Freaky Tales of Wood Buffalo: Hauntings and Urban Legends in Fort McMurray

Welcome to the first post of Wood Buffalo Regional Library’s new blog! We knew that a Halloween post would be a great way to kick off our blog, so we’ve researched some chilling occurrences in the region from the ’50s to the present day. Reader beware- you’re in for a scare!

A Halloween Fright at Waterways Hotel

In 1951, on Halloween, Fort McMurray experienced a terrifying turn of events.

The day began in good spirits, but soon would end in catastrophe: “earlier that day, as was the tradition, the Waterways Hotel had organized a Halloween penny scramble for the town’s children, but later that night, Halloween ghosts would linger and cast a darker spell” (Huberman, 149).

Just after the clock ticked past midnight, a fearsome fire took over at the hotel which destroyed half of the surrounding block. The damage was immense, and the area would not be redeveloped until the middle of the 70’s.

A silver lining, however, was that many cases full of beer were removed from the hotel and saved before the fire spread. These cases were also accounted as an insurance write off when damages were assessed, so the community enjoyed a plethora of free beer at various social functions for quite some time afterward! (Huberman, 149).

A Wheely Grave Mistake

Mysterious circumstances can be deceiving… In the early ’70s, reports of missing plant workers kept the local RCMP on high alert in Fort McMurray. As such, when a suspicious unmarked grave was found at the Biggs Avenue Cemetery, it was certainly cause for alarm, and an investigation soon ensued. Under the orders of Sergent Don Rumpel, the grave was dug up revealing… a full-sized motorbike. The circumstances of its burial were never discovered (Huberman, 233).

Poltergeist Café

Local favourite Mitchell’s Café might be most well known for their yellow Sunshine Bread, but did you know that paranormal activity could also be on the menu? The RCMP headquarters used to be directly below the cafe- the jail cells are still there to this day. There was a gift shop in the lower part of Mitchells that experienced a lot of strange activity, with gift shop items falling and moving around in the night: “This was well known in the community: there were ghosts there… They thought it was perhaps some of the prisoners who may have passed away or left behind their spirits” (CJ Phillips, Country 93.3, 2017).

The Ghost in the Window

A local urban legend amongst schoolkids in decades past involved a house in Waterways numbered 7403 and a notorious ghost sighting within. Kids would dare each other to get close and provoke the spirit that would appear with alarming regularity: “Every time it got dark, in one of the windows, you could always make out a very creepy silhouette (Toddske, Shaw TV, 2014).

Satanic Cat Thief

This is surely the most disturbing discovery I encountered in my research for this blog. In the 1990’s a lot of cats were going missing in Fort McMurray. It is alleged that a local man was sacrificing the cats for rituals, using them as offerings for some dark purpose (CJ Phillips, Country 93.3, 2017).

I’m Not Saying It’s The Aliens… But It’s The Aliens

UFO sightings have been documented in the RMWB time and time again, including a notable sighting Monday August 11th, 2003, when a local resident spotted 12 UFOs (CJ Phillips, Country 93.3, 2017).  Want to catch a glimpse of a UFO in Fort McMurray? One area is particularly known for such sightings: Tower Road (Toddske, Shaw TV, 2014).

Concerning Sounds

In isolated Wood Buffalo, people will sometimes hear strange sounds that they are unable to explain. A YouTube video was uploaded that managed to capture some very odd humming and warbling sounds reminiscent of whale calls, suggesting that they might be High Frequency Active Aural Research Program (HAARP) sounds (Robbins, D, 2012). HAARP technology is the subject of many conspiracy theories, including assertions that the equipment can “control minds, alter weather, and even make a caribou walk backwards” (Luper, 2018).

Not Clowning Around

In more recent times, Wood Buffalo was not immune to the circus that was the 2016 “Clown Panic”. During Halloweentime only three years ago, the Fort McMurray Public School board banned clown costumes on school property following a series of seemingly sinister clown activities disturbing the peace both locally and internationally:

“In Canada, at least 7 provinces and 1 territory have reported sightings. In Edmonton a school went into lockdown for over 90 minutes after a violent threat over social media. Even as recently as Oct. 25th, a woman in central Alberta posted on Facebook about a sighting. These instances and others have prompted schools in Fort McMurray and Prince George to ban clown outfits, even for Halloween” (University of Alberta Faculty of Law, 2016).

Defending this decision to ban clown costumes, superintendent Douglas Nichols expressed hopes that this action would alleviate uneasiness and stress of students (Ramsay, 2016), reflecting the wounded psyche of a community still recovering from the devastation of the Horse River wildfire that forced us from our homes only a handful of months before.

Syncrude Towers

When you ask about hauntings in Fort McMurray, the Syncrude Towers are often the first place to be mentioned. These apartments near Macdonald Island have a tumultuous history, starting from their very beginning when the local Métis settlement of Moccasin Flats was forcibly evicted by Syncrude and the RMWB to make way for the towers project in 1979: “Residents were invited to a meeting while their houses were bulldozed and then later burned” (Walsh, 2018).

 Over the years multiple rumours have circulated about the Towers regarding suspicious deaths, and the area was long known to be a “hotbed for criminal activity” (Huncar, 2016). The Towers have largely cleaned up their image in recent years, with renovations and aesthetic overhaul, but it is still mentioned that odd lights may be seen there, as well as unexplained noises, and things moving around on their own (CJ Phillips, Country 93.3, 2017).

The Library Ghost

Wood Buffalo Regional Library is a lively place, full of visitors of all ages participating in various programs, accessing many different services, and enjoying serendipitous discoveries amongst the shelves. However, some staff members say that during the quiet hours before the library opens, eerie sounds and unexplained phenomena send a chill down their spine.

I, too, have experienced such things- temperature fluctuations, unexpected noises, strange smells, unknown presences, even a soft touch on the shoulder when nobody is around… can these occurrences be explained by natural phenomena? Or are they something more?

Rumours have flown for years about a ghost on Macdonald Island (Toddske, Shaw TV, 2014), and perhaps said ghostie likes to explore the library from time to time…

I present this poem to you reader, so that you might envision what it’s like to encounter the (hopefully benign) Library Ghost:

Sleepy library morning
Silent and still
Our patrons are waiting
The long half hour until
We will open.

Pulling books
I weave through the shelves
Of tall paperbacks
Straub, Shelley, Rice, Poe
I hear a sudden, creaking crack-

Is it our library ghost?

Or just the groaning of the stacks?

-Shauna Darbyshire
Reference Services Associate

References

Alberta Outdoorsmen Magazine (Forum). (2013, May). Two old tales from Fort Mac. True?? Retrieved from http://www.outdoorsmenforum.ca/showthread.php?t=190901

ColdSpot.org. (2019). True Fort McMurray Ghost Stories. Retrieved from https://coldspot.org/category/true-fort-mcmurray-ghost-stories/

Country 93.3. (2017, August 17). LISTEN: Fort McMurray’s haunted landmarks. Retrieved from https://www.country933.com/audio/listen-fort-mcmurrays-haunted-landmarks/

FishGrrl, W. (2006, September 4). Haunted Canada: Alberta. Retrieved from https://spooky-canada.livejournal.com/9096.html

Huberman, I. (2004). The place we call home: a history of Fort McMurray, as its people remember, 1778 – 1980. Fort McMurray, Alta.: Historical Book Society of Fort McMurray.

Huncar, A. (2016, April 22). How one determined man cleaned up a notorious Fort McMurray apartment complex | CBC News. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/once-notorious-fort-mcmurray-apartments-designated-crime-free-1.3546635

Luper, K. (2018, August 13). UAF tries to put conspiracy theories about HAARP to rest. Retrieved from https://www.webcenter11.com/content/news/UAF-tries-to-put-conspiracy-theories-about-HAARP-to-rest–490790761.html

Ramsay, C. (2016, October 24). Clown costumes banned at Fort McMurray public schools this Halloween. Retrieved from https://globalnews.ca/news/3022527/clown-costumes-banned-at-fort-mcmurray-public-schools-this-halloween/.

Robbins, D. (2012, February 5). Strange humming noises Fort McMurray, Canada. Haarp? Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H6hRFnb7ObM

Shaw TV Fort McMurray. (2014, November 7). A Haunted House in Fort McMurray. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEn0pyX1my4

Shaw TV Fort McMurray. (2014, November 7). Urban Legends in Fort McMurray. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MR39k1C09W0

University of Alberta Faculty of Law. (2016, October 28). HalLAWeen edition: No More Clowning Around. Retrieved from https://ualbertalaw.typepad.com/faculty/2016/10/hallaween-edition-no-more-clowning-around.html.

Walsh, M. (2018, September 27). McMurray Métis review of Moccasin Flats blames Syncrude and RMWB for evictions. Retrieved from https://www.mymcmurray.com/2018/09/27/mcmurray-metis-review-of-moccasin-flats-blames-syncrude-and-rmwb-for-evictions/

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