Haunted Heritage Part 3: Hair Raising Hotels

Accounts of paranormal activities, ghostly sightings and unexplained phenomena have often been noted in some of the world’s most renowned hotels. Alberta is no exception and is home to several famous hotels with a reputation of spooky occurrences. With Halloween creeping just around the corner, it is a great time to share some supernatural stories about old hotels with a wealth of ghostly lore.

Here are a few allegedly haunted hotels:

The Banff Springs Hotel

The majestic Banff Springs Hotel is a large chateau-style structure overlooking the Bow River Valley in Banff National Park. It is one of our countries original grand railway hotels constructed by Canadian Pacific Railway. Construction on the luxury hotel began in 1887 and it was first opened to the public on June 1, 1888. Between 1890 and 1928, the hotel underwent several periods of construction that involved many improvements to the original building. After a fire destroyed much of the original wooden structure in 1926, the hotel was rebuilt in its current configuration in 1928. Nestled at the foot of Sulphur Mountain, the picturesque hotel has developed a reputation for paranormal activity over the years. One of its most popular ghost stories describes sightings of a pale ghostly female figure moving along a spiral staircase within the hotel. The figure is thought to be the spectral image a bride who tragically died on her wedding day. Legend has it she fell to her death after her gown caught on fire on some of the candles lining the same staircase. Visitors have also noted seeing a similarly attired veiled spectre dancing alone in the ballroom near the spiral staircase.

Banff Springs Hotel, Banff, Alberta with mountains in background Aug. 1921 (Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta, A14109).

Another well-known supernatural tale is about the apparition of a helpful bellman, named Sam, who is rumored to be an employee who passed away and has returned to haunt his workplace. It is said that the ghost of an elderly man, dressed in an old fashioned uniform, matching Sam’s description, is often spotted roaming the halls. Some say Sam continues to faithfully perform his duties at his beloved hotel from the great beyond.

Other paranormal occurrences are said to include mysterious phantom phone calls in the middle of the night, faucets randomly turning on, flickering lights in certain suites and luggage that has mysteriously moved. Stories of spectral sightings abound on the grounds as well and include the restless spirit of one of the hotel’s architects, a ghostly bartender and even a headless bagpiper, appearing at various locations around the castle-like building.

The Jasper Park Lodge

Jasper Park Lodge, Main Entrance, 1920 (Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta, A11287).

The Jasper Park Lodge, located on the scenic shores of Lac Beauvert in Jasper, is another famous old hotel that abounds with stories of ghostly hauntings and unexplained phenomena. The original lodge was first established in 1915, as part of a tent city associated with the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. By the 1920s the property came under the management of Canadian National Hotels, who constructed several additions including eight bungalows, several cabins and a main lodge building a few years later. The original wooden log building was almost completely replaced with the current lodge building in 1952, after a devastating fire all but destroyed the old structure. Most of the alleged paranormal activity is said to occur in one of the guest cabins on the property. This cabin is rumoured to be the location where an employee was startled while climbing the stairs and plummeted to their death in the 1940s. Legend has it the ghostly apparition in the cabin is fond of rearranging furniture overnight and switching lights on and off. It is said that witnesses have also reported seeing wisps of phantom smoke rising out of the chimney of the unoccupied cabin. Many other stories of the alleged supernatural happenings are also rumored to take place within the main lodge itself. Some of these unearthly occurrences include random items being mysteriously moved, unexplained phone calls to the front desk switchboard and even phantom children’s hands prints appearing on widows. Visitors have also been known to be startled by sightings of a ghostly elderly couple, wearing old fashioned clothing, dancing or appearing and disappearing at a table in one of the dining areas.

Jasper Park Lodge, Main Dining Room, 1930 (Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta, A1477).

Another well-known paranormal anecdote has a more disturbing twist. It involves accounts of feelings of unease, being watched, or blasts of chillingly cold winds along one of the staircases and connecting halls in an older part of the main lodge. Animals are also said to be very uncomfortable and hesitant when moving through this section of the building. It is believed that an unseen entity seemingly bumps patrons from behind as they make their way down this particular staircase and haunts this part of the building. This more sinister supernatural activity is purportedly connected to the demise of a man rumored to have fallen while climbing the very same staircase and died of a broken neck.

The Prince of Wales Hotel

The Prince of Wales Hotel is another historic railroad hotel, located in Waterton Lakes National Park. It is regally situated on a promontory overlooking Upper Waterton Lake and the local town site. The hotel was designed in Swiss-chalet style, in a rustic design tradition. It was originally constructed by an American company, the Great Northern Railway, between 1926 and 1927, during the prohibition era. The grand old hotel has acquired a wealth of ghostly legends over the decades. One the best known stories is that of a young employee named Sarah. It is said that she often makes her presence known by appearing to staff and rattling liquor bottles. Rumor has it, Sarah’s demise was a result of a tragic case of unrequited love and that she jumped off the hotel’s seven-story-high bell tower to her death. It is thought Sarah’s ghost continues to roam the hotel, tucking sleeping guest into their bed and locking windows left open overnight in guest rooms. Another eerily similar story of spurned love describes a female gift shop employee who reportedly fell in love with a handsome hotel manager. It is believed the heart broken woman jumped to her death, after being rejected by her lover, from a six story balcony, clad in only a white sheet. It is said that her restless spirit is rumored to be responsible for items being mysteriously rearranged in the gift shop.

Prince of Wales Hotel, Waterton, 1955 (Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta, A9508).

Another paranormal tale is said to involve a grisly murder that took place in the rooms allocated to staff in the upper levels of the hotel. According to lore, a former cook murdered his lovely young wife, also employed at the hotel, in the couple’s quarters while in a fit of jealous rage. He then fled from the property, never to be seen again. Baffled visitors describe having heard mysterious knocking, cryptic footsteps on deserted balconies, ominous creaking of floors, and banging doors coming from unoccupied rooms in this part of the building. It is believed that the phantom banging and unexplained noises are attempts to draw attention to the injustice the spectre reportedly suffered at the hands of her homicidal husband. Another ghostly haunting involves the disembodied soul of a well-dressed gentleman who occasionally visits the dining room and basement. It is said that his presence is always accompanied by the tell-tale smell of burning tobacco. This entity is speculated to be the spirit of a construction worker who reportedly fell to his death off some scaffolding during the construction of the hotel, now inhabiting the hotel for all eternity.

Written By: Pauline Bodevin (Regulatory Approvals Coordinator, Historic Resources Management Branch).

References

“Ghost Stories of Alberta”, Barbara Smith 1993

“More Ghost Stories of Alberta”, Barbara Smith 1997

“Ghost Stories of the Rocky Mountains”, Barbara Smith 1999

HERMIS (Heritage Resources Management Information System) – https://hermis.alberta.ca/

Canada Historic Places Register – http://www.historicplaces.ca/en/home-accueil.aspx

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