City homes and businesses have a ghostly history

Teresa Phillips’ brother was mesmerized by the ethereal blue flames that danced across the ceiling of their parents’ northside Red Deer basement when they were kids.

Cronquist House

Cronquist House

Teresa Phillips’ brother was mesmerized by the ethereal blue flames that danced across the ceiling of their parents’ northside Red Deer basement when they were kids.

The reason for the ghostly blue fire was never determined, but it was just one of the strange happenings at the little home along 60th Avenue in Riverside Meadows.

As Halloween nears, it is easy to find that ghostly tales, haunted houses and strange phenomenon abound in Red Deer.

There were mostly farms on what is now Red Deer’s north side when Phillips’ father built a home in the 1950s in what is now Riverside Meadows. There weren’t many people living in the area at the time, with farms and wildlife being more abundant than people.

Red Deer historian Michael Dawe said as the basement was being dug for the home, builders were perplexed by a layer of ashes across the ground where the basement would be. “There didn’t seem to be a reason why there would be ashes that deep in what seemed to be undisturbed ground,” Dawe said.

Phillips said it was too deep and too large an area to have been a campfire and no one had been living on the property in a house previously. Once the basement was finished, dug after the rest of the home was complete, strange things started to happen in the house.

The family had two separate dryers in the basement that would turn on and off with no one in the basement. The family would joke, “Oh that’s Henry the ghost.”

A strange sound would also come from the record player, as if somebody had touched the needle when no one was in the room.

Phillips’ brother saw blue flames creeping along the ceiling of the basement, only for them to disappear and cause no damage. Phillips’ own son, as a young child, also saw the blue flames in a corner of the basement. He came screaming up from downstairs, terrified by what he saw.

“I was always afraid of the basement when I was little,” Phillips said. “I always felt there was something down there.”

When her father had the chance, he connected the home to city utilities. As he was connecting the pipe underneath the house, a blowtorch was knocked over close to where her mother was standing at the foot of the stairs inside the house. The explosion sent her flying, caused a fire and burned a portion of the home.

The strange phenomenon was never explained and Phillips still doesn’t know if any of the incidents in the house, which still stands, were connected. Her story, Angry Ashes, has been featured in Even More Ghost Stories of Alberta.

Dawe said he often gets questions about haunted houses around Halloween, which he attributes to people being curious about mysterious happenings.

“I think it’s just part of the fascination of the unexplained and the unknown,” Dawe said about why people love ghost stories. “We have a real curiosity of what happens and why, but when we can’t explain it, we wonder what is behind it.”

Another favourite local tale of terror involves Cronquist House, which now sits at Bower Ponds. The Edwardian-style home was built in 1911 and once rested in what is now West Park. It was moved to Bower Ponds to save it from demolition in the 1970s. Dawe said many believe that in moving the house, the spirits within it were disturbed as well.

No one has seen a ghost, but table settings, cups and saucers have moved, doors have slammed when no one was near them and the sound of footsteps on the upper floors of Cronquist House have been heard when there was nobody upstairs. All of this has been recorded in a story in More Ghost Stories of Alberta.

At one point, as former executive director Elizabeth Plumtree entered the home, the doors leading into the kitchen were swinging rapidly. It was strange because if someone had been in the home, the alarm would have gone off and it had not sounded. Dawe said Plumtree looked into the kitchen and there was nobody there. She also looked around the house and there was no sign of anyone inside.

“This door was going back and forth at a great rate. It wasn’t just a little wobble,” Dawe said. “It was as if somebody had run through it just before Elizabeth got there.”

A lingering spirit may also reside at the old Park Hotel, now Park Place, along Ross Street, in downtown Red Deer. Dawe said the hotel was originally called the Alexandra Hotel and was built more than 100 years ago. In recent years, it has been converted for businesses.

Dawe said some business owners have reported feeling a cold sensation and then looking up to see a woman in Edwardian or Victorian clothing walking across the hallway to the basement and then vanishing. “She never talks. They can see her but only fleetingly,” Dawe said.

sobrien@www.reddeeradvocate.com

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