The ghostly legend of a lobotomized caretaker still haunts employees at this Edmonton radio station
According to employees, the spirit of 'Sam' played tricks, sang opera and watched them as they worked
Just before Christmas in 1997, CKUA Radio DJ Lark Clark was alone, working in the old, decrepit Alberta Block building late at night.
"I heard footsteps coming down the narrow hallway to the broadcast booth, and I thought, 'Who would be here in the building late … on a Saturday night?' " Clark recalled.
Clark's back was turned to the door leading to the hallway, in front of her was a microphone and broadcast control board, and she was facing a glass wall.
She was mid-sentence on live radio when a silvery glow reflected off the glass wall, hovering over her shoulder.
"In that silvery light was a profile of a man's face [and] head passing by the window behind me," said Clark, remembering the fright she felt as the face and footsteps faded down the long, narrow hallway.
"I actually thought that maybe I would call out to the audience and ask one of them to call 911. And then I thought, What am I going to ask them to do? Call Ghostbusters?" said Clark.
The legend of Sam the caretaker
Clark's strange experience is one of many reported by staff over the decades at CKUA, a provincial radio network based in Edmonton that broadcasts across Treaty 6 and Treaty 7 territory in Alberta.
"Not long after I started, people started asking, 'Have you seen the ghost?'" said Chris Martin, a former DJ at the station in the '90s.
Although Martin is a skeptic about ghosts, he says the building's small rooms, crooked halls and peeling paint gave it an '"ominous presence."
The Alberta Block building was headquarters for CKUA Radio between 1955 and 2012, and during that time many believe a ghost named Sam haunted the building.
"According to the story, Sam had been lobotomized because at some point in his life he threatened … the premier," said Ken Regan, former CEO of CKUA.
Sam was a supposed pipe-smoking, opera-loving caretaker at the building in the 1950s, and died of a heart attack in the basement in a dark corner, his favourite napping spot.
"The story goes that Sam died on the job one night at CKUA and that months, years, decades after this incident, people working late at CKUA or working in the building from time to time would hear someone singing opera or they would smell cigar smoke in the building or in an area of the building where there were no other people," said Regan.
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He said Sam was known to play tricks on staff, taking keys then returning them to the same spot several hours later, or turning the taps on in the bathroom just as people walked out.
"People who I have great respect for and whom I trust and who I know are not the kind of people that would invent these kinds of stories ... told me of things that had happened to them," said Regan.
Who you gonna call?
To get to the bottom of Sam's alleged shenanigans, Regan invited The Alberta Paranormal Investigators Society to the CKUA station in 2009. The society's website says they do not use mediums during their investigations, instead relying on logic to see if there are explanations for what people may be experiencing in an allegedly haunted building.
Members of the society spent a night in the basement, performing a series of tests using electromagnetic meters and night vision cameras to detect any paranormal activity.
"I'm still the skeptic of the team. I have to be," said Beth Fowler, a lead investigator with the group.
"When you're doing paranormal investigations and you're actually trying to find answers to questions that are out there, you have to be as logical as possible and you have to rule out everything that you can."
Fowler says in a building like the Alberta Block — which was built in 1909, with creaky pipes, settling walls and ancient boilers — it's common for people to experience odd sounds.
"For a while, people in the basement would hear voices," said Fowler. "You had a 100-year-old boiler and a whole bunch of other machinery. If you stand in that for a long time, it causes almost an audio hallucination. [It] kind of sounds like you do hear people speaking."
"But it's explainable [and] wasn't paranormal."
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It's been proven that low frequency noise and infrasound, like the sound of old machinery, can create a physical response that gives people a feeling of panic.
Although most sounds heard during Fowler's investigation had logical explanations, her team did record what they believe to be the voices of two little girls singing, "Go back, go all the way back."
Although Regan is skeptical about spirits haunting the Alberta Block, he admits he can't explain the recording.
"I'm still not convinced," he said. "I just know that there was something there. Where it may have come from, I don't know."
Separating fact from fiction
The legend of Sam has the hallmarks of a spooky ghost story, but evidence of his existence is tenuous.
The Provincial Archives of Alberta do not have any public record of a man named Sam who made public threats to a sitting premier.
Also, there are no public records of a man named Sam listed as a caretaker for CKUA.
Records do identify a caretaker at the Alberta Block building between 1949 to 1953, before CKUA moved into the building. But his name was not Sam, and there's no evidence to prove he was lobotomized or died in the building.
City of Edmonton archivists have not been able to find any public record showing a link to the legend of Sam the caretaker.
CKUA moved out of the Alberta Block in 2012, prompting questions about whether the ghost of Sam also made the move.
"We've extended an open invitation to the ghost to join us," said Regan.
"But as far as I know … we've never had any reports of any incidents at the new building."
About the producer
Tanara McLean is an award-winning producer and journalist based at CBC Edmonton. She grew up in Red Deer and has spent her entire career in Alberta, working in print, radio and television. Tanara has produced several documentaries for The Doc Project, including How the mbira — an instrument with a complicated history in Zimbabwe — found a following in Western Canada.
This documentary was edited by Shari Okeke.