Monday, October 10, 2011

Creepy Toronto: A Guide to Hogtown’s Haunted ‘Hoods

The air on Bay Street is starting to nip; the leaves in Queen’s Park are starting to crunch; and Halloween’s around the corner. If you’re itching for a fright, a nighttime delight, or just some good-old-fashioned exploring, take a tour of Toronto’s haunted spots. I’ve compiled a guide to the spookiest neighbourhoods in Hogtown, stretching from the Don Valley to the University of Toronto and from Queen Street to Bloor Street. Read on, and happy haunting! 

Glen Road, Toronto Necropolis and the Don Jail

There’s a corner of creepy in downtown Toronto’s northeast. The abandoned houses of Glen Road, the Toronto Necropolis' slanting grave markers, and the imposing Don Jail are all within walking distance. Watch out for a creepy connection linking two of these scary sites! 

Clockwise from top: Glen Road; Toronto Necropolis; Don Jail.

Glen Road

Glen Road is a strange sight indeed. Nestled beneath Bloor Street, it’s a busy thoroughfare connecting Sherbourne subway station to St. James Town. It takes a minute to pull your focus away from the commuters and to notice the comparatively stone-still Victorian houses.

The neighbourhood in its heyday, c. 1913.

It seems the properties were purchased by a developer in the 1980s, boarded and bricked up, and left to their current state of decay. According to this great article, efforts have been made to designate the homes as heritage structures.

While the process continues, the houses keep crumbling and the sadness of this street compounds. In the summer of 2001, a young basketball star was shot and killed, while generally seedy activities abound in the abandoned alleyways. 

One wonders what lies beyond the bricked windows and boarded doorways...

Toronto Necropolis 

To the southeast of Glen Road lies the Toronto Necropolis, one of the city's oldest cemeteries. The ground was broken and the first body buried in the Necropolis in 1850. Notable Torontonians are interred on the grounds, including William Lyon Mackenize, Toronto’s first mayor, and George Brown, founder of The Globe. Of course, Mackenzie’s ghost walks the streets of downtown Toronto, so what’s to stop him from visiting his gravestone?

The Necropolis is also home to Toronto’s first crematorium, opened and operating in 1933. Wander along the meandering paths, but watch out for ghostly apparitions (and their low-lying gravestones)!

The Old Don Jail

Formerly home to the murderous and the infamous, the old Don Jail is a frightful sight. Constructed in the early 1860s, it housed and hanged rapists, killers, arsonists, and other seedy characters spewing from Toronto’s criminal underbelly. As you walk up to the Don Jail’s imposing fa├žade, take a look at the bearded face above the doorway – he’s looking back!

The old portion of the jail has been closed since 1977 and is currently being redeveloped by Bridgeport Health (the adjoining building is still in operation). In 2007 an archeological crew discovered a graveyard in the north side of the jail, and unearthed three skeletons - all hung prisoners of the Old Don. Perhaps a ghost or two has been disturbed? In all, 34 convicted criminals were hung at the scaffold of the Don Jail, among them the notorious George Bennett.   

A grave at the Old Don Jail; from
Illustration from the Evening Telegram, 1880

Remember George Brown, resting in (or haunting) the Toronto Necropolis? George Bennett is his murderer. A disgruntled ex-employee, Bennett shot Brown in the leg at the Globe offices in March 1880. The wound developed gangrene and Brown was dead and buried 7 weeks later.

Check back in the coming days for hauntings on the University of Toronto St. George campus, and the downtown core!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Halloween Decorations: How to Make Creepy Specimen Jars

Don't let my flowery header deceive you - I live for Halloween. There's something about scaring the bejeezus out of little trick-or-treaters and sullen teenagers that fills me with joy. When I was a little kid, I loved visiting the houses decorated roof to driveway for Halloween, so I hope today's young'uns are just as grateful for a good fright as I was. Whether you're decorating your porch for Halloween night, or your home for a party, read on for tried and tested decorating tips and ideas. Check back in the coming weeks for more articles!

Specimen Jars
Specimen jars are easy to make, inexpensive, versatile and pack quite the visual punch. They are essentially jars filled with icky things. Make specimen jars for decorating a witch's lair, a mad scientist's lab, a vampire's dungeon, a mummy's crypt, or whatever else you choose as your theme.

In the weeks prior to your shindig, gather empty pickle, jam, or condiment jars. Make sure you wash them! If the jar lids feature a non-Halloween-appropriate design (e.g. strawberries) use some sandpaper to rough them up. Alternatively, purchase some new containers from your local dollar store. Try to use a variety of shapes and sizes for maximum visual impact. Clear or coloured glass is best, but be careful and keep them out of reach of little children.

Pumpkin-like glass container from the dollar store and 'escaping' spiders.
The Specimens
This is when the fun begins! Think about what scares you or grosses you out and incorporate that into your jars. Here are some ideas:
  • Growing creatures! These glorious inventions can be found at most dollar stores in the toy section. They are tiny things made out of polymers. Read more about how they work here. Growing creatures come in many icky shapes: rats, lizards, bugs, teeth, etc. Add lukewarm water and the creature to one of your jars; over the next few days it will grow in size until it fills the jar. Make multiple - they'll look perfectly gross! Mad scientist. Witch's lair.
Growing octopus specimen jar.
  •  Blood! Buy some fake blood from - you guessed it - the dollar store, or make your own. Here's a nifty video on mixing up fake blood. Unless you're planning on making a large batch for a costume, and therefore need realistic-looking thick blood, you can probably get away with water tinted with red food colouring. If you're placing the jar of blood in a semi-dark room, the translucent water-food colouring mixture will glow in low light and give the best results.Vampire's dungeon.
  • Dollar store knick knacks! Fake bugs, mini skeletons, and hanging ghouls can fill up jars and, in low light, be terribly frightful. Combine the shells from a couple of eggs with some slimy bugs or reptiles to give the look of freshly-hatched other-worldly creatures. Strategically place plastic spiders in the mouth of a jar to give the look of escaping arachnids. Mad scientist. Witch's lair. Vampire's dungeon. Mummy's crypt.
  • Shrunken apple heads! Check out this how-to on creating shrunken apple heads. Place one or two in a tall jar - they'll look like mummified noggins. Or, just use a creepy head from a hanging ghoul decoration, as shown below. I upped the ancient Egyptian vibe by dyeing a strip of cloth with strongly-brewed coffee and wrapping it around the jar's mouth. Mummy's crypt.
Dollar store ghoul + coffee-dyed cloth = Ancient Egyptian mummy head!
Decorating the Jars
For more creepy detail, make some labels for your specimens. Download a few horror-themed fonts from dafont and print up some labels. Be creative and descriptive. For instance, I dubbed my growing creature octopus 'Kraken'.  Next, rip the paper a little to give your labels rough edges. For an aged effect, crumple up the paper to crease it, and dip it in strongly-brewed cool coffee for a dingy brown colour. Or, paint the label red for a blood-soaked look.

Specimen jars look great stacked and clustered together. Make sure you have enough lights around them so the details are visible. I used some old plastic pumpkin lights covered in a gauzy black crinkle cloth for an orange glow.

Specimen jar display.

Happy haunting, and check back for more Halloween how-to's!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Exploring Toronto, On and Off the TTC: Dupont Subway Station and Spadina House

As much as I like to complain about the TTC and its less than impeccable service, I do enjoy riding the Rocket (when it's running) and exploring Toronto's many subway stations, some of which are quite beautiful.

Enter Dupont station. Located at Spadina Ave. and Dupont St., the station was built in the late 1970s as part of the extension of the University-Spadina line. And nothing screams 1970s more than burnt orange and free-living florals.

James Sutherland's mosaics are collectively entitled "Spadina Summer Under All Seasons." The intricate glass-work depicts flowers in multiple stages of life, from bud to blossom, from afar and from within.

In addition to the perpetually fresh blooms, a circle motif runs through the station. The wall tiles, lights, ledges and entrance ways are all rounded.

As per the title, there is much to explore off the TTC and in the neighbourhood. Casa Loma is just up Spadina Ave. (and by up, I'm referring to many, many steps). Far more interesting in my opinion is Spadina House. The historical home and museum is currently dressed up in beautiful 1920s and 1930s fashions. Stuffed wolves guard one of the entrance ways - the family was rather eccentric. Tours are offered weekly.

These photos were taken in the springtime, but the Spadina House garden is beautiful year-round. However, if it's the dead of winter and you're yearning for some florals, just head to Dupont station!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Apricot Tarts' Best Bead Stores in Toronto pt. 2: Soo Ling Beads

As promised, I recently ventured further away from the downtown core - Dundas St. West and Ossignton Ave. to be exact - in search of unique and unusual beads, and stumbled upon Soo Ling Beads & Beading Co. Ltd. (what a mouthful)!

Getting There
Located at 1162 Dundas St. West
Take the 505 Dundas streetcar to Ossington Ave. or the 63 Ossington bus to Dundas St.

The Store
Soo Ling Beads is crammed with beads. They come in jars, in baggies, on strings and on boards. If you're looking for unusual and vintage (or vintage-looking) beads, this is the place to go. Soo Ling Beads stocks Peruvian hand painted beads, Czech glass beads, Indian carved bone beads, sequins, Venetian glass pendants and much, much more (as you can tell from the photos and the many jars). Many of the beads are displayed on boards, so ask the owner to take a look at the stock stored behind the counter.

I recently nabbed these beauties: vintage ceramic floral beads and carved bone moons. Watch out for them in my Etsy shop.

In the Neighbourhood
Little Portugal is the neighbourhood. Walk a bit west to Nova Era Bakery for some Portuguese custard tarts (and some squash tarts if you're feeling adventurous). Or, take a walk down Ossington Ave. towards Queen St. for your daily dose of the hip and happening.

See the first installment of Apricot Tarts' Best Bead Stores in Toronto.

Friday, August 5, 2011

City in Colour: Toronto Murals, Storefronts and Street Art (aka graffiti)

In every Toronto neighbourhood, from the dreary to the debonair, you're bound to turn the corner and stumble upon colour. Alleyways are teeming with murals - fresh-painted or peeling. Old ads and new ads can be found on the backs of brick buildings. Storefronts come in blue, green, and chicken.

Alleyway off Dundas St. West near Spadina Ave.
Alleyway off Dundas St. West near Spadina Ave.
Alleyway off Dundas St. West near Spadina Ave.
Victoria St. near Dundas St. East
Whether you're visiting Toronto or just strolling on a Sunday afternoon, I suggest ducking in a narrow byway, crossing downtown's disappearing parking lots, and taking in some free art, inspiration, and creativity.

Near York St. and Lake Shore Boulevard
Croft St.
Kensington Market

Mirvish Village
Mirvish Village
Baldwin St. and Huron St.