence of an electromagnetic field. The location was outside of the front door of the Mackenzie House. For undetermined reasons, an electromagnetic field was measured at the door. Why the EMF meter registered anything at this location is difficult to explain. It could not be reconciled to any of the known reports. When the doors were open during the daytime investigation, there were no electrical conduits or fixtures observed, which could cause the EMF meter to react. Another visit in the near future would be required to re-examine this area during the day.

CONCLUSIONS:

            There was nothing detected through either observation or any of the data recorded and examined, which could be termed “paranormal.” The only pieces of evidence gathered from the investigation were the peculiar EMF reading at the bottom of the stairway in the basement hallway and the front door entrance. While this can’t be classified as paranormal according to OCPRS standards, it was most unusual. The cause for such peculiar EMF readings could not be explained as being owed to existing power sources nearby. The power supplied to the Mackenzie House is very basic, and does not provide enough EMF for which the primary power that enters the house can reach the areas in question. Why such strong levels of EMF were present at the locations described remains unknown. Perhaps more information will be forthcoming in the near future, and the unusual EMF mystery will be answered.

With no evidence collected to confirm any of the reports provided by the Edmunds, a problem arises in terms of how those reports can be interpreted. It is the opinion of the OCPRS that the Edmunds may have indeed experienced something paranormal, but may have confused other incidents – such as the printing press – and associated anything unsettling to the other very real experiences. In other words, what initially traumatized the Edmunds may have been intensified by a number of other unusual (but explainable) disturbances. How this may have occurred is due to the fear and desperation inspired by those incidents which may be owed to demonic activity. As for having shared their stories with the Toronto Telegram, the Edmunds may have benefited financially from their stories, but the real benefactors of any such stories would be the City of Toronto/Historical Board. The Edmunds parted ways with the Mackenzie House just before the City ofToronto took ownership and administrative control of the house. Any collaboration between the Edmunds and the Historical Board would have been unlikely. Another good reason to believe some of the reports provided by the Edmunds is that they were placing themselves at the mercy of intense public criticism, and without much to gain in return. It is for this reason that the OCPRS has no reason to doubt some of their experiences, despite not having acquired any evidence to confirm their reports.

            As for the Historical Board maintaining the Mackenzie House’s reputation for being haunted, the commercial motives are obvious. The problem, however, is not who benefits monetarily or not since such gain is not as significant as first suspected. The real problem is that the reputation the Mackenzie House has acquired has also indirectly promoted the belief that the souls of the dead become wandering spirits. Having already discussed the apparitions experienced by the Edmunds, it is clear that they were convinced that the spirits of the dead – the Mackenzie family – haunted the house. It is easy to understand why they believed this to be the case. After all, William Lyon Mackenzie died in that very same house. Also, popular culture has always maintained that ghosts are the spirits of dead people. For one reason or another, this view has managed to both entertain and invoke the possibility for an afterlife existence. Despite what popular culture has imprinted on the minds of society, the descriptions provided by the Edmunds does fall more inline with demonic activity. The reason demons are more likely to be responsible for the paranormal phenomena experienced at the Mackenzie House is due to what is known about them. St.John Chrysostom made a very excellent point concerning the afterlife and ghosts, where he stated:  “Nor, indeed, is it possible for a soul, once separated from its body, to wander here anymore. For, the souls of the righteous are in the hands of God […] and the souls, also of sinners, are straightaway led away hence and it cannot be that a soul, when it has gone-out of the body can wander here.” If one examines the overall Christian interpretation and view of the afterlife, it becomes very difficult to reconcile what the Edmunds described to the spirits of the dead. To better appreciate how their experiences could be demonic rather than visitations from the spirits of the dead, another consideration from St. John Chrysostom is put forward. In his Homily of Matthew St. John Chrysostom explains the reason demons imitate the souls of the departed where he writes: “It is not actually the soul of the deceased which cries out, but a demon which imitates that person in order to defraud those who are listening…” Although the Edmunds did not communicate with the apparitions, they convinced themselves that the ghosts of William Lyon Mackenzie and possibly his wife (or other female relative) haunt the house. Demons, as they are understood in Christian terms, are not a part of popular culture and are therefore not commonly associated to such experiences like those described by the Edmunds.

            The Mackenzie House is not haunted by any “ghosts” but it certainly does seem to have had some questionable incidents. Ultimately, what continues to occur at the Mackenzie House is a question concerning spirituality and the afterlife.

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