The Experiencer Support Association (TESA) founder Ryan Stacey doesn’t often get the heebie-jeebies, but the basement of the Orillia Museum of Art and History (OMAH), as well as the clock tower, buck that trend.
“I haven’t experienced anything (before), but I definitely felt uncomfortable in the basement, where the jail cells are, as well as the clock tower,” he said, in an early October interview.
The paranormal investigator is preparing for the Downtown Orillia Management Board’s “The Haunting” slated for Oct. 23 from 6 pm to 10:30 pm. In its third year, the tour guides attendees along a path from the OMAH, on Peter Street South to the Opera House on Mississauga Street West, with various stops in between.
Last year, “The Haunting” was on hold, due to renovations at the two venues, said event and marketing director, Courtney Thompson.
The museum, erected in 1892 as a federal post office, has plenty of history. Named the Sir Sam Steele Memorial Building in the 1970s — in honour of the North-West Mounted Police officer during the Klondike — the basement housed jail cells for the police station. The clock tower addition was built in 1914.
“There are stories that he died there and still inhabits the building,” Thompson said in a phone interview. “In the basement, there used to be a jail. It used to be a police station. There are also spirits, they say still hang around.”
As for the opera house, which was built in 1895 with hints of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture, it became a cultural hub for the Ontario community.
Most of the building was unfortunately destroyed by fire in 1915 but was rebuilt in 1917. Further additions included a new entrance in 1958.
People have reported hearing doors slamming shut and the music from Vaudeville acts playing through the halls.
The late Terry Boyle, a compiler of ghost stories across Ontario, wrote about the historic opera house in Haunted Ontario 3: Ghostly Historic Sites, Inns and Miracles, which is available through Dundurn Press.
He also investigated the property with a film crew and clairvoyant for Haunted Heritage.
“We’d heard it was fairly active through word of mouth, that sort of thing,” he told Orillia Today in a 2014 interview. “Our intention was to stay the whole night in the opera house with two film crews, with the lights out. That’s exactly what we did.”
What they experienced were doors opening, closing and slamming shut, as well as disembodied footsteps.
Stacey and TESA will be on hand to collect people’s stories as part of an investigation, and to provide details about their own experiences.
He too is drawn to the vibe the Sam Steele Building has.
“I definitely felt uncomfortable in the basement, where the jail cells are as well as the clock tower,” Stacey said. “That’s where I’ll be setting up the equipment.
“It will be interesting to see if members of the public also say those things.”
Tickets are available to those 16 and above through Downtown Orillia’s website.