Empress Theatre – Fort Macleod

Many performers at the Empress Theatre have claimed to look out into the audience during rehearsals or performances and see a hairy-armed character sitting in the balcony. At a second glance, the ghostly man whom they call “Ed, the Phantom of the Empress” disappears.

J.S. Lambert began construction on his franchise of the Famous Players theater chain in 1910 on the now-historic Main Street of Fort Macleod. The first part of the 20th century was a time of rapid growth for the city. Lambert’s theater would serve as the stage for vaudeville, concerts, lectures, live theater, and, eventually, moving pictures. In 1937, the theater was sold to Daniel Boyle, who made some significant renovations to the building—adding a balcony and moving the projection booth above the new balcony. He also made decorative enhancements such as updated light fixtures, window covers, and light-up neon tulips on the pressed-tin ceiling in honor of his wife.

The ghostly legends of the theater begin in the 1950s when a janitor who worked there as his second job died under mysterious circumstances at the local auction market. Locals say they smelled his phantom cigar smoke in the theater for many years after his death. Stories circulated of seeing the hairy-armed man in the bathroom mirror only to turn around and find him gone.

After Boyle’s 1937 renovations, the theater wasn’t touched again until 1982, when the Fort Macleod Provincial Historic Area Society took over the building.

Forty-five years of customers, performances, popcorn and candy fights, and sugary treat spillage wore heavily on the building. The Historic Area Society poured $1 million into renovating the theater back to its original splendor. The ghost encounters continued throughout the renovations and after they were completed.

Diana Segboer was born and raised in Fort Macleod, as were her parents. Segboer has worked in various capacities at the Empress Theatre including the role of general manager. Her first personal encounter happened in the early 1990s, when she was taking the concession booth inventory while the theater was closed. “I walked in through the lobby and went around into the concession booth,” she said. “I heard some footsteps coming up the staircase, and I thought ‘Hmmm, I thought I was alone, but hey, maybe Mike [another theater employee] was in the building.’ The footsteps kept coming and kept coming, and pretty soon I heard them right beside me and then they stopped. And you could feel the air just change—it went from regular air to almost frigid air. I just put down my notepad that I was writing on and I walked out the front door.”

During her years of employment at the theater, other unexplained phenomena, such as footsteps or even hearing someone whistling a tune only to find no one there, almost became commonplace. But her most profound encounter happened in the balcony. The theater has pretty standard theater seats that fold up to allow more aisle access between rows, but these seats are not spring-loaded. When the seats are up they stay up, and when they’re down, they stay down…usually. Segboer said, “I was upstairs in the balcony and was putting the seats up, and in the next row, the row that I had just finished, they were coming down as fast as I was putting them up. One by one.”

Written by — Jeff Belanger Founder, Ghostvillage.com

TEL: 1 (800) 540-9229
WEBSITE: www.empresstheatre.ab.ca

Taken from the: Encyclopedia of Haunted Places -Ghostly Locales from around the World – Compiled & Edited by Jeff Belanger – Copyright 2005 by Jeff Belanger