The Spirits Among Us

Halloween Hunt
Halloween Hunt
October 21, 2008
Medium says Lizzie Borden Did Kill Her Father and Stepmother
Medium says Lizzie Borden Did Kill Her Father and Stepmother
October 20, 2009

As people line up to scare the pants off themselves at pretend haunted houses, there are those who believe Calgary has real ghosts floating around the city.

G reg Fouts isn't one of them. It's a view he comes by honestly, having studied their possible existence for the better part of 30 years.

"I've looked into more than 500 cases," says the retired University of Calgary psychology professor. "And there was only a dozen times where I could not explain what was happening."

In the lion's share of the incidents, he says, it was more a case of simple human nature than an otherworldly visitation.

"I'd first ask them if they were depressed, grieving a loss, under stress or having problems in their marriage," says Fouts, who now calls North Carolina home. "The answer would almost always be yes to at least one."

As a nonbeliever, Fouts appears to be in the minority. A recent Angus-Reid poll of Americans found an incredible 44 per cent believe in ghosts; a whopping 74 per cent also believe that angels walk, or at least float, among us.

Before we in the land of the shrinking loonie get too smug in our propensity for practicality, let it be noted that the question was put to Canucks with pretty much the same result: according to a 2007 Ipsos-Reid poll, 66 per cent of Canadians believe in angels while 48 per cent believe in ghosts.

'Tis certainly the season for eerie apparitions, as Calgarians get ready for Halloween with creepy decorations on their doorsteps and pint-sized ghosts preparing for another night of trick or treating.

This week, a variety of local "haunted houses" -- with names like Screamfest and Nightmare Now -- will play host to those with a predilection for the paranormal. Ghosts, vampires, and, scariest of all, the occasional Sarah Palin look-alike, will be seen wandering the city streets as they head to various parties celebrating this dark-themed holiday.

So in honour of the annual pagan festival that racks up about $6 billion in sales of costume, candy and decorations, I went in search of the ghostly side of Calgary.


A nd wouldn't you just know it: despite levelling most of our ghost-friendly historic buildings over the past two decades, we appear to boast more than our fair share of ghosts, or at least people willing to go on the record as having seen or heard one.

The Hose and Hound Pub in Inglewood, a former fire hall, is said to have a monkey ghost who throws cans off the shelves and starts the dishwasher; the hallways of the Banff Springs Hotel, some claim, are frequented by the ghost of a longtime bellman; Knox United Church's Lady in Pink walks through closed doors; and Heritage Park, it seems, is the pacing place of many a soul that has refused to leave this dimension.

Despite being from Calgary, Janelle Morris wasn't familiar with the plethora of spooky residents at Heritage Park when she started work there three months ago.

But her colleagues, many of whom say they're well acquainted with the ghosts, brought the new communications manager up to speed.

"We have one we call the Lady in White, who you can see at the window of the Prince House," says Morris, referring to the old home of Peter Anthony Prince, a wealthy man whose first three wives predeceased him.

"We've also had visitors who say they've seen a pretty woman in an apron, sweeping with a corn broom."

Skeptics might point out that when it comes to amusement parks, ghosts are good for business. And they'd have some support in that all four nights of Heritage Park's first annual Goblins and Gourmet event (a three-course meal followed by a guided ghost tour) sold out before October.

Norm Keen knows his business also benefits from the spooky factor, but it's not something he's thrilled about.

"I'd kind of prefer if we were known best for our great food and hospitality," says the food and beverage manager of the Deane House, one of our city's most renowned haunted houses.

Keen, who's been running the Deane House for six years, is well versed in the tales of otherworldly visitors, many of whom died in violent circumstances.

"It was a rooming house in the Dirty Thirties," says Keen. "There were murders, suicides -- a lot of not-nice things went on in that era."

Banging noises, unplugged phones ringing, legless men floating down the hallway: you name the bone-chilling incident, it's been reported as happening there over the years.

But Keen has so far missed out on the action.

"I've never had anything weird or wonderful happen to me yet, even when I've been here alone in the middle of the night," says Keen. "I am what you'd call a skeptic."

Still, he does recall one chilling incident working in another inner-city historic building a few years ago.

"I was at the Commerce Club one night alone, and felt something staring down the back of my neck," he says. "We'd play back videotapes in the hallways at night, and see all these shadows moving about."

One of Keen's Inglewood neighbours is convinced spirits live among us. But in his line of work, it's not a case of ghosts being good for business.

"I tell my staff to inform clients if they know a house has had reports of being haunted," says Graham Mayne, owner of Discover Real Estate. "We're not required to by law -- but if we don't tell them, then the next door neighbour will on move-in day."

Mayne says there are several older homes in Inglewood where ghosts have taken up residence. In fact, one of them was his own house.

"Two young children had died years earlier from smoke inhalation," he says of the duplex he bought in the 1990s. "They were making noise, petting my tenant's dog, scaring him half to death."

Mayne called upon Gina Dolinsky to help him rid the house of the spirits, which also included a trio of men who hung out in one of the bedrooms.

"After she went in there, we didn't have a problem anymore," he says.

Dolinsky confirms she communicates with the spirit world, but says she's no ghost buster.

"What we call ghosts is more about energy that isn't at the realm it's supposed to be at," says Dolinsky, who has a busy practice as a feng shui and energy clearing consultant.

According to Dolinsky, it's not just creaky old buildings that harbour such spirits; even new homes are vulnerable.

Dolinsky was coy about what she actually does when she enters a building purported to be haunted -- "I bring my awareness to the metaphysical energy present, then open my heart and just be with that energy."

But she does give up some good tips on where to find these spirits.

"They're attracted to places where there's heavier energy," she says, noting dark, quiet basements and places rife with conflict are popular. "Most homes have imbalanced energy in them because we don't live a balanced life."

Business is hopping for people with Dolinsky's skills, as it is for Kim Dennis, a Calgary medium with such an uncanny knack for naming dead loved ones that she's booked a year in advance and has her own TV show, the Antique Psychic.

Like Dolinsky, Dennis doesn't like the word ghost nor will she jump onto the haunted house bandwagon.

"We're all part of a big energy field, and spirits walk around us all the time, everywhere," says Dennis. "They're just at a different vibration than the rest of us, that's why most people can't tune in."

Dennis, who recently visited Lizzie Borden's former home in Fall River, Mass. (Lizzie, by the way, confessed to Dennis), says that while she has a gift for her craft, communicating with spirits is something all of us can do. "Everyone has this kind of intuition, but most just shut it out."

Like Dolinsky and Dennis, Tom Davis has had a fascination with the spirit world for much of his adult life. Seven years ago, he started up the Calgary Association for Paranormal Investigation, which has 10 volunteer members.

Davis, who averages about three suspected hauntings a month, says about 80 per cent of the cases have a rational explanation, but there have been a few times when he and his investigation team have been stumped.

"There have been times where we just couldn't explain what was happening," he says.

Fouts, too, has a case that has (pardon the pun) haunted him for years. In the 1990s, he learned of a house that seemed to be inhabited by a mischievous, unhappy spirit that threw salt shakers into people's hands and slammed cupboards.

A succession of residents, none of whom knew each other, saw and heard the same eerie things.

Sometime later, he was contacted by a resident three doors down, who was experiencing a similar ghostly intruder. Intrigued, he did some digging.

"I found out that there used to be a cemetery under where those houses were," he says.

"That really made me wonder."

There are enough creepy stories floating around to satisfy the ghoul in most of us. But if you need a little more devilish delight, try a haunted house -- real or make-believe.

Calgary Herald - Sunday, October 26, 2008

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