It’s once again that time of year for all things macabre, ghoulish, and spooky (oh my!); Halloween. Young children will eagerly fill the streets trick-or-treating, the numerous TV airings of classic slasher flicks will make those movies feel new again, and, especially for those teenaged and older, people will surely be putting their heart to the test when they conjure enough guts for the numerous haunted mansions and supposedly wicked graveyards throughout the city. Yet despite how many people are excited for Halloween, there are inevitably those who are feeling bored—rather than scared—to death of experiencing the holiday once again, especially if your first one was many, many Halloweens ago. For those who consider themselves to be in this group, why not—instead of doing the ‘same old’ for Halloween—learn about the old for real, and still venture into the uncanny valley?
That is exactly what the theatre actors from “Spooky Lagoon” productions plan to do this Halloween, as they are overtaking the Toronto Islands the evening of for a night of numerous in-character boat cruises/island tours, predicated on a ghost story titled “Murder At The Lighthouse”. Set to take visitors back in time to the early history of the islands, Toronto Island Stories will include a narrated boat ride and recount the legendary tale of the murder of John Paul Radelmüller – Gibraltar Point Lighthouse’s most famous keeper. Passengers will truly feel like they have stepped back in time a hundred years as storytellers, dressed in full costumes from the early 1900s, will help passengers disembark. In addition, those who attend who want some spook for their buck will also get the chance to venture alongside the guides up from the old lighthouse to the site where it is said Radelmüller’s remains were found.
Whether you’re a history buff, or are just curious to learn more about how your city came to be, this is the type of tour for you, considering the historic background of the tour’s location(s). For those unaware, the Toronto Islands-also known as ‘The Island’, or ‘Toronto Island Park’-is located within lake Ontario, and only a thirteen minute ferry ride away from downtown. Despite what the names suggest, the island actually comprises of fifteen different, yet interconnected, islands that visitors can venture from by using the numerous pathways and bridges available. Because Toronto Islands are both intertwined with one another and at such a close proximity to the city as a whole, their historic value worth visiting over stems from the numerous uses of the islands by Torontonians and historic figures for over a century.
The Toronto Islands have been the city’s go-to summer day-tripping spot for over 150 years now. The first horse-powered ferries started carrying folks across the harbour in 1833, and by the turn of the 20th century the western side of the Islands was already a bustling resort spot, anchored by the Hanlan family who opened a hotel there in 1878. After the islands were transferred from the federal government to the City of Toronto in 1867, divisions of the land into lots, cottages, amusement areas, and resort hotels started being built. At its peak in the 1950s, the Island residential community extended from Ward’s Island to Hanlan’s Point and was made up of some 630 cottages and homes, in addition to such amenities as a movie theatre, a bowling alley, stores, hotels, and dance halls.
The islands have even served as a historic landmark for non-Canadians as well. Most famously, in 1914 a young rising professional baseball player who later would become known as arguably the greatest to ever step up to the plate, the legend Babe Ruth, actually hit the first homerun of his MLB career during an exhibition game at the islands’s Hanlan’s Point Stadium. Hanlan’s Point Stadium, like the island itself, never was used for one form of activity, but rather was a dual sporting venue/amusement park facility capable of holding 10,000 spectators and patrons.
The “Murder At The Lighthouse” tour personnel are very privy to the uses and events that have impacted the Toronto Islands throughout their history. They have already indicated, according to their promotional material, that on the evening cruise there will be direct tales of 107 year old sunken ships, Babe Ruth, Hurricane Hazel, diving horses, and more. Better yet, besides the ‘in-character’ cruise guides and vast majority of narrated visitations having archive photos and/or even video footage, all attending will get their chance to take their own personal version of the ‘Toronto Skyline’ photo that for many Canadians/non-Canadians alike first springs to mind when envisioning our city. You don’t even have to rush for your spot, as guide personnel have guaranteed a new cruise happening every ten to fifteen minutes all night starting at 7:30 PM.
Just because there is an emphasis on the ‘horror’ aspects of Halloween-especially when it comes to costumes and entertainment media-does need mean that Halloween is for all-things-frightening. Halloween is, above all, a chance to experiment, whether by indulging in or expressing yourself with, activities you likely would not otherwise do at any other time during the year. Furthermore, lest we forget that the original celebrators of ‘Halloween’ orchestrated the holiday with a large emphasis on both community awareness and community involvement. While Halloween is obviously not the communal ‘spirit prevention’ pagan holiday it once was, who’s to say that it can’t be used to both learn a bit about our history and have fun with imaginative stories and elaborate attires?