A Halloween Tale — The Ghost of Hart Hall

In a few days Halloween will be marked by ghosts and goblins moving from house to house looking for treats and possibly playing tricks. Halloween is associated through its name, with the eve of All Hallows or All Saints Day, November first, and its origin may be traced as far back as the Middle Ages.

Mount Allisons Halloween ghost is linked with one of the older structures on campus Hart Hall. Originally this building was connected to Allison Hall, which once housed the Conservatory of Music and womens residence. The Allison Hall section was demolished to make way for the present University Library and adjoining Crabtree Building.

It was Dr Herbert Halpert, from Memorial University, who began a collection of ghost stories associated with Hart Hall. During 1979–80 he occupied the Bell Chair of Maritime Studies at Mount Allison. An expert on folklore, it was Halperts opinion that the tales that follow reveal the first college ghost reported in Canada.

To place the ghost of Hart Hall in context it is necessary to provide some background. In 1936 a member of the Toronto Conservatory of Music, Ethel Peake (1885–1954), was appointed head of the Vocal Department at Mount Allison. A native of Twickenham, England, she had emigrated to Canada in 1923.

Those who remember, describe her appearance as imposing, even commanding, as befitted one who sang in the major concert halls of Europe under the stage name Selma Valmonte. Affectionately nicknamed Peakie she was described as both complex and colorful and as a legend in her time. An excellent teacher, she inspired many students toward successful careers as vocal artists.

On the lighter side, Peakie possessed a devastating sense of humor, and was noted as a great mimic. Former students have not forgotten her preoccupation with complicated and unusual relaxation exercises. They also recall her attraction for costume jewellery. One noted: the noise of Peakies many tinkling bracelets and baubles announced her arrival long before she steamed into view. She ia also remembered as being responsible for the installation of a lock on the door leading from the Conservatory to the womens residence much to the chagrin of a number of male students.

A serious heart attack in 1950 did little to slow her down. Sir Ernest MacMillan, who recommended her original appointment to Mt A, once confided to President Dr Ross Flemington: Hold on to Peakie for as long as you can. Therell never be another like her. Unfortunately, overwork and exhaustion took their toll and she died on July 25, 1954.

Ethel Peakes funeral was held in Sackville United Church, where she had sometimes appeared as guest soloist. The service was conducted by Dr Flemington with music under the direction of Professor Allison Patterson, a Conservatory colleague. Following the funeral Patterson confided to friends that while accompanying the choir on the organ, he suddenly heard a voice singing two octaves above the normal range. No explanation for the mysterious voice was ever found; but some people wondered aloud: Was Peakie holding on?

Over the years other unexplained events become commonplace, especially following the demolition of Allison Hall. Ghosts never like to be disturbed! There are those who claim that operatic arias still float down the staircase of Hart Hall. Unexplained footsteps are heard on creaking wooden floors; doors mysteriously open and close and noises that could be the tinkling of costume jewellery fill the air. Legend has it that a Mt A football player was studying in a room in Hart Hall. He saw an apparition approach, and in his terror to leave, fell down the stairs fracturing both his legs.

One documented account of the ghost is as follows: During my first year at Mt A, I was housed in the Presidents cottage, nestled in the middle of campus among the academic buildings. One night, near the end of October 1977, I was working late on an essay and looked up at Hart Hall for inspiration. I was surprised to see a window aglow with a purple light. On Halloween that year there was a party at the cottage. A guest told the story of Ethel Peake and how her ghost still haunts Hart Hall. Was this the purple light? I know I saw it and there was no natural explanation.

Fact? Fiction? or Folklore? Perhaps we shall never know; but one thing is certain. On October 31st, Hart Hall should be off limits to all who may be faint of heart. The pun is intentional. Peakie would surely approve!

Special thanks go to a number of former university faculty and alumni who provided material for this Flashback. In keeping with the nature of the subject, I have respected their wish to remain anonymous. Donna Beal of the Mount Allison Archives was helpful in directing me to factual material to match the folklore.