Did You Hear That? Or Am I Going Crazy?

Students Tell Their Tales of the Evil Energies Haunting the Grey Nuns Building

Students share their spookiest ghost stories from the Grey Nuns residences. Photo Ivan de Jacquelin

For the hundreds of first-year students living in Concordia’s infamous Grey Nuns building, midterms are far from the only force contributing to uneasy, sleepless nights.

The expansiveness of the desolate, whitewashed hallways alone bring a sinister sense of liminality to the residence. 

“Everybody here is on the same wavelength…especially in the last week,” said Griffy, a first-year aerospace engineering student.  “I've had more than a few people go, ‘have you guys been feeling off recently?’”

A final, paranormal piece may complete the puzzle of students’ anxious energies that seem to arise, especially around Halloween season: inexplicable and uncanny encounters with ghosts in the Grey Nuns building. 

Though they may be frightening, students say these occurrences are not surprising, due to the peculiar past of one of the university’s main residence buildings.

The building’s crypt lies steps away from students’ bedsides. Photo Ivan de Jacquelin

The Motherhouse of the Grey Nuns, a Canadian religious order of Roman Catholic sisters, was built in 1871 and used for more than 130 years as the headquarters for their operations. 

Besides housing over 1,000 nuns, the Motherhouse also served as a hospital and orphanage. The bodies of 232 nuns remain buried in the building’s crypt, located in its basement. Because of the infectious diseases that caused many of their deaths, the bodies cannot be exhumed and moved.

Sharing space in the basement alongside the nuns’ corpses is first-year studio arts student Ruby Cluclow. They had a few things to say about their crypt companions: “I was so worried when I was reading up on all the stuff that happened here […] there has to be so much negative shit attached to these nuns who have been complacent in all of that shit.”

Cluclow was not wrong: on Valentine’s Day in 1918, a blazing fire broke out in the orphanage above the hospital, sparked by a nursery worker suffering from what was referred to as an arsonist delirium

Firemen and recovering soldiers left their sickbeds to try and save the burning babies, but they were beaten back by the flames. Sixty children were confirmed to have died that day, but there are theories that there were additional casualties who were cremated in the fire.

“I would wash my face and look into the mirror and then I would see the shape of a nun.” — Pascale Bonn

This building's hair-raising history makes it the perfect setting for an escape room or a haunted house—if only Concordia allowed candles, matches, or lighters in the building. Perhaps the spirits could be reasoned through spiritual cleansing or holding a seance. The university purchased the building in 2007 for a hefty sum of $18 million, spending an additional $15 million on renovations. 

Alas, the refurbishing efforts did not cleanse the building of its paranormal character, as students are still subject to spooky situations. “The bricks of this place are stained with disease and the blood of nuns,” reasoned Griffy. “Nothing can wipe away that, not even a new fresh coat of paint or a couple new electrical outlets here and there.”

Another Grey Nuns resident couldn’t seem to wipe away the weird energies: first-year mechanical engineering student Pascale Bonn, also lives in the building’s most haunted hotspot, the basement. 

Bonn recounted eerie events reminiscent of scare-tactic stories, like how saying Bloody Mary three times in the bathroom mirror might make her appear. “I would wash my face and look into the mirror and then I would see the shape of a nun,” she said. “It was on the blank wall behind me […] but it was just a projection of a shadow or something.”

This frightening sight triggered Bonn’s sense of fight or flight: “I would immediately close my eyes and be like ‘No, no, no, not happening.’”

These unnatural energies at work seemed to be especially attracted to people who have already had experience dealing with supernatural situations. Bonn pointed to the direction of her neighbour down the hall, Tatiana Elliot. “They are a ghost magnet, they’re from Edinburgh […] a notoriously haunted place,” Bonn said. “They’ve been getting cheerios placed in random spots in their room.”

Bonn and Elliot’s fellow basement dweller, Zach Johnson, a studio arts and art history major, has also been subject to relatively harmless hauntings, which they think are “kinda cool [as they’re] not afraid of the paranormal.”

They told their TMI tale of weird washroom visits, where they would hear “loud thuds and the voices of children […] like playful screams.” There is a daycare at Grey Nuns, but the noises were coming directly from the burial site, only 15 to 20 feet away from that bathroom. Even in their fearless frame of mind, Johnson said it freaked them out. What a paranormal way to poop!

The basement isn’t the only setting that students report getting spooked. First-year psychology major Emma Clark lives on the second floor and was “in denial, not wanting to admit that this place has the weirdest feeling.” She attested to seeing “black floating orbs […] like a shadow and then it would be dark in the center [...] it would move […] If I looked at them too quickly they would disappear.” 

Clark was raised Pagan and practices witchcraft. She said her encounters with the paranormal help ease some of her anxiety. “It is a little off-putting at times, but at the end of the day they don’t really hurt you,” she said. “You can’t get physically harmed from it, as long as you know what’s happening.”

“It is a little off-putting at times, but at the end of the day they don’t really hurt you.” — Emma Clark

“A little off-putting” may be an understatement, as a majority of residents would agree that they feel an underlying tension of unsettling physical anxiety, unrelated to normal mental triggers. Some students told The Link they are at times afraid of dying in the Motherhouse. That is no way to feel in a place called home, students said. 

Many students have pointed fingers towards the repeated hauntings, blaming them as contributing to their building case of dissatisfaction towards their student housing conditions. 

“I hate living here. But not just the ghosts, everything,” Bonn said. Beyond the building’s  unusually usual occult activities, students are far from pleased with their standards of living in the Motherhouse.

This article originally appeared in Volume 43, Issue 5, published October 25, 2022.