By DAN LEAHUL
Whether you’re a believer or a skeptic, there’s no denying the allure of a particularly gruesome ghost story, especially as autumn’s eerie chill creeps through the air in anticipation of Halloween.
For a city little more than 100 years old, persistently sordid tales of murder, suicide and bad blood has marked Calgary as a veritable hotspot for paranormal activity.
Spine-chilling encounters in dark, dusty basements; phantom wails and grim apparitions; even the ghost of a mischievous monkey: Calgary has it all.
Over time these stories have taken a life of their own—refusing to die—much like the ghostly visitors that helped spawn them.
As children don masks and capes and set-out about the neighbourhood under a bloated, yellow harvest moon, the following guide to Calgary’s most haunted houses will help set the mood for a memorable, if not downright creepy, Halloween season.
Built in1906, Deane House served as the official residence for Richard Burton Deane, superintendent for the Royal North West Mounted Police, before being moved across the Bow River and converted into a boarding lodge sometime after 1930.
During that time the house witnessed a number of grisly, yet undocumented, deaths. Based on purely anecdotal evidence, there are tales of a man dying after be shoved down the stairs by mysterious forces. Another man was gunned down on the front porch. Three suicides are rumoured to have taken place in the house: one, a young child in the attic cupboard, another by a jaded lover on Valentine’s Day. A young girl was also said to have jumped to her death from the second storey window onto the banks of the Bow River.
There is proof of a gruesome murder/suicide taking place in 1971. A woman, Irma Umperville, fled her abusive husband Roderick, eventually holing up in the Deane House before Roderick tracked her down, stabbing her to death before taking his own life.
The Calgary Centre for Advanced of Paranormal Investigation deems the Deane House as “definitively haunted” and the house is a popular stop on the Calgary Ghost Tours walk of Inglewood.
There are tales of disembodied laughter emanating from the front foyer, or the ghost who sits in the parlour smoking a tobacco pipe. Staff and guests will attest to the smell of tobacco throughout the house, despite the fact that no one is smoking.
Unplugged phones will ring, empty rocking chairs will rock and footsteps will bang across the vacant top floor. The ghost of the woman who jumped to her death has been seen in the west attic window.
More recently, a woman wandered into the Deane House basement during a Murder Mystery dinner theatre, allegedly to look for clues. She encountered the ghost of a Native man who told her to leave the house and to stop trespassing on sacred land.
Yet, perhaps best known is the mysterious “blood” stain in the attic closet, where a young boy is said to have taken his own life.
The stain is rumoured to change in shape and colour, returning even after it has been scrubbed clean from the floorboards. The door to the closet itself refuses to lock, no matter how many times staff have tried.
The house’s bloody history has resulted in its designation as one of the most haunted spots in all of Canada, backed up by a number of spooky stories, many from serving staff themselves in the Deane House restaurant.
However, Johanna Lane, who runs Calgary Ghost Tours, can testify to occasional inexplicable goings-on whenever a tour makes the rounds. Tour walkers have been known to see things in the windows or hear strange voices.
Some claim their cameras malfunction when taking pictures, only to have them work again down the street, although not for long, as Deane House is only one of several haunted houses in Inglewood.
Cross House, former lodging of prominent Canadian A. E. Cross, now Rouge restaurant, has its own tale of tragic death and ghostly spirits.
Cross’s two young children fell terribly ill and died within minutes of one another while he waited at the train station for medicine from Winnipeg. Now, Rouge restaurant staff and customers claim to hear children’s laughter or see the children themselves playing in front of the fireplace.
An Inglewood pub also claims to have otherworldly visitors, The Hose & Hound, which use to be a fire hall is allegedly haunted by the ghost of a monkey named Barney (or Jocko, depending on who you talk to), both of whom who were owned by James “Cappy” Smart, the old fire chief who had a taste for exotic pets.
Barney is said to have attacked a small child and was soon put down afterwards. Strange happenings in the pub—things flying around the kitchen, appliances turning on and off, pounding coming from the floorboards—are often blamed on Barney the monkey.
Staff also testifies to hearing horses whinny or feel heavy breathing on the backs of their necks when near the old stable.
Another ghost is said to haunt the bathroom at Sam’s Food & Drink in Kensington. The staff is known to leave a beer out for him before closing for the night.
The Rose n’ Crown on 4 St, which was a funeral parlour up until the late ‘80s, has a history of unusual stories, stemming mainly from the claustrophobic attic, where windows have mysteriously opened under their own will and where bright lights sometimes illuminate during the night. Staff has often reported seeing a little boy hiding in the furnace in the basement.
The Cat ‘n’ Fiddle on 16 Ave NW, another old funeral home, is haunted by an ex-mortician, whose footsteps and voice can be heard in presumably empty rooms.
Western Canada High School, located in the Beltline on 17 Ave, which use to be an old boys college has a number of stories relating to the basement, which was an old shooting range when young men were training for war.
Maintenance staff testifies to the sounds of children crying the basement, as well as loud gun shots intermittently through the night.
In the Bank of Nova Scotia building on Stephen Ave, some people have witnessed a figure in the top story window, allegedly the ghost of a young woman who was stabbed to death there in the bathroom in the ‘80s.
Lougheed House, Knox United Church and an abandoned school of 17 Ave NE are all also favourite spots for local ghost hunters.
Calgary school children are familiar with Heritage Park two hauntings.
In the beautiful Prince House, the ghost of a striking, young woman has been seen with a baby in her hands and she is always smiling. Despite having no electricity run through the site, a bright glow has been reported to emit from the third floor.
Many have also seen an old gentleman wandering around the Canmore Opera House. The ghost known as “Sam” after Sam Livingston (although some claim it is the ghosts of the deceased miners) will often sit in during rehearsals, always in the third seat of the third row, dressed in old-fashioned clothing, simply watching.
Whether it’s the ghosts themselves that keep these stories alive, rather than those who just love a creepy tale, nearly every agrees that these spirits mean no harm. Much like Calgarians themselves, the ghosts of the city are respectful, amiable and even a little funny. Happy hunting.