I got more than I bargained for hunting ghosts at former Sears outlet store in Regina
I don't know what to think about ghosts.
I've met people who are dead set in their belief of spirits and paranormal happenings. I've also met people on the opposite end of the spectrum, who'd rather look for logical explanations to the seemingly supernatural.
Maybe I am a believer — Ouija boards really weird me out and I've had experiences where I'm exploring empty rooms in abandoned buildings and don't feel alone.
I have yet to actually see any kind of apparition or spirit. I'm a very visually oriented person, so I think that's what I need to sway me one way or another. Until that happens, I've promised myself to keep an open mind about their existence.
In an effort to pursue this kind of experience I joined up with members of the Paranormal And Supernatural Team (PAST) to explore parts of the former Sears outlet building at the Centennial Mall.
I had no idea this building was supposed to be haunted. I've been here countless times shopping for the goods that used to be available but I've never heard stories about happenings here.
"We found out [the building was haunted] just before we filmed our first episode here," Cory Nagy from PAST told me. "It was quite surprising, I never thought anything would be in the old Sears clearance building."
Nagy told me someone contacted them to investigate the building because they had witnessed strange happenings and sensations in and around the area.
Later, he told me the location is in the middle of a paranormal hotspot in Regina. The team has done multiple investigations in nearby buildings and they're set to explore another one in the area soon.
After we got set-up, I asked team members what I should expect in our investigation.
"Think of it this way: you go to a party but you don't know anybody there," Matthew Lay, a 35-year-ghost hunting veteran told me. "Yeah, you're a little uncomfortable and whatnot, but you try and maintain a level of open-mindedness."
Other team members share his sentiments: keep an open mind, expect the unexpected, but also keep my expectations in check.
"If we tell you we're going to see this, see this, see this, now you already have that manifested in your mind and you're going to create that," Lay said.
"Sometimes we all encounter certain things in an investigation and we won't share it with each other because later on, afterwards, we want to see if it correlates with each other," he said.
Ghost hunting, they told me, is about gathering as much evidence as possible to either validate or debunk people's experiences with the potentially supernatural.
The first walk-through
As we started our first sweep of the building team members identified any potential hazards they might encounter in their investigation.
"We all do it in our own way, we kind of assess what we're feeling for energy of how it feels," Alyson Ford said.
They carried instruments and gadgets invented or tweaked by Lay to collect pieces of evidence. Two video cameras equipped with special lights to detect colours our eyes cannot pick up recorded our every move.
"With all these tools that we have in our hands, at the end of the day, we are the best tool," Lay said to me. "If you go into a location and you feel that uncomfortable feeling, or you get the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, that's what's important."
We headed upstairs and stopped on top of an elevator shaft, a site where Nagy said he had previously experienced something paranormal.
Nagy said he and a psychic were the only two people in the building when they walked past the elevator and its doors were shut.
Just minutes later, they walked past it again and the doors were wide open. Neither of them heard a sound come from the elevator.
Later he closed the doors, which crashed and clanged until they were closed, as a demonstration to me in how loud they are.
Apparently an employee hanged himself in the elevator shaft in the 1950s, according to Nagy.
"The whole time were were walking through the building [the psychic] kept talking about an elevator. I saved this elevator for last for her," he said.
After investigating a hallway which peaked the team's interest on multiple visits, we headed up to what they call the president's office.
It was a tiny room at the top of a narrow staircase. A table with cards, coins and drinking glasses was spread out, staged for future ghost tours.
Ford told me the room hadn't been open in 60 years before Sears moved out.
Before we started investigating for the evening, we were told the spirit in this room enjoys liquor, brandy in particular. Nagy poured a shot of clear liquid for the spirit.
Things like incense, booze or candles, which draw reactions from people, apparently do the same for spirits. Lay told me every spirit they've come across has a different trigger item.
"You use an item to treat it as a trigger, to help for them to manifest," Lay said.
After doing some very preliminary investigation around the room, the team decided to leave a camera behind to monitor the room as we took a quick break for fresh air.
Contacting the other side
After our break, we returned to the president's office with more gear in tow.
The team brought devices to help them communicate with spirits and tools to detect electromagnetic frequencies in the space. These were positioned around the room to gather as many pieces of evidence as possible.
Lay, Ford and rookie PAST investigator Justin Henry settled around the table and played cards to try and coax the spirit out. Nagy sat across from them with an Xbox Kinect attached to a tablet, to help identify potential spirits, over his shoulder.
The team set up a ghost box, which scanned AM and FM frequencies, in the middle of the table in an effort to listen to any spirit who wanted to talk with them.
"Are you peeking at my cards?" Lay asked aloud. "You better not."
After a few minutes of talking aloud, the group turned on the ghost box.
For the most part, it sounded like radio stations being switched rapidly mixed in with static. The noise was broken by the occasional pop and hiss, the team leaned in to listen closely.
After a short time, an audible "hi" came through over the airwaves.
"Can you tell us your name?" Lay asked the room.
A response came through, but it was too broken and jumbled. Lay again asked for the spirit's name, but no response came through.
"Do you remember who we are?" Ford asked the room. "We were talking with a couple gentlemen before."
"Last time you said my name when I was here, do you know what my name is?" Lay asked.
No clear response came through.
"Is this the room you guys liked to play cards and have a few drinks?" Ford asked.
Still no response, but a few more garbled sounds came through.
"A lot of times we hear it and we can't make it out, so we have to go back and review [recordings] and find out if there's even a message," Lay told me.
Before we started investigating, Ford told me most of the work the team does is review footage and evidence gathered on-site. Sometimes it can take hours just to comb through the recordings to find a split second experience.
We listened to the ghost box for roughly 30 minutes, invited spirits from elsewhere in the building to join our card game and asked any spirits in the room to give us an indication they were there.
There were a few interesting moments of potential communication and those spots were marked before the team decides to call off the investigation.
"We've had nights where we get hit after hit after hit, and then it's like somebody flips a switch, and there's nothing," Lay said to me.
"I don't know if its because we've done it so much, but as a group, it's almost as if you feel the energy is gone, it's like whatever was here has gone," Ford said. "Then we move onto the next location in the building."
Personal reflections on the hunt
After conducting my own review of the audio I gathered I heard a few interesting sounds my voice recorder picked up, but I'm still torn about my personal belief in ghosts.
I can't say I went into this experiment expecting to see a ghost, but I certainly got more than I bargained for in our efforts to communicate with the spirits who called the old outlet building home.
Ultimately I think I'll need to do some more personal investigation to cement my own beliefs one way or the other.