30 October 2013
Boo! It's Toronto's haunted printing press
TORONTO—With the Halloween spirit knocking on doors, it's a good time to remember that even ghouls can have a passion for print. At least, that's the lore surrounding Mackenzie House.

The historic Toronto building was the final home of the city's first mayor, William Lyon Mackenzie, and has since been saved and preserved as a museum honouring the man and his Victorian lifestyle. But the house keeps the memory of Mackenzie alive in more ways than one--the building has also long been rumoured to be haunted by Mackenzie, who believers say would materialize to play his piano or run his old 1845 Washington rolling flatbed press in the middle of the night.

An 1845 Washington press, rumoured to be haunted by the ghost of William Lyon Mackenzie, is frequently demoed at Toronto's Mackenzie House Museum

Mackenzie was a newspaper editor and the Washington model was a very popular press with the industry at the time. "It used to be kept down in the basement, and there were caretakers in the 1960s who claim to have heard noises and seen ghosts," explained Danielle Urquhart, Mackenzie House Museum program officer.

Speculation was strong enough that the museum famously called in a Trinity Church deacon to exorcise the building in the '60s, all filmed by the CBC. Skeptics say the museum staff cooked up the ghost story to drive up ticket sales, as the museum was prepping to relaunch at the time.

While Urquhart herself is skeptical of the ghost stories, she doesn't put much stock in that theory, either. "Museums don't tend to go in for that kind of showmanship, and the people [claiming to have seen ghosts] seem to have been sincere," she said.

The press itself might never have even belonged to Mackenzie. While the model is accurate, the exact device can't be verified as being his, said Urquhart. If a ghost were interested though, the machine is still in working condition and is routinely fired up for student demonstrations and to print souvenirs for the museum's gift shop.

Urquhart has never encountered anything spooky in her 12 years of employment, even during an overnight stay during the Nuit Blanche art festival a few weeks ago. That doesn't mean the house was never haunted, though. "Some people believe that that exorcism got rid of what was here. Others say the ghosts are still here, but maybe they're more peaceful now," Urquhart said.

Either way, the stories have become part of the city's history. The house was recently featured on the HBO/YTV show Ghost Trackers, and is invariably one of the main attractions on any Toronto ghost tour.

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