The Lance Halloween Special: Haunted Buildings on Campus
The University of Windsor is a pretty old school. I mean, you probably could have guessed that from the deteriorating quality of some of its infrastructure, but I digress. In fact, UWindsor was originally founded in 1857 as Assumption College, a Roman Catholic school meant to prepare students for theological seminaries. Wildly enough, that makes the school older than Confederation, instituted 10 years later. The University of Windsor did not actually become the University of Windsor—i.e., a public, non-denominational, and comprehensive post-secondary learning institution—until 1962. Given that our school has over 160 years of history, it must also have its fair share of ghost legends, paranormal folklore, and allegedly haunted buildings—right?
In honour of this Halloween season, I set out on a full-on Ghostbusters mission to find out about the supernatural history of our campus. Do phantoms with unfinished business roam the halls of any particular UWindsor building? Have past or present students experienced any spooky and scientifically unaccountable incidents somewhere on campus? Are the paranormal legends surrounding the school all made up as part of one giant marketing conspiracy to draw more potential students to the school (come get your undergrad, with an extra side of adrenaline from feeling like you’re always being watched)? Let’s find out!
My search for campus ghosts wasn’t easy, and I did a lot of emailing, Googling, and archive-digging before I found anything interesting enough to share. Unfortunately, I couldn’t really substantiate most of the stories I found with more “solid” evidence or firsthand testimonials to bolster their plausibility. I also realized that a lot of the stories people told me, even if not completely false, probably weren’t completely true either. But in the end, does that even matter?
Murder Tales in Huron Hall
I first dug through Google to find any forums or records discussing ghost sightings at the university, even venturing past the first page of results (gasp!). I found this post dated from 2012-2013 from the Toronto and Ontario Ghosts and Hauntings Research Society about alleged hauntings at Huron Hall—a past UWindsor residence demolished in 2001. However, the group does not seem to have been active since 2018 and did not respond to The Lance’s request for comment. The post details the building’s history prior to becoming a UWindsor residence and the ghost sightings that have been reported there. Allegedly, before becoming a residence building for the University, Huron Hall was a hotel with a shady past. Before that, it was purportedly the site of a lumber mill.
Various students who lived in the residence since the 1980s until its demolition in the early 2000s reported seeing a Lady in White, rumoured to be a sex worker who frequented and was murdered at the ex-hotel. Sightings of a male ghost have also been reported, and it is said that he was a worker of the old lumber mill who was killed in an accident. I did not find any documents substantiating the alleged murders at this location, but the stories of ghost sightings are nonetheless creepy. In an attempt to back up the claims about ghost sightings in Huron Hall, I reached out to the Alumni Association at the University of Windsor, who at our request asked former students who lived in residence if they had ever experienced paranormal activity in their buildings and wanted to share their experiences with The Lance. Unfortunately, nobody stepped forward, so Huron Hall remains a mystery.
A Smattering of Hauntings in Memorial Hall, Cartier Hall, Becket House, and Electa Hall
At the helpful suggestion of the nice people at Leddy Library, I also dug through the digitized archives of The Lance from 1958 to 2019, and this turned up a couple of things. Notably, the 9th edition of the 86th volume of The Lance, dated October 24, 2013, included an article by past reporter Amanda Turner about ghosts on campus. To check out the article for yourself, see page 116 of the digitized version of this edition of the newspaper here. Turner reports that the extant Memorial Hall building and Cartier Hall and Becket House residences are all allegedly haunted, and so was the now-demolished Electa Hall residence.
Memorial Hall was allegedly haunted because students reported that their phones’ batteries would quickly die once they entered the building. In the article, this claim is debunked by Dr. Denis Tetreault, a lab demonstrator at UWindsor. He explains that the kind of materials with which Memorial has been constructed, namely “iron furnace slag cinder blocks”, act as a faraday cage that weaken electromagnetic signals and thus drain phone batteries. No supernatural activity here, I’m afraid.
Becket House, a residence part of Canterbury College, and Cartier Hall, another residence building, are also mentioned in the article as purportedly being haunted, although the stories attached to them aren’t too interesting if you ask me. The article mentions that Becket House was built in the 1800s and was rumoured to have been used for rum-running during the Prohibition era, although it does not share any specific spooky legends surrounding the building. Paranormal activity reported by students in Cartier Hall is also described, although it’s just your run-of-the-mill walking shadows and flickering lights, so I personally wasn’t too intrigued.
But then, what really intrigued me was the mention of Electa Hall, a residence building demolished in 2015. The article reports that Electa was originally a nunnery for Assumption College. In a converted chapel in the building, some residence advisors reported hearing a piano playing on its own, and in the basement, which was no longer in use, students reported feeling “a presence”. The article mentions that Electa Hall would be opening its basement to host a Haunted House tour for Halloween. Now, I wouldn’t have really cared for the Electa Hall anecdotes if I hadn’t also come across this article from UWindsor’s DailyNews from October 26, 2012, which also discusses Electa’s Halloween tour and its haunted history. If Electa’s Halloween haunted house event was an annual one, as was suggested by these articles dating from 2012 and 2013, and if the event was well-known enough to have been promoted by two separate news sources, then surely there had to be more information out there about the building and its haunted history…
Electa Hall: A Hotbed of Paranormal Activity, or a Figment of the Imagination?
After reaching out to Residence Services about hauntings in Electa, I was directed to Sandra Davis, who was a resident and Residence Life Coordinator in Electa in the early 2010s. Today, Davis is a Co-op Employer Relations Coordinator for the University. She spoke to me about the annual Haunted House event held in Electa’s basement and about her spooky experiences in the building.
She tells me that the Electa Fright Night Experience was an annual event which began in 2002 and ran for several years. The event was originally created by Katie Dupuis, a creative writing student at the University who went on to become an editor for Chatelaine and Walmart magazine and who is now the owner of her own publishing company.
“Electa was always thought to be haunted,” Davis tells me, “so we played on that when Katie wrote the Electa Hall story that our volunteer tour guides would share with each group as they walked through the spooky basement in the building that we had spent weeks decorating and getting ready for our annual Fright Night.”
Davis explains to me how Electa’s basement was already pretty creepy on its own, so it didn’t take much to transform it into the terrifying setting of the Fright Night experience. “There was an unused and abandoned cafeteria that was full of random furniture, like old school desks and beds,” Davis says, “so we set that up as a bit of a “butcher shop”, making use of the stainless steel tables and stuff from the kitchen. Next to that was the boiler room, which was especially creepy as it appeared to have doubled as a pantry for the cafeteria next door because there were old huge jars of unrecognizable items in there, presumably once food”. Students were also led through the creaky and dark storage rooms of the building, one of which connected to the underground tunnels of campus, containing the school’s heating, cooling, and water systems. “The sounds and sights were scary without us having to do anything to make it scary,” concludes Davis.
Dupuis, Davis, and their other colleagues got very creative with their decorations, effects, and performances for Fright Night. Davis lists some of the spooky theatrics they put on for the event: “Students would pass an old elevator that serviced Electa Main (the original part of the building), and we always had a student “trapped” in the elevator banging to get out. At the end of the boiler room, there was a light and we put a baby cradle in there with a crying baby soundtrack playing. Then there were 2 walk-in coolers that we turned into a morgue, a bathroom that had red paint splattered on the walls, and about 6 to 8 dorm rooms which hadn’t been used in years and years. We would set each up with an “actor”—there were exorcisms and demonic things happening in each room!”
That certainly wasn’t all, however. There was also a maze in the recreation gym, with chainsaws, chanting, and other creepy obstacles inserted along the way. To top it all off, students were led to the sixth floor of Electa Annex, which Davis says was “transformed into the ballroom at the Overlook Hotel (from the Shining), and we showed the movie up there as the final piece of the Fright Night Experience!”
Interestingly, once Fright Night rose in popularity, the organizers began to leave Electa’s basement as-is, creepy decorations and all, year-round. “Eventually, we just left most of our decorations and “blood” on the walls throughout the whole year knowing we’d use it again the next year,” explains Davis, “so eventually the basement became a 24-7 haunted house that we all just got a bit used to.”
At the end of the day, how much of the folklore surrounding Electa was fact, and how much was fiction? For Davis, the Electa experience was mostly a fun fiction, even if she occasionally got spooked by the building. “I used to live in the building alone each summer when there were no students,” she tells me, “and although I would hear all sorts of creepy noises and feel a bit uneasy at times, I was actually more afraid when I saw a mouse than anything. The ghosts ignored me despite me eagerly wanting to have my own experience to brag about!”
For her colleagues, however, there was definitely an element of fact in their haunted Electa experiences. For instance, Kelly McCray, a student who resided in Electa and worked as a campus secretary after graduation, says she got spooked by the bathroom shower stalls in the building: “I was allowed to stay in Electa over summer breaks when everyone else left, and I regularly heard footsteps and the door open and shut in the bathroom. Sometimes I would yell out “who’s there?” or even leave the shower to check it out, but there was never anything. It was pretty scary living there.”
Kerry J. Bruner, a Facilities Coordinator who often worked in Electa, reflects on the experiences of her and her colleagues: “I had a door close behind us once and I remember something about an alarm clock going off randomly”.
Finally, Katie Dupuis, the RA who started the whole Fright Night experience, recalls the spooky incidents she witnessed in Electa: “The piano that played randomly. The doors that opened on their own. The singing in the basement. Things falling off of my shelves without any help.”
I can’t confirm the veracity of any of the ghost stories I’ve shared with you today. I can’t tell you how much is true, and how much has been fabricated or exaggerated over the course of the years by the cast of characters who have come and gone and contributed to the story. But the thing is, it doesn’t make a difference whether these stories are true, untrue, or half-true. This is a story about suspending disbelief. It’s about blurring the lines between fiction and reality, and stepping into that liminal space where real people simulate hauntings in the basements of old buildings, and where ghosts really play pianos in them, too. It’s the spirit of Halloween.