Bruce Cockburn & Toronto: A Historical Tour

Past Areas of Residence in Toronto:
Queen St./McCaul St. area

'A Ghost Story,' excerpted from Getting Out Of Here Alive: The Ballad Of Murray McLauchlan by Murray McLauchlan; Toronto: Penguin Books Canada, 1998.

When Bruce and Kitty decided to move to Toronto, they planned to share an apartment with Murray and his wife Patty. Murray writes:

"Eventually the ladies found a two-storey walk-up above a pawn shop down on Queen Street near McCaul. It looked perfect. From the front entrance, you walked up the stairs to the second floor, and there was a long apartment with a big front room overlooking the street, two rooms in the middle for whatever, a bathroom of substantial proportions, and in the back, there was a kitchen with a door leading to the fire escape. If you continued up the stairs, the same layout was duplicated one floor up. The rent was very cheap. The apartments were a bit funky and needed some cleaning and painting work because they'd been vacant for a while."

He continues a few pages later:

"There was also something strange going on with the apartment. It started slowly at first - just a general unease, a feeling that even when you knew you were by yourself, you weren't. You'd walk by a doorway and as you'd pass, you'd look in because all your senses had registered that there was someone there, but there wasn't.

Bruce and Kitty had a great big cross-breed Irish wolfhound named Aroo who'd never had any problems with bravery. Yet at certain times, or when walking by a small closet that was tucked under the foot of the stairs, an odd little closet with a trapeziodal door that led way back into the darkness, Aroo would suddenly start whining, put his tail between his legs and slink away. Then there were the dreams that started to come regularly- terrifying dreams, not surreal and disjointed but distressingly real and vivid, as though they were happening in real time.

In the dream, I would be floating disembodied through the apartment. As I moved about from place to place, I encountered our bodies, slaughtered in the most brutal way. There was blood everywhere- on the floor in pools, streaked along the walls. I would gasp awake, shocked and sweating.

No one was sleeping very well. At least Patty and Kitty weren't. Bruce was away a great deal of the time. One morning, after a particularly bad night, Patty and I were downstairs at the table having coffee when Kitty confessed to having the most horrible dreams. She was becoming afraid to go to sleep. As she described the dream she was having, a chill ran up my spine. It was exactly the same dream I was having. Then Patty confessed she'd been having them too. Something was terribly wrong, and we didn't know what to do.

I might have attributed what was happening to my own fatigue, to being off balance from being sick or to the recent MDA blowout [editor's note: a reference to using the drug MDA around this time]. I might have been happier with the rational explanation that I was going nuts. But I couldn't dismiss the fact that it was only me. The atmosphere at the apartment on Queen Street became more and more oppresive."

He continues:

"The bad dreams continued and the situation at the apartment deteriorated rapidly. It felt like the minute you walked through the door, you couldn't breathe. There were no apparitions running around, no chains rattling in the night, no objects flying through the air, just this continual psychological water torture of nervousness and fear. None of us wanted to admit that we thought the place was inhabited by something evil.

A dramatic shifting occurred as the cold month of November came. Now the presence could be felt physically. I was sitting in the chair in our front room reading one evening, when suddenly I felt the fingers and thumb of a hand close around the back of my head. I nearly jumped out of my skin. Now I was really terrified and so was Patty. I was a rationalist and not prone to paying attention to the supernatural. I was capable of detaching myself even from my own emotional aberrations and looking at them dispassionately. This thing, however, was scaring the shit out of me.

There was a pervasive drenching sense of something evil filling the apartment. It was there all the time now. I never heard voices or anything like that, yet I would suddenly be possessed by an overwhelming urge to go to the kitchen and take out a butcher knife and kill Patty. I started to think I was really going crazy.

Late one night, Patty and I were together in the front room, trying to read. We avoided being in different parts of the apartment by this time. We both felt like drops of water on a hot skillet. It was a cold night outside, and it was raining a steady oppresive November drizzle. There was an open archway between the front room and the room where we slept, and as I sat there trying to read, my eyes were pulled reluctantly up from the book in my lap. As I looked through the arch into the dimness of the rooms beyond, I could see nothing, but something was there.

I could feel it plainly, just as you know someone is in a room even when you have your eyes closed. Patty could feel it too. She was staring in that direction. Coming from that arch was the most indescribable feeling of rage and hostility. It hit us in waves.

"Do you want to go for a walk?' I asked Patty, my voice strangled in an effort to suppress the fear I was feeling.

She never even answered. We just grabbed whatever warm clothing we could and hurried down the stairs into the night. We walked over to Yonge Street and started north. It was around midnight, I guess. We were wet and cold as we passed Wellesley, but we still hadn't said a word to each other. It was as though we were afraid to admit what had happened. Then Patty said, "What happens if it's followed us?"

That question broke the dam of my fear. It gushed out and ate me alive. The very thought that she'd just given the experience a personality and that it might be conscious precipitated in me a full-blown panic attack. I think Patty wasn't far behind. I was breathing fast and crying and couldn't think of what to do. Then, like a beacon in the night, the thought of a place where we would find shelter came to mind- friends who were stable, like parents, who wouldn't judge us, wouldn't ask a lot of questions that we couldn't answer and would protect us till we could figure out what to do."

Murray and Patty ended up staying overnight at their friends' Joyce and Ian Hamilton's place. Murray ends the story in his book,

"There is a footnote to the ghost story. We needed to collect our things from the haunted apartment, so we mounted an expedition by daylight. It was difficult to return even when the sun was shining. We explored the dim recesses of the staircase closet and discovered an axe, a couple of old hickory golf clubs and a very weird-looking cane. The cane was so small it would only suit a midget or a child. It was made of gnarled wood, with an oddly carved handle in the shape of a left-handed fist with the thumb stuck out between the index and middle finger. There was an inscription carved into it in a language that none of us could read. Kitty took it to a museum expert who said the inscription and the hand gesture would mean "Fuck you" if you were a Romany Gypsy.

Further research unearthed the disquieting news that the people who'd lived in the place before us had experienced a great deal more trouble than we had. They apparantly moved in as a loving couple and wound up having violent arguments that culminated in his throwing her down the stairs.

Patty and I went up to visit Bernie [Finkelstein] in his house near the 401 and ended up crashing there. There were already a number of people in residence, so two more didn't make much of a difference. Bernie was a complete counterculture guy and seemed to enjoy the wide variety of people who came and went."

Return to:
Past Areas of Residence in Toronto:
Queen St./McCaul St. area

This page is part of The Cockburn Project, a unique website that exists to document the work of Canadian singer-songwriter and musician Bruce Cockburn. The Project archives self-commentary by Cockburn on his songs and music, and supplements this core part of the website with news, tour dates, and other current information.