When I mention to people I’m researching the Charles Camsell Hospital, many visibly shudder. “Ooh, that place is so creepy,” I’ve heard repeatedly. “You know it’s haunted, right?” Is another common one.
In fact, the hospital often makes those Top 10 lists of Edmonton’s most haunted places that reappear around Halloween each year in newspapers. Type in “Charles Camsell Hospital” in a Google search bar and you’ll mostly get blog posts and videos from people who have been seriously weirded out by sightings or have (illegally) broken in for paranormal activities – or for the thrill of it. There’s even a Facebook group called “I’m Obsessed with the Charles Camsell Hospital” with 702 members as of March 10, 2015. And it’s gone up by a couple of hundred people since I checked last year.
I love ghost stories too. In essence, most of the history work I find most engaging, most worthwhile, is chasing down ghosts from the past that still haunt us. The ones who have followed us into the present day and demand to be heard. Demand to be recognized. You won’t catch me trying to get a glimpse inside the old hospital building any time soon, but I’m sure I’ll spend my fair share of time over the next days, weeks, months and years in cemeteries, archives, libraries, and other places to find out why there is so much unfinished history around this place.
Other people I’ve talked with think what’s scariest of all is the potential for conflict and controversy around this site and its history . As a non-indigenous historian and writer, I struggle constantly with questions of what stories I look into and communicate – and why. As John S. Milloy, author of A National Crime, the first major study on Canadian Indian Residential Schools writes, we can feel as if we are “trespassing upon Aboriginal experience.” He and many other scholars of various backgrounds – indigenous and newcomer – stress, however, that these stories are part of our collective past, and we all need to understand them better. We also, of course, definitely need to be wary of what Thomas King calls in The Inconvenient Indian, “unexamined goodwill.” We should be vigilant and constantly interrogate ourselves.
Is this place and story scary? Maybe. Important? Definitely.
From Todd Babiak’s YouTube channel: “David “the oracle” Pilz is, among other things, a paranormal investigator. A few days before Halloween, he spent an hour in and around the Charles Camsell Hospital…. It is considered by people who consider these things to be quite haunted: to people who love ghost stories, this is fascinating business.”