The Seaton Manor had a haunted living room
I live in a haunted apartment in the middle of downtown Toronto. This feels a bit ironic, as I am from England, where buildings are typically quite a bit older. I had assumed that living in a haunted house would no longer be a major concern for me now, living in a city known for its “hasty demolition of historical buildings.” Although, I think perhaps I have a knack for finding spooky apartments; the room I rented in the apartment prior turned out to be the scene of a gruesome axe murder. I found this out shortly after moving in by accidentally stumbling across news articles in a Google search to find my new postal code. I say perhaps, but I doubt it is a complete coincidence—there is a chance that I somehow subconsciously draw the macabre. Full disclosure, I am a lifelong closet goth, the owner of at least one tasteful human skull ornament for every in room my apartment, including a charming soap dispenser in my bathroom. I stumbled upon this apartment the way most people find apartments in Toronto, after weeks of panicked desperation. At last, after what still feels like a complete miracle, despite the general nighttime trauma that comes with the place, I found an affordable one-bedroom apartment in this city. It feels a little cliché, finding an unreasonably cheap apartment that turns out to be, in fact, haunted. Or the scene of a murder. But that just seems to be my rental strategy in this city.
My current apartment building is an old manor house, built by a lawyer from the 1800s called Patrick McGregor, whose namesake is memorialized by the adjacent laneway. I recall asking the property manager how old the building was for insurance purposes shortly after I moved in, and she laughed and told me that she wasn’t sure, but “you can find this building in some of the earliest photographs of Toronto, dating back to 1812.” After looking into it a bit further, I think it is more likely that it was built around 1870, but still, pretty old. I read in the neighborhood Facebook group that apparently, since then, this place was “formerly a boarding house for nursing students,” but have not been able to verify this.
The building in its current state is quite strange to look at, as its side profile faces the street. The original entranceway now faces a line-up of drippy, back alleyway restaurant AC units. It’s also been added onto in a typically odd Toronto fashion, in that someone just kind of plonked some newer bits onto the back and the front, in this case by adding some exposed stilt structures and white wood panels. The building is split into around 16 units across four stories, with the original manor split into probably around six of these units. My apartment straddles both sections; my bedroom and bathroom are part of the new bit added to the front, but my living room is in the old manor part, complete with 13-ft. ceilings, decorative moldings, and an elaborate marble fireplace. I have this strange tiny apartment layout, with an old Victorian manor style living room but a newer bedroom stuck onto the front of the building. There is a heavy wooden door with a large glass window separating the two rooms. This glass door, as it turns out, is a very necessary divider, as the living room is terrifyingly haunted.
I didn’t see her face as she never turned around, just kept digging this hole under the floorboards, and I woke up knowing somehow that she was burying children down there.
I first found out that my apartment was haunted one night soon after I moved in, as I was sleeping, all alone, with my little black cat Tillie. I remember having this very vivid and incredibly horrifying nightmare, of an old woman digging a hole in the floor in my living room. In the dream, I was in my bedroom still, but could see her through the doorway into the living room. I didn’t see her face as she never turned around, just kept digging this hole under the floorboards, and I woke up knowing somehow that she was burying children down there.
It’s worth noting at that up until this point, I had never experienced a nightmare of this kind. I don’t remember my dreams very often, especially as an adult. Occasionally my teeth would fall out if I was particularly worried about something, or something absurd would happen at work, but always embarrassing, shameful things—not disturbing, actually scary nightmares.
So out of nowhere, I had this really disturbing dream about an old lady burying children under the floorboards. I woke up suddenly and noticed that my cat was strangely positioned on my bed lying exactly the way Egyptian sphynxes lie on the top of tombs, with her head up and legs tucked under her body, facing the door. She was also very clearly staring into the living room. This cat always slept in the exact same position on the other side of the bed, curled up next to my head, which made it all the stranger. Waking up to a nightmare that your apartment is haunted when you live there all by yourself is obviously quite terrifying, but having my cat clearly sharing the experience with me was both comforting and disturbing at once, as she was being very sweet and protective, but also quite clearly validating this ghostly experience by her strange behaviour. The rest of that night, I kept waking up every hour, suddenly terrified of the living room. And every time I woke up, there my cat was, in the exact same position, staring out into the living room all through the night.
I thought this experience was strange, but put it down to a weird nightmare and went back to sleeping fine for the next few weeks—until the exact same thing happened again around a month later. Again, I woke up suddenly after having a vivid nightmare involving something terrifying coming from the living room. This time, I remember feeling as though I was awake in my bed looking through the bedroom door, and through the glass I could make out the face of some kind of evil male figure, mostly in darkness, standing in the doorway. In my dream I was petrified that he would come into the bedroom, but was powerless to do anything to prevent it, as he just stood there in the doorway and I was too afraid to move or scream. And again, when I finally woke up from this nightmare, there my cat was, in her sphynx position facing into the living room, where she stayed again all through the night.
It turns out that this seems to be a regular, monthly occurrence, which I now refer to as a “haunting flare up,” generally involving disturbing nightmares and waking up all through the night, accompanied by the general feeling of being really, genuinely scared of the living room. Other nightmares have involved similar themes of dead bodies under the floor in the living room, a dark presence trying to enter the bedroom, or nightmares I can’t quite remember but have woken up from screaming, confused, or having bolted upright and ran into the living room. I have gotten pretty used to it now—and if you are wondering, it doesn’t seem to coincide with a full moon. It seems like it should be more of a problem, but to be honest I kind of enjoy the excitement and weirdness of the situation. It doesn’t really affect me at other points during the month, just on the flare up nights. Although I do get the heebie-jeebies every night when I have to turn off all the lights in the living room, then quickly dash into my bedroom to get out of the darkness that always feels so eerie.
He lay silently screaming with his eyes wide open, thrashing around, paralyzed, while I lay beside him terrified, crying.
It’s not just my cat that shares these experiences with me. Now I am dating someone who sleeps over regularly and they also experience the monthly haunting flare ups—unfortunately even worse than me. We experience the horror flare ups simultaneously. One particularly bizarre night involved my partner writhing from night terrors as I sat bolt upright in bed with a gasp and ran frantically into the living room, and began desperately rummaging for some unknown item. I finally came around with no idea why I was there, or what it was I was looking for. It would probably make for some pretty interesting night vision footage. Another night, he experienced such intense recurring sleep paralysis that it looked as though he was having seizures throughout the night. He lay silently screaming with his eyes wide open, thrashing around, paralyzed, while I lay beside him terrified, crying.
My partner has experienced sleep paralysis prior to staying at my apartment; that in itself is horrifying enough as it is, and typically it involves your mind waking up while your body remains paralyzed, and is occasionally accompanied by a nightmarish presence creeping towards you. However, his previous encounters with sleep paralysis were infrequent—only occurring once or twice a decade or so prior, and pretty consistently attributed to eating too much candy before bed. His sleep paralysis episodes that occur in my bedroom are significantly darker, as they are accompanied by what he describes as an “overwhelming sense of doom,” and involve a dark presence coming from the living room, in many different forms.
He described his worst sleep paralysis episode to me, referring to one night when he somehow knew he would experience these night terrors. “I kept waking myself up every time I felt like I was sinking into the paralysis (it feels like sinking), until I was just too tired and I let go.” As soon as he allowed himself to fall asleep, he immediately felt this feeling of being “stuck in place” and went on to describe a terrifying account of a black figure coming from the living room. “There was something or someone just outside your door, I couldn’t see it but I knew. As I tried to struggle out of the paralysis, something, or someone, all black, came into the room and stood at the foot of the bed and I knew it was there to hurt me. I shook and screamed but couldn’t move. I heard you calling my name and I was eventually able to snap out of it, coming back to consciousness, out of breath and shaking. I immediately sat up in bed and stared at the door way because I still felt like something was there.” I remember him referring to this black figure throughout the night, as he kept waking up from the terrors.
As I tried to struggle out of the paralysis, something, or someone, all black, came into the room and stood at the foot of the bed and I knew it was there to hurt me.
My coworker used to live in my building a decade before me (although in a different apartment), so I thought it would be interesting to see if she had ever experienced anything spooky back then. She said “I definitely thought that place was haunted when I lived there. My dog would always stare at different parts of the wall and faintly growl. I am not sure if you know, but this was Sir Seaton’s mansion (the first mayor of Toronto).” I think this is in reference to Sir John Colborne, 1st Baron of Seaton; a member of the conservative, anti-democratic, staunchly Anglican Family Compact, who was made lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada in 1828, and founded Upper Canada College in order to create an “elite leadership class.” I have not been able to find any records to confirm that Sir John Colborne ever lived here, but it would make sense as the building borders Seaton Village, the small Toronto neighbourhood named after him, dating back to the 1800s.
My living room is divided by a partition wall, so I asked my neighbour about any spooky goings on. She told me, when it comes to hauntings “not really that I can think of, I’m not super sensitive to that stuff.” However, she did mention that “I think a woman died upstairs a couple of weeks after I moved in and that freaked me out. I don’t actually know what happened, just remember that it was pretty terrible and one of her friends found her.”
I’m moving out of the apartment in a month or so, to move in with my partner. My experience living in this apartment feels like a strange journey that will always mark a period of significant change. There is an additional side story that accompanies these weird experiences and altogether wraps everything up in a way that feels like an explanation, although it doesn’t really make any logical sense. I mentioned my little black cat Tillie, who I brought home from a shelter just one month after moving in. She was the sweetest, most gentle little creature I had ever met, without even the slightest mean streak or sense of indifference typically associated with cats. But over the two years she lived with me, she developed increasingly severe behavioural issues. Over the two-year period she became progressively obsessive about urinating, at first on my bed, and then ultimately on my couch. After attempting to live with blue camping tarpaulin covering my bed for over a year, then also my couch, it became all too much for me to deal with. She was eventually rehomed thanks to the incredibly kind lady who owns my local pet store. Anyway, I feel terrible about how this unfolded and live with a lot of guilt about rehoming this sweet little cat. But it all feels so interwoven with the night terrors, in a period where both the night terrors and the cat behaviors began spiraling together. And a few months ago, the cat left—along with the night disturbances. There is a calmness yet emptiness to my apartment now; there is nothing where there once was a weird, exciting, and terrifying charm. In ancient times they believed cats were carriers of spirits, and so perhaps this explains her behaviours, and the absence that’s felt now she has left. Of course, there are a million separate explanations for all of these events, but to me they feel connected, and will always be part of this strange chapter of my life that already feels part fantasy.
Theresa Ramirez is a comedian/economist who lives in Toronto.