Whisperings, ghost sightings and the sounds of footsteps are regular occurrences at the Guild Inn Closed in 2001, the inn appears to still have a few guests who refuse to leave, Bill Taylor writes
Mar. 30, 2006. 01:00 AM
It comes, whatever it is, felt but unseen along the sixth-floor hallway. There is a distinct sensation of... something brushing past me. The heating is on but the corridor has turned chilly.
A story like this you can either take at face value or with a grain of salt. I am a rational man, a skeptic both by nature and training. I'm reporting what I experience during an overnight vigil with a team of paranormal investigators — "Please don't call us ghostbusters" — at the Guild Inn on Scarborough Bluffs.
For the Searcher Group, it's a quiet night. The inn has several well-documented ghosts and group leader Richard Palmisano apologizes for the lack of manifestations. But between 4 p.m., when the team sets up cameras and recorders around the inn, and 5 a.m., when the surveillance ends, we have more questions than answers.
The property was built in 1914 as a summer home for Col. Harold Child Bickford. In the 1930s, it became an artists' community. During World War II, it was a training centre for the Women's Royal Naval Service and, between 1945 and 1947, a military hospital. There are rumours of secret tunnels to the lake.
A six-storey, 100-room wing was added in 1965. The Guild was a popular venue for weddings and its restaurant was a local favourite. The inn closed in October, 2001. There are plans for it to be demolished and a new hotel built on the site.
Resident spirits are said to include a boy, with one blue eye and one brown, on the sixth floor; a man wearing a top hat in the kitchen; and a "nasty" middle-aged woman in the basement. Security guards have reported footsteps, doors slamming and lights turning on and off when there's no one there.
Tonight's investigation has been arranged through David Soknacki, councillor for Scarborough East. His constituency assistant, Stephanie Ford, and Tammy Webber, of Parks and Recreation, are among the dozen people staying up all night.
Palmisano, 41, works in the security business and has been probing the paranormal since he was a teenager. His second book on the subject, Journeys Into the Unknown: Mysterious Canadian Encounters with the Paranormal has just been published by Dundurn.
The Searcher Group doesn't charge for its services. It includes Dee Freedman, 52, of Peterborough, who claims psychic abilities but insists, "Unless we can find facts later to verify what I've picked up, we don't use it."
When Webber shoots a picture in the library and reports seeing "orbs" — a popular subject of spirit photography — Freedman shoots her down.
"It's dust, honey. I get so sick of seeing that sort of stuff on those weird TV shows. It's not paranormal; it's para-nothing."
Another member, Krystal Leigh Perron, 33, used to work at the Guild. She leads the way to the basement. There are staff lockers still with clothing in them. And a room that I just want to get out of. The atmosphere is oppressive, deeply unpleasant.
"The nasty woman has been seen in here," says Leigh.
"Mean as dirt," says Freedman.
Palmisano's brother Paul, 53, with a crucifix on his tool-belt, sprinkles plastic sheets with baby powder to pick up any footprints. He leaves a toy truck and balloons on the sixth floor to try to attract the little boy. They stay there when we leave. "You don't give a kid something and then take it back."
"Base camp" is the dining room off the lobby. The electricity is still on in there. Three of us go up to the sixth floor. Freedman says she can sense the boy's presence. "His name is Will. He's curious but he's not coming close. Yet. We'll come back."
Most of us head off for dinner. Ford and Webber stay behind. When we return, Soknacki has dropped in to see how things are going. He says he found them outside — literally spooked.
"I heard a woman walking around downstairs in high-heeled shoes," says Webber. "No mistaking it."
"Then we could hear all this whispering in the lobby," says Ford. "We thought at first it was you guys. It just kept going on and on. So we left."
"It wasn't fun," says Webber.
As the night goes on, Freedman keeps forming us into a circle — sort of a rudimentary séance — to try to get some spirit response. Typically, the temperature drops a few degrees, the regular sounds of an old structure die away so the silence is total and then... nothing.
But all is not well on the sixth floor. In any building, a residual atmosphere builds up from the life that was lived there. The top floor has somehow lost it. You can feel the difference.
"It's never this quiet," says Freedman. "It's not natural."
There's no longer any sign of Will, she says, and she's convinced he's being held back by another spirit, a man who doesn't belong here.
"He's out in the hall," she says. "He's lurking. I hate lurkers."
We step out of the room. "He's moving this way. You feel it.?"
Yes. Yes, I do.
As we return to the dining room, I feel a gentle push on my back. There's no one behind me.
Freedman is troubled. "I think maybe kids have been breaking in and doing rituals; stuff they don't understand. I think they've brought something here that doesn't belong. Strong enough to stop the others making any contact with us."
Part of her theory is borne out when three men stop by from the security firm that monitors the property. They show her a room where they found a circle of candles and burned herbs. The debris is still there.
The men tell of how the inn's sensor-alarms will go off in sequence "as if someone has walked from one end of the building to the other. But then there's no one here."
Often, they say, different lights are on and off when they visit and outside there's always the feeling of being watched. From anywhere in particular?
"The sixth floor."
We're back in a room where Freedman is trying to communicate with whatever she's sensing up there. Suddenly, Webber and Star photographer Steve Russell have stabbing pains above their left eye. Webber's afraid she's going to throw up.
There's a burning smell at the end of the hall. It comes and goes abruptly and never lasts long. But it's unmistakable.
The long night ends with hours of audio and video tape to be reviewed for whatever they may have picked up.
"It'll be interesting to see what happens when the new place goes up," says Freedman. "I wouldn't want to be the guy who tears this place down. I think he'll find he has problems."
As he prepares to leave, Russell walks by a ground-floor room that is in darkness. Moments later, when he turns around, the light is burning.