I’ve dabbled in urban exploration: adventuring into abandoned buildings or places. I think it’s a bit of a misconception that it’s an inherently scary hobby, and I don’t think I believe in haunted places or ghosts. However, I have had a couple of creepy experiences while exploring that made me question my paranormal skepticism. In the spirit of Halloween, I’m going to tell you three stories of creepy (and possibly paranormal) urban exploration experiences!
1. The Attic
When I was my first year of university, I had a friend who would join me on urban exploration trips and urbex photography sessions. She found an amazing site, the Prince of Wales hotel, just to the south of Ottawa. Like most places I’ve explored, it was not inherently spooky, and we were very excited to look around and take photos of this beautiful building.
We arrived in the early October afternoon in a mix of sun and clouds, and we were having a grand old time poking around, taking photos, posing for “ghostly” long exposure shots, and generally having a great time. We were clearly not the first people to explore the hotel, as there was plentiful graffiti on the walls and a fun surprise left for us in the basement. “The end of the world is here”, but it came across more cool and fun than creepy.
The open entrance to the abandoned hotel had been in the basement, so as my friend and I worked our way up to the top floors of the building, the sun got lower in the sky. As we lost our lighting, a sense of unease started to come over us, but we wanted to see everything in the building before we left. By the time we got to the top floor, we were in full creeped-out mode, but not to be deterred. It was dark and getting cold, and as we explored the upper level, we found children’s toys scattered around. I know it’s such a trope in horror that kids and their toys are creepy, but in a building that had long been abandoned and completely emptied, the presence of kids’ toys was decidedly eerie. We discussed wrapping our adventure up for the day and heading out, but we really wanted to finish exploring the whole building. Then we saw it.
The attic. This is the only picture I have of the attic. I really don’t consider myself a great believer in the paranormal, but there was something about this attic that felt off. Maybe it was just how dark it was up there. Maybe it was that the flooring looked like it might be unsafe. It might just have been that this scene from Sinister exists and was in my head while I was climbing that ladder. Whatever it was, I had such a sense of dread that I couldn’t bring myself to get to the top of the ladder. I don’t usually chicken out while urban exploring, but I chickened out. My friend outright refused to climb up. We decided to wrap up our exploration “since it was getting late anyway”, and left very unsettled. The hotel was torn down a few months after we visited.
2. The Collectors
My very first urban exploration experience is one of my favourites. I had family friends who lived out in the country, and down the road from their farm was an abandoned house. They would always invite our group of family friends out to their place for parties, and one day a bunch of us kids went for a walk down the road to explore the house. Often, when houses are abandoned, they are emptied of (most) furniture and personal belongings. This one had been boarded up untouched. It seems like when the elderly owners of the house had passed away, their children came and took what they wanted, then just abandoned the property.
As we explored the home, we uncovered dozens of treasures. Those that stood out the most were a baby grand piano, a birdcage and a record to help teach birds to sing, and a taxidermied anthropomorphic squirrel. Though the majority of the exploration was decidedly un-creepy, as we were leaving the home, I stumbled upon a decently sized stack of newspaper clippings. Rifling through the pile, each clipping was a report of a horrible accident. Train crashes, farm equipment incidents, car accidents… I suppose the elderly couple must have had a morbid fascination with accidents. Still, it’s decidedly weird to go about clipping and collecting these articles. Nothing terrifying, but decidedly weird.
3. The Seance
As I mentioned before, I don’t typically get spooked by urban exploration. I tend to feel curious and excited instead of scared. Even at the Prince of Wales Hotel I wasn’t nervous until the very end of the exploration. However, the only time I’ve ever had a truly haunting experience was in a burn-out house in New Edinbourgh. From the moment that my friend and I arrived on the site on a freezing winter day, something felt off. It’s the feeling you get in a horror movie when tension is being built for a scare. Dread. Though we were warry to enter the house, we didn’t let our nerves get the best of us. In we went.
A large pile of branches was heaped in the entryway, like the house was protected from intruders like us. We were hushed as we made our way through, taking pictures as we went. It felt a bit like we were being watched. I kept hearing faint noises from the floor above me. My friend didn’t hear it. The windows were all boarded up, so light was more limited than it had been in the hotel, so we were only able to see what was directly in the path of our headlamps. The majority of the house had been vacated, so there wasn’t much to see in the first few rooms. Then our light beams landed on something.
A salt circle. Candles were spread evenly around the ring. People had been here, and they had created a space of ritual magic. Inside the ring you can see two objects: a decorative ceramic bottle with some kind of liquid inside, and a papier maché head with decorative circles (coins?) over the eyes. In the photo above, it doesn’t look that scary, but this photo was a long-exposure that took in a lot of light. We only had faint beams of light from our head lamps to break the darkness. There was one other item found in the room: a piece of paper. It’s there on the piece of plywood on the right of the photo. On it, instructions to summon ghosts.
In that moment, we had serious reconsiderations for continuing our exploration. Freaked out by both the mysterious noises and the implication that ghosts had been summoned to this very house, we tentatively decided to carry on. My friend wanted to continue exploring the main floor, and I decided to venture upstairs.
The floor was largely fire-damaged, with very little floor space left safe to walk on. This had been the kitchen, and the outbreak of fire is likely what caused the house to be abandoned. Though I have tried to find a history of the building and why the house we were in and the apartment block next door had been abandoned. From what I can find, a fire broke out in 2011 that destroyed the building, and in typical NCC fashion, it was condemned and then sat there for years. I couldn’t figure out if anyone had died in the fire, but I honestly wouldn’t be surprised. I don’t know how to describe it, but it felt like somebody had died in that building. As I was shooting some pictures of the burnt out kitchen, my camera did something that I haven’t experienced before or since. The screen glitched out, sporadically flashing green.
That was enough for me. I went right back down the stairs and told my friend I was done, we needed to go. She agreed, and we fled the premises, hopped on a bus to a bookstore and looked for books about ghost hunting. We never got to return to the house to try anything out, but if there are ghosts there, they don’t need to be disturbed again. With a level head after leaving the abandoned house, I can look at the things that happened logically. The noises that I had heard were likely squirrels or raccoons. The glitch on my camera was probably a result of the -30C weather. What I can’t account for is that uncanny feeling of dread throughout the entire experience. Because of this experience, I can’t say for certain I don’t believe in hauntings.
Have you ever had a supernatural experience? Or have experience with urban exploration? I’d love to hear about it! If you’re looking for more spooky content, check out my post about Dark Tourism here.