What scares you most about Calgary? Gas prices? Traffic jams? Minus forty with no sign of a chinook? One item that will never make my list is Calgary’s “supernatural” side; I could walk through a graveyard at night without a hint of trepidation. So when I was asked to cover the “haunted” side of the city, I didn’t exactly jump at the chance.
My first stop was Calgary’s Haunted Pub Tours, which leads patrons through three haunted watering holes, starting with the Cat & Fiddle in the city’s northwest. This locale was a promising start: the building that houses the pub used to be a funeral home. When I was led downstairs, I noticed a sudden change in temperature in the room. True, it was a basement, but I was also standing in a space once used to prepare bodies for burial.
Next we visited the Hose & Hound in historic Inglewood. This former firehouse is reportedly haunted by the spirit of Barney the Monkey, the pet of a long-dead fire chief. Using dousing rods we moved around the top floor searching for Barney. I wasn’t very successful, and decided that instead of wandering around searching for a ghost monkey, I would turn my attention to another beer.Our third destination was another former funeral home, the Rose & Crown near 17 Ave SW. We were led upstairs to the attic, which used to be the living quarters of the family that ran the funeral parlor. Our guide, medium Niki Berthelette, then introduced us to electronic voice phenomena, or EVP. The idea is that paranormal activity is inaudible to humans, but can be picked up by electronic devices. We recorded a conversation on tape, and then later I got to hear its contents. As I listened to it, I could clearly hear a woman’s voice speaking over mine. Could it be an edited file? Maybe. Or, maybe I was just finding more ways to prove my skepticism.
After the tour I sat down with Niki and asked her about her profession. She told me that the tools we had used were all ways to explore the “quantum” world, a place where there is no distinction between past, present or future.
“When you connect to the quantum world it comes like a download,” she says. “When you first start working with psychic energy, it’s like listening to twenty different radio stations. The hard part is finding out how to tune into one.”
I asked her what areas of the city she has found to be the most haunted. On Stephen Avenue, one bar in particular makes her hair stand on end: King Henry VIII. But why would one place be more haunted than the next? The answer, it turns out, is pretty straightforward: “Some places have been the scenes of murders, rapes, and overdoses,” Niki says. “All of these aspects contribute to the leftover energy.”This also explains her feelings about the Stampede Grounds: each year thousands of people flock to this small area, bringing with them fistfuls of energy. Combine that with leftover energy from concerts and hockey games, and the result is an excess of spiritual energy.
But, Niki gives the prize for most energy goes to another location: 17 Avenue.
“So many people venture to this strip to let go, unwind and release. Where do you think all of this energy goes?” she says. “It stays there, and some people can manipulate it—just look at the phenomenon that was the Red Mile in 2004. Thankfully the crowd didn’t turn to mob mentality, but there is just so much frightening mental baggage abandoned there.”
For the first time during this experience, I was intrigued and willing to get on board. So, after Niki focused so much on 17 Avenue, I decided to connect with Johanna Lane of Calgary Ghost Tours and go for a haunted tour of the Beltline, which includes stops on 17 Ave. Our first destination was the historic Lougheed House, a public heritage centre dating from 1891.
“A group had rented out the ballroom,” Johanna says. “When they entered they heard music playing and noticed a couple dancing. Confused, they went to the office and double checked to make sure they had the venue to themselves. The woman at the office confirmed that they had rented to entire ballroom, and when the members of the group returned the music had stopped and the dancing couple had vanished.”
Moving east we stopped at Western Canada High School (641- 17 Ave SW), also the scene of a much-witnessed ghost. There is a firing range in the basement, a remnant of the school’s days as an artillery training base. Johanna says every once in a while the ghost of a boy is seen in the basement and on the first floor, limping, dragging his left leg and muttering to himself. This fits in with the story of a young cadet, who was shot by a friend during training.
Our final stop is at a building at 17 Ave and 5 St SW, which currently houses a lingerie store. According to Johanna this was a boarding house in the 1930s. A female private detective staying there was hired by a man to investigate his wife, who he believed was cheating on him. But, the detective discovered that the woman was actually being beaten and her husband was the one cheating. Sensing the woman’s life was in danger, the detective brought her to the boarding house, but the husband tracked them down. Armed with jealousy, anger and a loaded shotgun, he killed both woman and turned the gun on himself, and to this day people report hearing footsteps, a gunshot, a woman sobbing and then another gunshot.
Are these places actually haunted after all these years? Can people leave energy behind them? Or do we use ghost stories to take a need a break from our everyday hassles? I’m not so sure anymore. But, I can say this: I’m willing to admit that more than one of these notions could be true.—Ryan Duncan