A few years ago, I got an email from a woman by the name of Jaimie, asking me if I knew any ghostly tales about the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre building in St. John's, specifically concerning the basement.
“I’ve spent the last couple of weeks cloistered down there on the library side, working on a project and if you haven’t already got something, I have a story to share,” she wrote.
It sounded like too good a story to pass up. I got in touch with Jaimie, and asked her about her experiences.
At the time, Jaimie had been working in the archives on a project which involved a lot of trips back and forth through the collection.
“I’ve always found the basement to be a little creepy,” she describes. “I can hear voices and whispering and little snatches of song and such sometimes, but always assumed that it was just activity carrying through the ductwork from the children’s library, which is directly over my head, or the theatre.”
Jaimie figured it was just her imagination. Then one day she heard the noises again, on a day when the theatre was empty and the children’s library had closed.
“I was moving a truck of books from one area towards another area,” she says, “and I ended up passing by a whole bunch of shelving units (those neat rolling ones), when passing by one of the aisles between the units, I saw someone standing there.”
Jaimie turned her head, expecting to find a lost library patron; “as we occasionally do,” she explains. Instead of another person, she found herself looking at nothing but an empty aisle and a pale grey concrete wall.
“The person that I’d seen was wearing dark colours,” she describes. “I had the impression of something resembling a nun’s habit.”
“Well, needless to say, I finished off that truck, got back in the elevator and went upstairs, where I commiserated with a co-worker about the general creepiness of the basement,” Jaimie adds.
The co-worker informed Jaimie that the site apparently once housed a boy’s orphanage, hinting that this might explain some of the ghostly goings on.
The co-worker did indeed have some facts correct. The site of the current Arts and Culture Centre was formerly the site of the Shannon Munn Memorial Orphanage. In 1918, Sir Edgar Rennie Bowering and Mrs Mary Munn presented the property, to be known as the Shannon Munn Memorial, to the Church of England Orphanage.
The current theatre and library building was opened on May 22, 1967 as the province’s principal Centennial Year project. The building was designed by the Montreal architects of Ameck, Desbarets, Lebensold and Sise and the St. John’s firm of Campbell and Cummings.
Is the basement of the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre home to a singing ghost? You’ll have to make the trip there and be the judge of that yourself. But as Jaimie puts it, “I’m definitely not the only one who finds it creepy down there!”
Photo: "Dance School - ballet" credit Karen King Parsons,