Past, Present & Beyond – Ashcroft Haunts: The Thin Ghost

Who haunts the Ashcroft Village Office? Barbara Roden writes about locals who are long gone... but this one came back.

The photograph shows a wooden building, possibly a house, with a verandah running along most of the front of it, and a single gabled window on the floor above. At one end of the verandah a flight of wide steps leads down to a gate set into a neat white picket fence, while at the other a small, one-storey extension juts out from the end of the building. Two women stand on the verandah, both wearing what look to be white dresses.

However, a closer look at the photograph reveals that the women are dressed in what appear to be uniforms; indeed, their wimple-like headgear makes them look like nuns. There is also a sign hanging above the steps, which on examination can be seen to read “The Lady Minto Hospital”. The women are nurses, and they are standing in front of Ashcroft’s first hospital, built in 1913.

The Lady Minto Hospital no longer exists. In 1956 a large addition was built, necessitating the removal of the small extension so that the new and old buildings could be joined. In 1972, when the new hospital in North Ashcroft opened, the entire structure was gifted to the Village of Ashcroft for use as a public building. The oldest part was closed up and used for storage, while the newer wing housed a daycare, a seniors’ centre, and the Hospital Auxiliary thrift store. In May 1981, almost 25 years to the day after the opening of the new wing, an arsonist targeted the building. The original 1913 structure was destroyed, and the rest of the building suffered smoke damage, but was able to be saved.

It was decided to rebuild on the site of the old hospital, and in 1987 the new addition was opened as the Ashcroft Council office. A local government office seems an unlikely spot for a haunting; but while there are no reports of anything untoward happening on the site before 1987, since that time more than one person has reported events which cannot easily be explained.

The most common phenomenon is an innocent one: the cold tap in the men’s bathroom is turned on. It can happen during the day, and even if there are no men in the building at the time the occurrence doesn’t seem a particularly odd one. However, there are times when the tap has been found running when the first staff members arrive in the morning, even when it was not running when the office was closed the day before. And it has happened at night, at a time when there is only one person in the building who is nowhere near the men’s bathroom. It is not just a quiet drip . . . drip . . . drip, either, such as might be caused by deficient plumbing; it is a steady stream, with the tap turned fully on.

And how to explain the light that comes on in one of the offices at night? It has been noted by Village crew members working at the arena, who have called the Village Administrator at home to ask if someone is working late in the building. It’s not a case of someone leaving the office light on by accident, since the light in that room is motion sensitive, and only goes on when someone triggers it. Needless to say, there is never anyone in the building when the phenomenon is reported.

Most inexplicable of all is the shadowy figure that more one person has seen in the building. It is always in the same place: in the hallway outside the Council chambers. It is never seen clearly, or directly; instead it is glimpsed out of the corner of the eye, before fading from sight. The impression is of a tall, thin person, probably a man. He comes and goes, this visitor, sometimes appearing several times in a short span, and then going months or years without putting in an appearance. One thing that has been noted is that if renovation or work is being carried on in the building, he is more active, as if the noise and fuss has disturbed or upset him.

One local resident who worked at the Lady Minto hospital as a nurse in the 1960s reports that even though the original part of the building was old and in need of constant repair, it was a good place to work, and she reminisced fondly about the many good and kind doctors who served the community there over the years, travelling as far north as Clinton in the performance of their duties. Does this explain the presence at the Village office? After all, the prosaic day-to-day workings of local government would seem unlikely to attract the attention of the otherworldly. Is the thin ghost the spirit of a former doctor, keeping an eye on the site of the hospital where he once worked? The running water would fit this scenario, as would the fact that unusual activity or commotion in the building often prompts an appearance from him. And no one who has reported seeing him feels frightened or threatened by his presence; startled, yes, but there is no sense of fear.

A hospital, with its scenes of joy and sorrow, gladness and fear, relief and worry, would seem a likely place to attract the attention of spirits. Perhaps the site of the old Lady Minto hospital has its own permanent resident, watching out for it even now. Tell yourself that, if ever you see a light on in one of the windows there late at night. Or tell yourself there’s no such thing as ghosts, if it makes you feel better. Who knows? You might be right. . . .

Barbara Roden