December 7, 2012
Twenty years ago, I wrote my first ever article about the paranormal. At
the time, I was a journalism student in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and
was freelancing for the now-defunct arts and entertainment magazine
the Edmonton Bullet. It wasn't the beginning of my interest in ghosts by
any means, but it was the first time I had consciously stepped foot in
places where ghostly things had allegedly occurred.
I ended up interviewing Ron Hlady, a preservation technician at the
historic and haunted downtown McKay Avenue School. The school is
now a museum and archives run by the Edmonton Public School Board.
The building was actually the site of Alberta's first two legislative
sessions in 1906 and 1907. The government rented the third floor
assembly hall from the Protestant School Board for $400 per session,
and it was in that room that politicians made the decision to make
Edmonton Alberta's capital. After that, the young provincial government
moved its sessions to cheaper digs until the current domed Legislature
was built for it in 1911.
At its peak, McKay Avenue School had 456 students in 1916, but that
number declined steadily over time, leading to its closure in 1983 with
only 53 students enrolled. Its Romanesque design, pillared entrance and
brick façade - all unique to Alberta architecture - prompted the school to
be designated a Provincial Historic Resource in 1976, thus ensuring the
building's survival in a rapidly expanding provincial capital where many of
the old original buildings were torn down to make way for new
Hlady told me about how objects mysteriously moved around and
strange noises were heard at the school. In the late 1980s, Hlady and a
co-worker were setting up chairs on the top floor of the building. They
both left the room for a few minutes and returned to find the chairs
scattered about, although no one else was in the building at the time.
Hlady also recalled how lights had been turned on and off mysteriously,
water taps have been found running when they should have been turned
off, and the alarms in the building have been triggered without
I recollect Hlady pulling a ouija board off a shelf in his office, and telling
me that he had been experimenting with it, and communicating with a
spirit who claimed to be a worker who had accidentally fallen off the roof
of the building during its construction or a renovation. It is a well-known
legend that this maintenance man is said to be one of the ghostly
residents in the building, and I find it interesting that the legend may be
rooted in Hlady's own ouija board sessions. I didn't mention this in the
published article. Maybe it was just a figment of my imagination? Barbara
Smith, author of Ghost Stories of Alberta, counted over a dozen spirits
that are reputed to haunt the building. To this day, the McKay Avenue
School is a prime destination for a local ghost walk.
One of the buildings I looked into never made it into my published article.
I cannot recall why I decided that it shouldn't be, but I remember very
well visiting this rather unusual haunted location. I won't mention the
name of this place, although I will say it was one of the last drive-in fast
food restaurants in Edmonton, a small, somewhat cheesy but historical
site all the same. (May the record show that I have fond memories of
visiting this fast food chain as a kid, and having a tray of frosty glass mug
of root beer, a freshly grilled hamburger with greasy but delicious onion
rings attached to the window of my parents' car for me to enjoy. Oh how
the times have changed. Mind you, I'm not so old to remember servers
on rollerskates!) This particular restaurant no longer stands, a victim to
Edmonton's development and a changing fast food industry. Trendy
downtown condos now stand in its place.
The employees had been reporting strange things. One day a fry cook
was almost injured when the open lid of the fryer he was using slammed
down. On several occasions, the combination safe in the office was
found to have opened with no plausible explanation as to why. Everyone
was talking about a ghost. They were a bit freaked out by this, but also
fascinated. I can't remember getting much more detail beyond that, and
maybe that's why it didn't make it into my published article.
After my first foray into allegedly haunted buildings, I remember feeling
rather disappointed. By that time, I had read several books on ghosts
and marvelled at the famous photographs of the Brown Lady or Tulip
Staircase monks, was astonished by the spontaneous appearances of
the faces of Belmez, the Enfield poltergeist, and the many adventures
had by professional ghost hunter Peter Underwood in his books. I guess
I had expected to hear reports of half-body apparitions floating through
the halls and disappearing through closed doors, of eerie messages
being scratched into walls, or at least get to hear some ghostly footsteps.
Someone had told me around that time that ghosts preferred wet and
damp environments, which seemed to explain to me why rainy England
was so haunted and arid Alberta was not.
Edmonton, I concluded at the time, barely had any ghosts, and the
ghosts it did seem to have - well, I very much questioned whether they
were ghosts at all. The maintenance man falling from the roof and then
haunting the building sounded too fanciful to me, like an urban legend.
And I thought there were just too many possible natural explanations for
why these reported things happened.
In hindsight after reading a great deal about ghostly phenomenon, my
view has shifted. I can say that the McKay Avenue School's domineering
atmosphere made a definite impression on me. Now, when people tell
me about a haunted school or institution, I think of its spacious rooms
and tall windows that seem perfect for ghosts. And Ron Hlady was a very
effective and kind guide who honestly felt there were probably spirits
walking through the former school's halls.
With further investigation, no doubt natural causes could resolve some
the mysteries that have been experienced in these haunted buildings I
visited. But reading updated remarks of those of have since visited
McKay Avenue School, I can definitely respect that there is something
odd there - a sense of something unseen yet present. The fast food
restaurant may no longer stand (my Dad suggested perhaps the new
condos are haunted in its absence), but McKay Avenue School sits
waiting at the corner of 99th Avenue and 105th Street, waiting for open
yet sceptical minds to explore its space.
Further Reading: Barbara Smith's Ghost Stories of Alberta which
includes an account of McKay Avenue School (1993), More Ghost
Stories of Alberta (1997) and Even More Ghost Stories of Alberta (2001)
all delve into the tales that come out of the province, proving my initial
impression of Alberta being not all that haunted quite wrong. They are
available from Lone Pine Publishing.
Edmonton Public Schools Archives and Museum are located at
McKay Avenue School, 10425-99 Avenue NW, Edmonton, Alberta.
This article originally appeared on Sue Demeter-St.Clair and Matthew
Didier's Paranormal Blog on 18 July 2007 and has been reprinted on
the Paranormal Studies & Investigations Canada (PSICAN) website.
by Christopher Laursen
Reflecting on the first article he wrote about
ghosts and hauntings in 1992, Christopher
Laursen takes us to a historic school and
drive-in restaurant in downtown Edmonton,
Canada. He writes, "I can definitely respect
that there is something odd there."
article | ghosts & hauntings
Edmonton’s McKay Avenue School
A photo of McKay Avenue School from 2008.
Photo by Darren Kirby; used by permission
The McKay Avenue School in Edmonton, Canada, in 1912.
Photo from Edmonton Public Schools Archives and Museum
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