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Story and Photos by Margaret Deefholts

"You're going ghost hunting in Edmonton?" Friends say incredulously. "Edmonton is as bland as oatmeal. Nothing eerie about it."

They're wrong.

I'm in the historic La Boheme hotel in Edmonton's Highland District, and I step back startled, as an ancient furnace in the basement roars into life. It's a long rusty looking tube, and the cavernous interior is lit by leaping flames along each side. A perfect place to dispose of a corpse. Which is exactly what happened when a woman's body was dragged down to the basement and heaved into the (then) coal fired incinerator by her murderous spouse.

"What happened?" I ask. Michael, co-owner of La Boheme shrugs. "No one knows for sure, but guests have been woken up at night by creaking sounds and a repeated 'thud-thud-thud' like something being hauled down the steps, but on turning on the landing light the staircase is empty."

The murdered woman evidently still inhabits a couple of upstairs suites and has made her presence felt on several occasions. Michael opens their guest book. The entry dated February 1st 2008 reads: We are having an excellent time what with eating cheese and bread and smooching on the couch. How incredibly romantic and quiet this place is. Just wondering though…has anyone else seen the ghost in the closet? She was beautiful, but it was kind of creepy what with her having no feet and all. Brrr…maybe it's just cabin fever.

Nadine Bailey, who hosts Edmonton Ghost Tours, accompanies me to the Walterdale Playhouse in Edmonton's Old Strathcona district. Like the spook-infested Princess Theatre around the corner, the Waterdale too has a cast of players who aren't of the flesh-and-blood variety.

Bailey recounts an incident of an actor getting ready for a performance in the dressing room who just about flipped her wig-in a manner of speaking. She'd turned her back on her dressing table for an instant, while grabbing something from a cupboard across the room, but when she returned to the table a few seconds later the wig she was supposed to wear had vanished. No one else was in the room with her, and she panicked. She was due on stage in 30 minutes, and a frantic search ensued. The wig was found in the nick of time, lying behind some stage props on the ground level of the building. Nobody knew how it got there.

The adjoining TransAlta Arts Barns, home to the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival, is also home to a few disembodied "extras". Manager, Samantha Kelch talks about an eerie incident when she was closing up one night. "I was alone at the time, and I noticed a flicker of movement along there." She points to a corridor. "A woman materialised out of a solid wall, crossed the passage and disappeared through that side door which I knew was bolted shut." She grins. "Hey…I bolted too!"

We drop into Rutherford House, a dignified red brick building which was once home to the first Premier of Alberta, Alexander C. Rutherford. Staff and visitors have reported the appearance of a wraith-like woman, (assumed to be the spirit of Rutherford's wife Mattie who died in the house), and occasionally the phantom of a small boy in one of the bedrooms. Our host, Alison Moir, says that she personally hasn't experienced anything strange in the house, but doesn't dismiss these tales out of hand. "After all…one never really knows." she says, smiling.

Bailey has other yarns too-a gory murder in the sleazy old Strathcona Hotel, the child that haunts the Mount Pleasant cemetery, a jilted woman who hanged herself in the old rooming house above the Princess Theatre, and a veritable army of undead souls swarming through several University of Edmonton campus buildings. Many of these are hearsay accounts and have, I suspect, morphed into urban legends over time.

One of Edmonton's best preserved old homes, Firkin House, is different: its reputation for supernatural phenomena has been the subject of several articles including a chapter in Barbara Smith's More Ghost Stories of Alberta. The Firkins were Americans and having built the home in the early 1900s they later returned to the USA. The house then went through a succession of owners before being donated to Fort Edmonton Park where it is located today. There's no record of a death in the Firkins family when they lived there, but perhaps the disembodied male singer of lullabies and the restless young man who has been seen in the rooms is the spirit of someone who died after the house had been sold to another owner.

The house is immaculate but, of all the places I visited in Edmonton, the Firkins' residence was the only one that made the hair on the back of my neck prickle with unease. Was there really a presence in the upstairs hallway? Or was it just my imagination? Either way, I wouldn't be eager to wander through those rooms alone, or when a full moon shines through the dining room windows.


Where to Stay:

The Union Bank Inn is conveniently located in downtown Edmonton. Their Heritage Wing has a cozy Old World charm, and their Contemporary Wing is elegantly upscale. Guests are treated to a complimentary glass of wine and a cheese tray each evening. The West Coast Eggs Benedict on the Madison's Grill breakfast menu is superb. Attentive staff at the reception desk; outstanding service in Madison's. For more information:

Useful Links:

PHOTOS by Margaret Deefholts:

1. La Boheme Furnace cum Corpse Incinerator
2. Walterdale Theatre Dressing Room-scene of the vanishing wig
3. Firkin House dining room with unseen guests?
4. Mattie Rutherford's death bed.
5. For website publication: Power Point slide show: "Eerie Edmonton"

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