By Glyneva Bradley-Ridout
With Halloween just around the corner, it seemed fitting to look into the strange and scary tales that are said to have taken place right here on the University of Toronto campus. Below, I discuss three of U of T’s most grim tales and discuss their legitimacy. Did Robarts Library cause a death? Was there a body found in University College? Does the mistress of a famous figure now haunt a building on campus? And, most importantly, are these just ghost stories or true events? Read on to find out…
- The Robarts Suicide
This first grim tale was told to me by a tour guide during my very first campus tour of the University of Toronto over five years ago! Since then, I’ve heard it discussed on various occasions. Hitting close home for us students who spend our days within this well-known library, I’m here to discuss the true and false aspects of the Robarts Suicide.
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The Story: The lead architect who designed Robarts Library was so embarrassed and saddened when the finished library turned out to resemble a turkey, that he took his own life by jumping off the 13th floor shortly before the library opened.
The Truth: I am sorry to report that my 2011 tour guide was wrong, as there is, in fact, little truth to this story. For one thing, Robarts is a classic example of brutalist architectural style, and the architects were praised for their accomplishments upon completion of the building. There is certainly no evidence that any of the designers involved committed suicide. However, it is easy to see how this rumour started, because there is a suicide associated with Robarts Library. John P. Robarts, who was the 17th premier of Ontario and to whom Robarts library is named after, unfortunately did take his own life in 1982.
- The Reznikoff/Diablo Murder
If you’ve ever been by University College at night, you may have gotten an eerie feeling. It turns out that there’s a spooky past to our campus’ oldest building. Fighting, revenge, adultery, murder, and axes…this story has it all.
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The Story: While the details of the story change depending on who tells it, several key plot points seem to stick in every telling. During the construction of University College starting in 1853, an international team of stonemasons were hired that included a Russian named Ivan Reznikoff and an American called Paul Diablos. Rumour has it that the two men were constantly at odds with one another, and their expressed hatred was mutual . The conflict wasn’t helped when Susie, (Reznikoff’s finance), fell in love with Diablos and agreed to elope. When Reznikoff found out about the affair, he confronted Diablos on the work site and attempted to strike him with an axe. Diablos fled from his attacker, but Reznikoff pursued, continuing to swing the axe wildly. Eventually, Diablos managed to evade Reznikoff, and was able to sneak up behind him, wielding a dagger. In the end, Reznikoff was stabbed to death and a panicked Diablos hid the body inside of University College. Diablos was never seen again, and was presumed to have run off with Susie.
The Truth: Decades after this murder was rumoured to have taken place, a body was found in University College when an accidental fire destroyed a significant portion of the building. This fact can attest that almost certainly, someone was laid to rest within UC’s walls. Was this person Reznikoff? It was never confirmed. Unfortunately, due to the passage of time, it is extremely difficult to separate the facts and the falsehoods with any certainty. (For more versions of the story, see the links in the reference list below!).
- The Christie Mansion Ghost
Have you ever eaten an Oreo? If yes, then you’ve enjoyed a treat created by the famous Christie family of the Christie Cookie Company. While Mr. Christie’s best known legacy has definitely been his cookies, there are dark rumours surrounding the man which are set right here on campus.
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The Story: When walking through Queen’s Park Circle, it’s hard to miss Christie’s impressive former mansion (now a University of Toronto Regis College building). The story goes that Robert Christie (the son of William Christie, the founder of the company) kept a mistress hidden in a secret room behind the walls of the family library. Although the woman was brought food and water in-between visits from her gentleman caller, Robert Christie eventually lost interest in visiting his lover. Becoming lonely to the point of madness, the woman eventually hung herself. Now, ghost tours and supernatural enthusiasts flock to the Christie Mansion, as the building is said to be haunted. The tale is that if a young woman enters the secret room alone, the door will swing shut and stay locked, until someone on the other side hears the cries and comes to open it.
The Truth: There are two likely truths to this story that I can sort out for you. The first is that it is quite possible Robert Christie did have a mistress. Historical accounts suggest that it was the failure of his marriage, spurred by his adultery, that caused the downward spiral that ended in Christie selling his company and mansion. Secondly, a hidden room in the library of the Christie Mansion does exist. However, whether or not anyone was ever kept in that room is a question that remains. As for the ghost? I won’t be venturing to Christie Mansion anytime soon to find out…just in case.
Do you know of any other strange tales at the University of Toronto, or have you had a supernatural experience while on campus? Share your stories in the comments below, or consider submitting a blog post of your own!