On the wall of Mary Willan Mason’s one-bedroom apartment is an ancient Egyptian artefact from Abydos.
It was an inspired gift to herself, from one of Canada’s more well-known female archaeologists, Amice Calverley. Calverley was a schoolmate of Mason’s mother, Gladys Willan (nee Hall). She beams when she points to it.
Then the 98-year-old shares a moment in time when Calverley stayed for a couple of months at their home at 139 Inglewood Drive.
Mason clicks her tongue trying to remember the full details. She apologizes, blaming her momentary lapse on recovery from a recent surgery.
But the memory comes back to her in a few heartbeats. One day, Calverley keeled over at the lunch table. It was 1934, and another family friend, Richard Burton (not to be confused with the actor) was eager to try out his new microscope. He took a swab of Calverley’s nostrils and discovered microbes.
Years of excavations in the tombs of Egypt had exposed her to the “bottom of the ecology”.
Calverley recovered, but back the early ‘30s, it was bed rest that proved to be the only cure.
“This gave me an appetite for Egypt and archaeology,” Mason said.
The artefact on the wall is one of many she’s collected over the years as antiquities journalist. It has a story, much like the stories she has about her childhood home, which she and many of her family members believed was haunted.
For the first 22 years of her life, Mary Mason lived at 139 Inglewood Drive in Toronto’s Moore Park neighbourhood.
The three-floored former farmstead was purchased by her father, Healey Willan, a well-known composer and organist at the Anglican Church of St. Mary Magdalene in 1921.
Healey and Gladys raised their four children, Mary, along with three brothers Michael, Bernard and Patrick.
Everybody in that household experienced the same paranormal activity, including the family dog, Nicky. However, they all kept it quiet as the matriarch said, “We want to sell the house”.
Those paranormal experiences started for Mary when she was six.
She had been in the hospital with scarlet fever. It was winter, so the windows were closed and the door to her room was wide open.
“I woke up and I heard the footsteps coming down from the third floor,” she said. “They were very heavy footsteps. I thought it was one of my brothers coming down the stairs.”
Patrick had been a member of the Upper Canada College band and given the proclivity for young men to make a racket when walking downstairs, it’s only natural Mary would assume so much.
But there was one missing piece to this theory.
“The door was open and there was a light on in the hall. I couldn’t see anybody coming,” she recalled. “I thought that was very funny, very strange.”
That wasn’t the end of the experiences for her.
When she was 13 she would often hear the steps come down the stairs, and she had the feeling something walked past her room.
“I was terrified.”
During this period, in the midst of the Great Depression, her recently married brother, Michael wanted to throw a party. There wasn’t enough money for anything elaborate but they had a small get-together.
A fortune teller was hired to entertain the guests, and in the middle of the night, Mason woke up and checked on their entertainment guest who was sleeping in the spare room beside hers.
“I don’t know what possessed me, but I went into the room next door and asked her if anyone brought her anything to eat,” she recalled, adding she went down to the kitchen to fetch a tray and something to drink for the guest.
“I put the tray down and I was about to go back to bed, and she said, ‘Just a minute. Come, sit back down. You’re very frightened at night, aren’t you? You don’t have to be frightened, your grandmother is looking after you.”
She was startled by the comment, still, the Willan family continued living in the house.
Another instance, Mason shared, was when she was 14 and her parents were heading out.
“My parents figured I didn’t need a babysitter. Our dog and I were sitting on the sofa. We had a big view of the stairs,” she said. “The same thing happened again, the heavy footsteps.
“Our dog watched the stairs. Every hair on that dog’s coat stood up straight.”
There were more anecdotes Mason shared, including her nephews terrified crying she had to calm one night.
Finally, in an attempt to quell the unsettled spirit, the family had a Bell, Book and Candle ceremony performed by the church the elder Willan was the organist for.
“That was supposed to settle things. Later it came back,” Mason said, with a laugh. “I don’t like talking about it in general conversation. If people don’t want to believe, that’s their privilege.”
As with the fortune teller, another person with second sight came into Mason’s life, albeit briefly. Her cousin Hannah was staying with the family while attending what was then called the Ontario College of Art.
The doorman there had an uncanny ability to know what was written on slips of paper placed in envelopes. Students would entertain themselves, and the gentleman, by engaging in his talents.
“The kids used to, every Friday, write down a question, put it in an envelope and give it to him. And it was fun,” she recalled. “Hannah wrote down, ‘Is there a ghost in my aunt’s house’ and put that in an envelope.”
Then the smile on the man’s face dropped.
“He said, ‘You know there is’. She wanted to know more and he said, ‘It’s not murder, but a crime was committed there’.”
With the death of their father in 1968, the house was sold by the Willans. They would return briefly out of curiosity sometime later. She would briefly return with her brother Bernard when they discovered the house was for sale.
“They had done a great deal to the house,” she said. “They had altered the staircase. They had taken it completely out.”
And that begged the question, did they still experience the heavy footsteps.
The Current Owner
There have been numerous owners of the house since the departure of the Willans. Including families like the Grays and the Grillis.
Peter Ruff is well aware of the stories shared about the house he resides in. He was well aware of the stories, and 17 years ago an article was written by columnist Bob Aaron for the Toronto Star.
When asked about the spooky goings-on in the past, he refrained to go into detail.
The outside has changed drastically since the Willans, as for the inside, and any talk of ghosts has been silent.
“I don’t think there is any truth to it,” he admitted.
Willan No Stranger to the Supernatural
The house at 139 Inglewood Drive isn’t the only haunting the Willans have experienced.
One of Toronto’s well-known hauntings, the Grey Lady of St. Mary Magdalene, was also experienced by Healey Willan.
The church still stands at 477 Manning Avenue in Toronto’s Palmerston neighbourhood. While practicing on the organ, Willan would see the spectre of an elderly woman. All the doors had been locked from the inside.
The first time he experienced it, according to John Robert Colombo’s book, Haunted Toronto, he went to investigate.
“The doors were locked and he was the only person in the building. She never bothered him,” Mason told The Superstitious Times, and with a hint of knowing, added, “there are a few more of these creatures running around here.”