The abandoned Michener Centre north site has now been turned into twisted piles of metal and concrete debris.
But memories of the once looming institutional buildings that occupied the complex before the demolition will live on for hundreds of people who worked over the years at the facility for people with mental disabilities.
Some Red Deerians — especially those who noticed the greenish glow of safety lights shining out of broken windows in the vacant buildings late at night — might have eerier recollections.
I met a person with ambivalent feelings about these mid-20th Century Michener Centre structures by chance one bright afternoon.
My husband and I were taking an autumnal walk just before Halloween of 2021 when we came across a man standing by a chain link fence. He was observing the destruction of a two-storey building at the site’s southeast end.
Our friendly chit-chat about the demolition process soon took a more personal turn.
The man revealed to us he had once patrolled these empty buildings at night as part of a hired security team. He admitted he didn’t like walking through the squat rectangular building that stood directly in front of us.
Security checks were always done in pairs, he said, and whenever he and his partner would open the side door and enter this building, they would both hear what sounded like voices coming from within.
It was as if an echo-ey conversation was happening, but all the words were indistinguishable, he recalled. And these strange sounds grew louder as they walked towards the far end of the hallway where the cafeteria once operated.
A search always played out the same: Once they entered the cafeteria, the noises would abruptly stop. The two security guards would shine their flashlights into every corner of the room and never find another soul stirring.
Had these sounds been made by vagrants? The former security guard said he couldn’t imagine where they would have hidden.
Perhaps air currents were creating muffled noises while drifting through the building’s hallways? The man recalled the vacant building’s mechanical systems were shut off.
None of us mentioned ghosts — for who really believes in them?
Yet, the man could think of no obvious explanation for the sound of voices in an empty building. He didn’t seem too upset to see the structure coming down.
This isn’t the only strange tale told about old buildings in Red Deer.
At Cronquist House at Bower Ponds, various people have reported seeing a woman standing at an upper window while the house was supposed to be empty. The creaking of footsteps and swinging of doors were also heard, and cups and saucers were seen to move across tables — all recorded in More Ghost Stories of Alberta.
The book Even More Ghost Stories of Alberta tells of a house on 60th Avenue in Riverside Meadows that unsettled its owners. Blue flames were seen flickering across the basement ceiling and clothes dryers would turn on and off, among the unexplained phenomena.
Historian Michael Dawe wrote about the century-old Park Place on Ross Street also yielding some inexplicable happenings. Business owners over the years have felt a cold sensation and occasionally seen a woman in Edwardian or Victorian dress walking across the hallway to the basement, then vanishing.
“She never talks. They can see her, but only fleetingly,” Dawe said.
Lana Michelin is a reporter at the Red Deer Advocate.