Sunday, October 31, 2010

# 9 ~ The Haunted Royal Ontario Museum, Then and Now

Greetings, boys and ghouls!  As a special creature feature for Hallowe'en, I thought I'd put up a post on one of Toronto's haunted historic locations, as always showing photographs "then and now".  For a dozen years now, I've operated two ghost tours of Toronto, and although they run all year, the "Hallowe'en Season" wraps up tonight, Sunday, October 31st, with the last tour starting at midnight.

Both tours begin outside the Royal Ontario Museum, at Bloor and Avenue Road, so I thought I'd share some information on its ghost story.

The Royal Ontario Museum was founded in 1912, and opened to the public two years later, in 1914.  The very first curator of the Royal Ontario Museum was a man named Charles Currelly, who was appointed as curator on the museum's founding in 1912.  Currelly had been an archaeologist in the Middle East, and actually brought back many of the items originally displayed at the Royal Ontario Museum. 

Charles Currelly was a bit of a workaholic, it seems.  As the rest of the staff left at the end of the day, Currelly would stay on into the night, burning the midnight oil and spending several hours on his own in the otherwise abandoned museum.  Nearly a century ago, when the museum first opened, its location at Bloor and Avenue Road would have been set out of the downtown core.  When Currelly worked late into the night, he would often give up on the prospects of getting home.  Soon, he spent so much time at the office, that he had a small folding cot installed in his office.  Instead of bothering to go home, he would often change into an old set of pygamas, known as a "nightshirt", and sleep through the night in his office.

Charles Currelly finally retired after nearly 35 years as curator of the museum.  From his start at the museum's founding in 1912, he worked as curator right up until 1946.  He oversaw an expansion of the building in 1933, which is familiar to today's museum visitors as the east side of the building, on Avenue Road.  He was also a steadfast curator during the formative decades of the museum's early life, and a dedicated workaholic.

Currelly enjoyed just over a decade of retired life before dying in 1957.  But apparently, that doesn't keep him from coming back.  Museum personnel claim to still see Currelly wandering around the building, especially late at night.  Some recognize from the old photographs from his days as curator ... others see his ghostly image, still wandering around in his nightshirt.  He's been seen on the museum's main floor, in the gallery where a lot of the Asian artefacts are now on display.  Also, he's seen in the rotunda area, on the east side of the building.  Past visitors to the museum will remember this rotunda from its time as the main entrance, before they opened up the new Michael Lee Chin crystal entrance on Bloor Street.  Currelly was a driving force behind this expansion, which was eventually unveiled in 1933.

But it seems that Currelly doesn't always have to be seen to make his presence known.  These days, staff members will be working late in their offices, all by themselves, after their coworkers have all gone home for the day.  They may not know it, but they are showing the same dedication that Currelly did when he was alive.  They are continuing Currelly's tradition and helping to keep his spirit alive ... in more ways than one!  Staff who are alone late at night in their office will hear the sound of some vintage, tinny radio music drifting into their work space.  This is unusual, as they claim that there is no radio or television playing in their office.  Thinking that someone else has come in to work late in the next room, they wander out into the hallway to see what's going on.  When they step out of their office, they find ... nothing.  No music.  No lights.  No coworkers.  They shrug it off, maybe putting it down to their imagination.  But when they step back into their office, they can still hear the old radio music playing.  When Currelly was working late at night, he used to like to listen to the radio to help keep himself company.  The explanation for today's late night workers is that Currelly is coming back, looking over their shoulder, and approving of their dedication ... and to keep them company, he is switching on his radio, from where ever he is now.

It gives an all new meaning to the concept of dead air time on the radio, doesn't it?  I'm not sure that it would convince me to work late at night, but I guess it's the thought that counts ...

THEN : The Royal Ontario Museum in 1922.  This side of the building, facing the west and "Philosopher's Walk" was the original facade of the building that opened to the public in 1914.  The Avenue Road side, on the east, didn't open until 1933.

THEN : A 1924 photography looking south from Bloor Street at the original Royal Ontario Museum.  No 1933 expansion, and no Michael Lee Chin crystal.

NOW : Looking along the new Michael Lee Chin Crystal on Bloor Street, from the Alexandra Gates.  This latest addition to the Royal Ontario Museum has gained a lot of notoriety.  Some love it, some hate it.  People have come from miles around to see it in person and decide for themselves.  But I suppose that there's no such thing as bad publicity ... as Oscar Wilde said, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about, right?

NOW : Another view of the Michael Lee Chin Crystal.

THEN : The original Royal Ontario Museum, October 15, 1929.

THEN : The first expansion to the Royal Ontario Museum opened to the public on October 12, 1933.  Tour participants alre always divided as to what they think of the new crystal on Bloor Street, but believe it or not, reactions to this 1933 addition were equally divided.  Some people complained that it was too new and fanciful, and not "institutional" enough to represent a provincial museum.   It was too modern to be attached to the traditional 1914 structure.  Does that sound familiar?  This photograph dates from 1935.

NOW : The "old entrance" to the Royal Ontario Museum, opened up in the 1930s.

NOW : The 1930s addition to the Royal Ontario Museum was the second phase of the building.  Designed with a lot of imput from Charles Currelly, the first curator, it was just as controversial in its day as the big crystal on Bloor Street is today.

THEN : The Royal Ontario Museum's expansion in 1933.  Charles Currelly hand picked some of the mottos and other design elements of this 1933 phase of the museum.  It's said that he still likes to come back and admire his work ... even though he's been dead since 1957.

THEN : Looking south from Bloor Street in the 1930s.  Note that this is before Avenue Road was widened, and you can see the Alexandra Gates in their original position.  They were eventually moved to their current position, at the northern entrance to Philosopher's Walk.  Named after Alexandra, the wife of King Edward VII, they were opened in October of 1910 by Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York (later known as King George V and Queen Mary).

NOW : The Alexandra Gates in their new location, at the north entrance to Philosophers Walk.

THEN : A Chinese Tomb on display at the Royal Ontario Museum in 1933.  Charles Currelly is said to haunt the display of Asian artefacts at the Royal Ontario Museum.  These guardian lions are now on public display outside, on the east side of the Royal Ontario Museum building.

NOW : The same Asian lions that once stood inside the Royal Ontario Museum now "guard" the eastern side of the building, facing Queen's Park Circle.

NOW : The tiled walls of "Museum" subway station.



The foremost online authority on Toronto's ghost stories, the Toronto Ghosts and Hauntings Research Society, or TGHRS, just celebrated thirteen years of supplying ghostly information to people in Toronto and throughout Ontario.

Their website collects ghost stories from Toronto and across Ontario, and they are the oldest and best established internet based paranormal research group in Canada.  They are the best resource for people who enjoy Toronto's ghost stories, and I just wanted to thank the two founders of the group, Matt and Sue, for their thirteen years of hard work.  Have a happy and safe Hallowe'en, guys, and thanks for all of your dedication.  For more information, please check out their link.

The Toronto Ghosts and Hauntings Research Society

Lastly, I'd like to thank everyone who has come out on my ghost tours, not only in the last three weeks, but in the last twelve years.  It's been a pleasure for me to share some of Toronto's hidden secrets with you, and whether you're a believer or a sceptic, I hope that you've enjoyed yourself!  Have a fun and safe Hallowe'en, everybody!


  1. Thanks for the most excellent walk Wednesday night!

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