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The Haunted House On Duchess Street
by [?]

BEING A NARRATION OF CERTAIN STRANGE EVENTS ALLEGED TO
HAVE TAKEN PLACE AT YORK, UPPER CANADA, IN OR ABOUT THE YEAR 1823.

“O’er all there hung the Shadow of a Fear;
A sense of mystery the spirit daunted;
And said, as plain as whisper in the ear,
The place is haunted.”–HOOD.

I.–OUTSIDE THE HOUSE.

I suppose there are at least a score of persons living in Toronto at the present moment who remember that queer old house on Duchess street. Not that there was anything specially remarkable about the house itself, which indeed, in its best days, presented an aspect of rather snug respectability. But the events I am about to relate invested it with an evil reputation, and made it an object to be contemplated at a safe distance, rather than from any near approach. Youngsters on their way to school were wont to eye it askance as they hurried by on their way to their daily tasks. Even children of a larger growth manifested no unbecoming desire to penetrate too curiously into its inner mysteries, and for years its threshold was seldom or never crossed by anybody except Simon Washburn or some of his clerks, who about once in every twelvemonth made a quiet entry upon the premises and placed in the front windows announcements to the effect that the place was “For Sale or To Let.” The printing of these announcements involved a useless expenditure of capital, for, from the time when the character of the house became matter of notoriety, no one could be induced to try the experiment of living in it. In the case of a house, no less than in that of an individual, a bad name is more easily gained than lost, and in the case of the house on Duchess street its uncanny repute clung to it with a persistent grasp which time did nothing to relax. It was distinctly and emphatically a place to keep away from.

The house was originally built by one of the Ridout family–I think by the Surveyor-General himself–soon after the close of the war of 1812, and it remained intact until a year or two after the town of York became the city of Toronto, when it was partly demolished and converted into a more profitable investment. The new structure, which was a shingle or stave factory, was burned down in 1843 or 1844, and the site thenceforward remained unoccupied until comparatively recent times. When I visited the spot a few weeks since I encountered not a little difficulty in fixing upon the exact site, which is covered by an unprepossessing row of dark red brick, presenting the aspect of having stood there from time immemorial, though as I am informed, the houses have been erected within the last quarter of a century. Unattractive as they appear, however, they are the least uninviting feature in the landscape, which is prosaic and squalid beyond description. Rickety, tumble-down tenements of dilapidated lath and plaster stare the beholder in the face at every turn. During the greater part of the day the solitude of the neighbourhood remains unbroken save by the tread of some chance wayfarer like myself, and a general atmosphere of the abomination of desolation reigns supreme. Passing along the unfrequented pavement, one finds it difficult to realize the fact that this was once a not unfashionable quarter of the capital of Upper Canada.

The old house stood forty or fifty feet back from the roadway, on the north side, overlooking the waters of the bay. The lot was divided from the street by a low picket fence, and admission to the enclosure was gained by means of a small gate. In those remote times there were few buildings intervening between Duchess street and the water front, and those few were not very pretentious; so that when the atmosphere was free from fog you could trace from the windows of the upper story the entire hithermost shore of the peninsula which has since become The Island. The structure itself, like most buildings then erected in York, was of frame. It was of considerable dimensions for those days, and must have contained at least eight or nine rooms. It was two stories high, and had a good deal of painted fret-work about the windows of the upper story. A stately elm stood immediately in the rear, and its wide-spreading branches overshadowed the greater part of the back yard and outbuildings. And that is all I have been able to learn about the exterior aspect of the place.