Into the unknown: remembering Star religion editor and occult expert Allen Spraggett

Allen Spraggett

March 26, 1932 — July 19, 2022

For more than three decades, Allen Spraggett, a man of God, popularized the paranormal across North America. The scholarly Psychoanalytic Review once described the ordained minister, author, broadcaster, psychical researcher, astrologer, editor and sought-after speaker as “Canada’s foremost authority on ESP.” Indeed, in 1978 and 1995, the Ontario Supreme Court recognized him as an expert witness on the subjects of voodoo and parapsychology.

Allen, says daughter Sandra Spies, “made the world of the paranormal accessible to the masses. The world of the unexplained was not something to fear, but rather something to explore.”

Born in Toronto to Henry Spraggett, a First World War combat veteran with the Canadian Armed Forces, and his wife Gertrude (nee Brown), a homemaker, Allen Frederick Spraggett was, says daughter Alanna Proszanski, a “precocious, highly intelligent child” who learned to read at an early age. His brother Charles, 13 years his senior, had left the family home at St. Clair and Dufferin when Allen was five.

When he was bullied in elementary school, Allen recruited older boys to protect him, says son Stephen Spraggett, “rewarding them with handmade cardboard ‘medals’ of bravery. He was a leader among his friends, always having ideas for adventures.”

Allen attended Sunday School at the United Brethren in Christ, which sparked his interest in religion. At 14, he had a vision that he had to preach the gospel and was ordained the following year. The Ontario Temperance Organization hired him to sermonize with the Temperance Union at Protestant churches all over the province.

After he graduated high school, the Freelance Evangelical Ministry hired Allen as the pastor for the Holiness Church of God in Feversham where, in two years, he grew the congregation from 20 to more than 150 parishioners. From there, he worked at the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Collingwood, and while serving as pastor in Elk Lake in 1958, he was accepted to the theological college at Queen’s University. By then married with two children, Allen transferred to churches in Frankville, Plum Hollow and Toledo so that he could attend school. He graduated with a B.A. in theology in 1962.

That same year, Toronto Star executive managing editor Charles Templeton was searching for a religion editor, says Spies. Despite Allen not having any journalistic experience, Templeton was impressed with the younger man’s writing and story proposals and hired him.

As religion editor, Allen was given carte blanche to build the section. Colleagues, Spies says, “(were) incredulous that Dad typed with just one finger. Hearing the sound of the keys flying, you would think he was using every finger.”

In 1969, he relinquished his editor’s post to become a daily columnist, writing about the paranormal for the Star until 1971. He left to start a syndicated weekly column, “The Unexplained” (1972-1977). During his 10-year career with the Star, he interviewed such high-profile subjects as the Archbishop of Canterbury and Martin Luther King Jr.

As the founding president of the Toronto Society for Psychical Research in the late ’60s, Allen also served on the executive council of the Spiritual Frontiers Fellowship in Chicago and was a fellow of the College of Human Sciences. He authored 11 books — about paranormal activities, the afterlife, ESP and psychic healing — including “The Unexplained,” “Kathryn Kuhlman: The Woman Who Believes in Miracles” and “The Psychic Mafia.”

The ’70s and ’80s saw Allen create and host radio programs, the most popular being “Sun Spots,” “The Unexplained” and “You and Your Sun Sign” for the stations CFRB, CFNY and CKMW. He was also the host and writer of such television shows as “Beyond Reason” and “The Occult.”

His broadcast programs made information about psychic phenomena, including research in the belief of life after death, accessible to the general public. “When he spoke,” says daughter Kathryn Spraggett, “(Allen) approached his work with such enthusiasm and joy that it was easy to get caught up in his world.”

Despite his fame, he was not impressed by celebrity and was always familiar and friendly. “Dad’s face would immediately light up when he greeted someone,” says Kathryn. “He’d often drop a little joke or lean in and share an observation in a quiet, conspiratorial voice. He could sense what tone to take, what mood was needed, whether it was entertainment or words of wisdom or comfort. People would always walk away a little taller and brighter.”

He was sought after as a speaker and lecturer at universities and colleges throughout North America and taught a course on parapsychology at Ryerson.

Following a leukaemia diagnosis in the late ’80s, Allen retired from public life. He was re-ordained as a spiritual science minister in 1986 and granted an honorary Doctor of Ministry by Montreal’s International College of Spiritual & Psychic Sciences. He practised as a hypnotist and as an astrologer for private clients, including a mining executive making a business decision and an actor concerned about taking a part, says Kathryn.

Teenage Allen had first spotted Marion Martin from the pulpit while preaching in Feversham; she was a tuba player in the Salvation Army Band. After seeing him preach, Marion recalls, “I told my mother that I saw the person I was going to marry.” She later learned that Allen had told his mother the same thing. They didn’t officially meet until the following summer, when they both worked as counsellors at a bible camp in Collingwood.

They wed in June 1954, and their 68-year marriage produced five children: Stephen (born in 1955), Alanna (1958), Sandra (1961), Dennis (1964) and Kathryn (1969) and four grandchildren.

With a passion for learning, music and fine art, Allen was a well-read man, says Stephen. “He was rarely without a book in his hand when not banging out his own next book on his ancient Underwood typewriter.”

Kathryn recalls that her father, a speed reader, “would read several books, cover to cover,” in a single trip to the bookstore. “His study contained thousands of books on various topics and he was familiar with them all,” Stephen adds. “He was Google before there was a Google.”

“His enthusiasm and ability to communicate his findings across so many platforms (made) it impossible to replicate him,” says Kathryn.

On a quest for the truth, Allen “sought out answers to the strange and unexplainable occurrences that happen in life,” says Spies. “Dad had many questions about the nature of our reality and devoted his life to finding the answers.”