The Weirdest Things to Ever Happen in Toronto

OK so, let's be honest. Toronto can occasionally seem pretty tame compared to other major cities. But the operative word there is "seem," because not only does this city have some pretty weird, insane stuff going on right now, but it's always been like that. Take these 11 bizarre blasts from the city's past, for example:

That time clowns brawled with firefighters, and won. Which started a riot.

In what might be the strangest pairing for a brawl, on the night of July 12, 1855, it was clowns (yes, clowns) against firefighters. The clowns, from a traveling American circus known as Howes Menagerie and Circus, got into it with some men from the Hook and Ladder Firefighting Company, one of Toronto’s volunteer firefighting companies. The firefighters lost pretty badly, which made them and the people of Toronto angry enough to start a full blown riot on the circus grounds the next day, complete with fires, overturned wagons, and an attempt to pull down the circus tents.

The IKEA monkey

IKEA is a polarizing place. You either love it and getting the catalogue feels like Christmas, or the mere thought of going in induces a cold, clammy sweat. But no matter where you sit on the IKEA love/hate scale, you probably had a few laughs when Darwin the IKEA monkey made his appearance in 2012. He was photographed roaming around in a Toronto IKEA parking lot -- while wearing a miniature shearling coat.

When the cold snap of 1912 made trees explode

We all know that Toronto gets cold enough to drive us all into hibernation come January. But in the winter of 1912 it got so cold that by mid-February Lake Ontario had completely frozen solid, and you could actually walk across it to the American side. Apparently it was so treacherously frigid that trees started literally exploding (because that’s apparently a thing), which nearby residents mistook for gun shots.

When the city held a baby-making competition

According to Wikipedia, the Great Stork Derby was a contest that went on between 1926 and 1936, where women in Toronto competed to produce the most babies. We’ll stop there and let that sink in. Yes, a contest revolving around reproduction. The contest was dreamed up by Charles Vance Millar, a Toronto lawyer. A practical joker literally unto death, he wanted to bequeath a portion of his significant estate to the woman in Toronto who could produce the most children in a ten-year period after his death.

When a radio station rickrolled the city for an entire week

Indie 88 is a popular Toronto radio station, but for an entire week before it started regular programming, anyone who happened to tune into the station would have, in a way, been Rickrolled, Why? The only song playing, over and over and over again, was Rick Astley’s 1987 hit “Never Gonna Give You Up.” Ostensibly, it was to “test their signal,” but we all know the truth.

Yes, when the mayor smoked crack. On camera.

You can’t have a list of the weirdest things that have happened in Toronto without including our beleaguered, crack smoking mayor. The scandal, which began when a video surfaced of then mayor Rob Ford allegedly smoking crack, blew up into international news with Ford being lampooned by late night talk show hosts across the board. After vehemently denying that he smoked crack, or even that the video in question truly existed, Ford finally came clean about his infamous actions in November of 2013.

That time Toronto City Hall was on Star Trek

OK, so this one didn’t take place in Toronto, but it’s still weird enough to be included and involves Toronto by proxy. Toronto City Hall made a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation entitled “Contagion.” City Hall and Nathan Philips Square represented a destination of an alien portal in the episode.

When the first Toronto map was drawn... by a 13-year-old

A lot of adults can’t even read a map, let alone be able to draw an accurate one (present company included) but Toronto’s very first map was created by 13-year-old Alpheus Todd. A year after he arrived in what was then known as York, Upper Canada (soon-to-be incorporated as Toronto), Todd produced the map by walking through the streets and converting his paces to a scale.

The myth of the tunnel monster

According to urban legend, there may (or may not) be or have been an unidentified creature roaming beneath the city streets. Sometime during August of 1978 a man named Earnest was searching for his lost cat and ventured into a tunnel near his home. Instead of a cat he (allegedly) came across something that terrified him. As reported by the Toronto Sun in March 1979, that thing was a three foot, human-like figure with grey fur and slanted red eyes that hissed at him to get out of the tunnel.

When the city had a secret, public swing

In 2003, artist Corwyn Lund erected a playground swing in an alley between two buildings as an art installation. The swing, a playful addition to the area, could be accessed via an alley behind Queen Street and for a while it was a secret. The secret was eventually out as more and more people discovered the quirky installation, and in 2005 the seat and some rings of the chain were removed. But within days it was fixed by two people who also left an inscription on the seat that said, “The Secret Swing belongs to the people of Toronto.” The swing was removed for good in 2006.

The time Babe Ruth hit his first home run

Of all the places Babe Ruth could have hit his first professional home run, it ended up being Toronto. On September 5, 1914 at Hanlan’s Point Stadium the then 19-year-old rookie was playing for a team called the Providence Grays and his bat connected with a pitch a pitch from Ellis Johnson of the Toronto Maple Leafs. There’s still a mystery as to what happened to the ball. Ruth went on to hit 714 major league home runs.

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Jessica Padykula is a freelance writer who always prefers things to be weird because weird is always more interesting. Follow her at @JessPadykula