A guide to Dalhousie’s ghastliest ghouls and ghosts
Despite the decorations, this is still technically the opinions section, so I suppose I should frame this with an opinion:
You should be afraid…very afraid.
You might not be aware, but Halifax is absolutely swarming with ghost stories, and Dalhousie is no exception. Read on to learn more, if you dare!
The oldest and most famous ghost story on campus is that of Penelope, the ghost girl of Shirreff Hall. The legend has circulated around campus for decades, and has been featured in several books of local ghost lore.
Reports in the Gazette—and more recently in online articles and discussions—have been fairly consistent over the years. Penelope is said to be a chambermaid who worked in the Shirreff Hall shortly after it opened in the 1920s. According to most versions of the story, Penelope had an affair with a professor that ended in pregnancy. He abandoned her, and she hung herself in despair.
Penelope’s manifestations also seem to follow a general pattern across the stories: lights and electronic devices turning on and off by an unseen hand, doors unlocking and opening by themselves while the key-holding residents were in the room, strange temperature changes, disembodied footsteps running down the hall, and even actual sightings of Penelope, who witnesses describe as beautiful woman in a blue dress.
There doesn’t appear to be any mention of the tragedy in the Gazette in the 1920s—though something so dark and scandalous might not have made the paper of the day. The earliest thing to a possible reference is a joke in a humour column from the 1930s in which the author writes “Please, please, let nobody discourage the practice of window-hanging (a method of viewing the neighbourhood, not of suicide) at Shirreff Hall.” Unfortunately, it’s impossible to say whether this is an allusion to the real-life Penelope, an early reference to the rumoured haunting, or a simple coincidence.
For all of her local fame, Penelope hasn’t made very many appearances in the Gazette—the first article about her appears to be a science column written in 1994.
Why the science column?
It seems Penelope wasn’t a fan of Star Trek:
“In the second floor lounge, it’s been a common sight for the TV to switch off mysteriously when the theme music to Star Trek starts up. Perhaps Jean Luc reminds her of her former lover.”
Back in February 2008, the Gazette published a story about a second year journalism and international development student who claimed to have seen a ghost in her residence room.
The student lived atop Cochran Bay. She claimed that strange occurrences had begun a day before the sighting, when she had started hearing a strange, whispering voice in her room. She unplugged her television, turned off her radio and computer, and shut her windows, but she could not locate the source of the voice.
The student carried on with her classes as usual that day. When she returned that night, she had difficulty falling asleep, in part due to the persistent reappearance of the voice, and in part because she couldn’t shake the feeling of being watched. She felt as if she could just barely see something moving about the dark room at the corners of her vision.
At around 3:00 a.m., the student got out of bed to grab some water from her mini-fridge across the room. When she sat back down on the bed, she realized she was not alone.
The ghost of a teenage girl had appeared next to the bed, not three feet from the student.
The student described her visitor:
“She had long, wavy brown hair, and was wearing a long-sleeved nightgown…she was maybe five feet tall. She was hovering above the ground, leaning at an angle.”
The ghost remained in place for about ten seconds before vanishing.
The student had a librarian help her conduct some research in the King’s archives for information about possible deaths in the building, and claimed to have found information about a maid who died some sixty years earlier, found hanging in the ‘roost’, which was separated from the student’s room by nothing more than a wall.
On March 22, 1949, the Gazette featured a front-page story about the ghost of the “Studley Arts Building” — the same building that now houses the University Club.
The story treats the ghost as common knowledge at the time, noting that it was an “indisputable fact that strange noises are heard in the arts building during the hours of darkness. “
The Gazette had its office in the building at the time, so four Gazette staffers spent the night locked inside to investigate. “Determined to find a mechanical cause” for the noises, they came up empty handed, concluding that it wasn’t a pump or the radiators. They reported haunting footsteps that switched floors whenever they attempted to investigate the source. When they split up and attempted to cover both floors, the footsteps stopped altogether.
Frustrated by this elusive spectre, they decided to set up their photographer at the bottom of the stairwell. The rest of the group “ran upstairs at top speed, turned around and ran back down again, right on the heels of the mysterious steps.“
The photographer snapped his camera at the moment the sound of the phantom steps seemed closest. The resulting photo revealed a semi-translucent figure wearing a sheet of some sort. The Gazette staff, who swore they were in attendance when the photo was developed and that it was not doctored in any way, lamented that “the trouble is, the ghost looks too much like a traditional ghost—if it is a ghost.”
Whether this particular article was all an elaborate prank by the Gazette staff remains unclear, but for what it’s worth, they don’t appear to have been the only people to have encountered the ghost. The report concluded that “other people have heard the ‘ghost of the Arts Building’…three professors are included in the list, and many students. There’s something there, but what? We can’t tell you!”
Jody Wilson, a member of the custodial staff at the Weldon Law Building, has worked at a number of spots around campus during his time at Dalhousie. While he says he hasn’t encountered anything spooky at Weldon, he shared the following stories about other buildings on campus, all of which took place within the last decade:
The Rebecca Cohn, Studley Campus:
“You can hear a child crying late at night. When you are there after hours, the backstage area gives you the creeps. A couple of times we heard a child crying when we were back stage cleaning. Every time we went out to check the theatre, no one was ever there.”
Howe Hall, Studley Campus:
“When I was doing training at Howe Hall, both me and the woman training me were leaving the washroom on the bottom floor of Fountain House. She held the door for me and when she closed the door she was embarrassed, because she let it close in a man’s face. I told her that no one else had been in the bathroom with us. We went back in and checked, and no one was there. She described him, and we later found out that he looked just like a professor who used to teach at Dal who had been involved in a scandal.”
Clinical Research Centre, Carleton Campus:
“On the second floor one night, we had a glass door start to shake violently. The other guy working looked at me, and I hollered ‘stop, we’re not going anywhere; we have floors to get done!’ and the shaking stopped.”
Tupper Building, Carleton Campus:
“The Tupper is really bad. I had a problem on the 14th floor (anatomy). We were working overtime on a Sunday, doing the floor in the parts (body parts) room. We heard a loud bang in the next room, and there was nobody else on the whole floor besides my coworker and me. We had stacked up stools in the room next to us where they keep the bodies. In the middle of the room, two of the stools had been moved—one was lying on its side, and the other one had been flipped upside down. None of the other stools around them had been touched. There was no-one in there except the bodies.”
Dal Arena, Studley Campus (now the site of Lemarchant Place):
“The attendant at the old arena didn’t believe in ghosts, but he had a reoccurring experience he couldn’t explain. When he was in hockey rink after hours, he would sometimes hear a noise at back door. When he checked, the door would be unlocked. He would know it had been locked, because he had watched security lock it. Security knew that there was something weird going on, but it had been happening for a long time, so they just accepted it.”