— Feature —

Eerie Edmonton

The Yards explores some of the core’s spookiest spots

There’s a chill in the air this time of year and the night is quickly descending. As you walk down a darkened street you feel a tingle up your spine. Is it the wind, or is there an eerier explanation?

Downtown Edmonton has its share of old haunts, so if you thought you were safe from the paranormal in Edmonton’s core, think again. With Halloween fast approaching, The Yards explores some of the core’s spookiest spots.

Hotel MacDonald and the Horseless Hoofbeats

The historic Fairmont Hotel Macdonald (10065 100 Street) is a longtime fixture of the core, opening its doors to visitors for the first time on July 5, 1915. But one of the hotel’s longest-running residents doesn’t voluntarily walk the halls in search of the spa; it gallops. One of the hotel’s most famous spooky stories is the legend of hoofbeats galloping around the eighth floor, the otherworldly racket of a workhorse that allegedly died when the foundation was being laid in 1914.

For those who aren’t scared by the concept of ghastly animals, the hotel reportedly has its fair share of human ghosts, too. Like the ‘boatman,’ the ghost of a 1913 sailor who sailed the North Saskatchewan River as part of the fur trade.

He appears as a man smoking while seated in a beautiful wingback chair. The sixth floor in particular seems to be a paranormal hotspot; hotel staff have told stories of calls from rooms that are vacant and doors that are mysteriously locked from the inside.

Whether or not these specters are good-hearted is up for debate, but stories like radios tuning into nonexistent 1950s era music stations certainly make it seem like the ghosts are looking for a good time. After all, the Hotel Macdonald was one of the first establishments to acquire a liquor license after prohibition in Alberta ended in 1924, making it the wingding hotspot in a then-relatively small town of 63,160.

McKay Avenue School and the Haunting of Rob Hlady

The Historic McKay Avenue School Archives & Museum (10425 99 Avenue), originally built in 1904, is popular with paranormal investigators and amateur thrillseekers alike. The old schoolhouse, which was also the site of the inaugural legislative assembly in 1906, is reportedly home to many spirits, and visitors report being spooked by feelings of being watched, strange noises, and water taps found running. A well-known recurrence is the blinds moving on their own accompanied by eerie laughter of students past.

One famous ghost that haunts the halls is a construction worker named Peter, who allegedly died in 1912 during renovations to the building. There is no archival evidence of anyone named Peter dying in 1912, but it has not deterred those who seek out McKay Avenue’s otherworldly population.

Be careful when contacting the dead. In the late 1980s, technician Ron Hlady, who was working at McKay at the time, began to notice strange events. Doors unlocking, furniture moving in other rooms, light switches going on and off, phone lines lighting up with no call to answer, and motion detectors picking up invisible movement. During a session in which Hlady successfully contacted Peter with a Ouija Board, he accidentally called upon another spirit that followed him home and terrorized his family.

Hopefully this doesn’t scare off visitors entirely. The beautiful building now serves as the Edmonton Public School Archives and is a fascinating museum that contains 1950s and 1880s era schoolhouses, and plenty of other resources about the history of education in Edmonton.

Alberta Block and the Lobotomized Caretaker

It’s a late-night walking home on Jasper Avenue. It’s nearing Halloween when the nights get longer and the leaves rustle in the wind. When passing the Alberta Block Building (10526 Jasper Avenue)—the old CKUA building—if the scent of cigar smoke is in the air with no smoker in sight, don’t be afraid. It’s only the smoke of the undead.

Rumour has it that the specter of Sam, a 1950s caretaker who was lobotomized after making threats against Premier Ernest Manning, played a part in CKUA’s choice to leave the building. On the CKUA website, an article about the move calls the Alberta Block “probably haunted.”

Sam’s cigar smoke has shown up in places like a women’s bathroom at night, accompanied by running faucets. Several employees of decades past have reported feelings of someone watching them, or even seeing an apparition of Sam, who apparently enjoys singing—fitting for the building’s history.

Sam is not alone in his singing: in 2009, a group of paranormal researchers recorded an unknown girl’s voice singing “go back, all the way back.” Seems like the building’s spirits have some amateur singing aspirations. CKUA began to broadcast out of the building in 1955 and left in 2012. The building is now owned by RedBrick real estate, and houses multiple businesses. Interestingly, the paranormal research and rumours slowed once CKUA left the building. Maybe Sam decided to tag along to their new location at the Alberta Hotel.

Edmonton General and the Sinister ‘B’ Wing

The Edmonton General Continuing Care Center (11111 Jasper Avenue), formerly known as the Edmonton General Hospital was built in 1895, making it 125 years old. This hospital has seen two World Wars, two pandemics, a Great Depression, and countless other smaller tragedies. No wonder it’s haunted.

The most common legend is that of the B Wing, a reportedly closed wing that is rife with hauntings. The distinct smell of sick humans lingers in the wing, despite it supposedly housing no patients. The 8th floor formerly housed the pediatric area and in this area, the sounds of children running around and crying can be heard, along with the sobbing distraught spirit of a mother seeking her lost child who disappears when seen.

There are also stories of a nameless construction worker who perished while working on the basement, whose phantom still roams the halls.

But there are more than a few mysteries surrounding the B wing of the hospital, some of them unrelated to ghosts. A spokesperson for Covenant Health denies the existence of an empty wing. A report for 2014 by the Alberta Health Services lists a B Wing that is still fully functional, which was built in 1959. The largest mystery about the Edmonton General Hospital is where these rumours come from: how can there be a haunted abandoned wing if there is no abandoned wing? The confusion and creepiness surrounding the Edmonton General Hospital and this supposedly cursed wing remain unresolved.

The Yards spoke to Dr. Rodney Schmaltz, an Associate Professor of Psychology at MacEwan University, whose research focus includes pseudoscience and why humans believe in the supernatural, to find out why humans are attracted to the supernatural. The following interview has been edited for concision and clarity.

Why are humans so fascinated with the haunted?

Rodney Schmaltz: There is curiosity about the unknown. People are interested in the afterlife. But you can go broader. There are people who aren’t spiritual but are interested in things like haunted houses. You can draw an analogy with horror movies. When you watch a horror movie, neurotransmitters release endorphins, oxytocin, dopamine, serotonin. You get this natural high.

The interest, especially in regards to exploring haunted houses, is similar. When going into a haunted house, you’re relatively certain you’re safe: you can always run out. It’s a safe way of activating neurotransmitters that are associated with positive emotions. I look at commercial haunted houses like Deadmonton and how popular they’ve become. Even though it’s counterintuitive because it’s frightening, if you look at the footage of people going through haunted houses, it’s a scream followed by a laugh. It’s a way to elicit these positive emotions.

Can you talk about the phenomena of hauntings?

Rodney Schmaltz: What’s fascinating is why we experience a haunting. Plenty of people report that they’ve been in a haunted house or had an unusual experience in one. A lot of what drives the experience of a ghost or being in a haunted place is the expectation.

Researchers sent people into the Hampton Court Palace in the U.K., supposedly the most haunted place in Britain. People that expected to see or believed in ghosts reported unusual experiences. People that didn’t believe or didn’t expect ghosts didn’t experience anything. Everybody went to the same place, but that expectation was the factor towards what was experienced.

What could cause people to think they have a supernatural experience?

Rodney Schmaltz: Something that leads people to have these feelings of unease is infrasound. Infrasound is a sound below 20Hz. You can’t hear it, but you can feel it. If you’ve ever been to a loud concert and you get that vibrating feeling in your chest, it’s similar.

Infrasound is created by many natural things, like low rumbling pipes, thunder, or even high amounts of traffic. Haunted houses are usually quite old, and the haunting is usually centered in the basement. These are places where there’s a good chance that there are some low rumbling pipes in there.

About 30 per cent of Canadians believe in ghosts. You walk into a haunted house, and it’s cold, creepy, and all of sudden the hair on the back of your neck stands up and you feel a bit strange. Most people don’t know what infrasound is, so it’s not unreasonable that someone would think it’s a ghost. It’s not that people are irrational; it’s that they don’t know the other explanation. We’re bombarded with stories, TV shows, and movies about ghosts. Especially around Halloween, when it’s on people’s minds, if you go to a haunted place and have this experience, people then understandably attribute it to a ghost.