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Issue: 2015-10-15 PHOTO: courtesy of Canada Post
Canada Post recently issued a stamp commemorating the late Bessie Gideon and the Caribou Hotel in Carcross as part of its haunted Canadian places series.
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Issue: 2015-10-15 PHOTO: courtesy of the Gideon family
The late Bessie Gideon (left) with her husband, Edwin and sister Louise Dawson
Anne Morgan got more than she bargained for when she and Jamie Toole decided to buy and restore the historic Caribou Hotel in Carcross.
"We didn't know it was haunted when we bought it. We're pretty aware of it now, though," she says.
Morgan and Toole did notice that some community members seemed to avoid the hotel, but eventually people with previous connections to the place began sharing stories about strange encounters in the past.
"We've heard lots and lots of stories now. Some of them are pretty consistent, with slight variations, but they're similar enough to make you wonder."
Most of those stories concern visits by one of the hotel's former owners, Bessie Gideon. She and her husband, Edwin, rebuilt the Caribou after it was destroyed by fire on Christmas Eve, 1909, and ran it for several years afterward.
Mind you, Mrs. Gideon doesn't just stop by for tea and a chat. After all, she's been dead for 82 years. She died in the Caribou Hotel on October 27, 1933, eight years to the day after Edwin passed away, just days before Hallowe'en.
Morgan has never seen Bessie Gideon's ghost - not yet, anyway - but she has heard many strange things over time.
"I've heard knocking on the walls, almost like hammering, like somebody was constructing something. And I've heard doors close," she says. "When you're the only one in the building, it kind of gets your curiosity going."
Other people, though, are adamant about having seen a ghostly female apparition.
"Lots of people have seen her from outside, looking out the window, when they've been passing by outside," Morgan says. Sometimes, she's in a rocking chair on the third floor, but another of her favoured haunts is the owners' suite on the second floor.
Morgan recounts the experience of some colleagues at the local swimming pool not long after she and Toole bought the hotel. Because of construction, the building's electricity was disconnected at the time.
"It was at the point where it was getting dark at night again in the summer time, and these people saw lights on the third floor. To this day, they still swear that they saw the lights come on on the third floor," Morgan says.
"I've also heard of her being on the third floor with a parrot on her shoulder, looking out the window. That's pretty consistent."
Strange, perhaps, except for the fact that Edwin and Bessie Gideon actually had a parrot named Polly. And not just any parrot. Polly (a male, incidentally) was known to sing opera, bite fingers, swear like a trooper and enjoy the occasional belt of whiskey.
Polly came into the Gideons' possession when the owner of the Engineer mine on Tagish Lake, Captain James Alexander and his wife left him in their care while they headed south for a winter vacation.
Alas, the Alexanders were passengers on the SS Princess Sophia, which ran aground on Vanderbilt Reef, near Juneau, Alaska on October 25, 1918, killing everyone on board.
Polly remained a popular attraction at the Caribou Hotel until he finally died at well over 100 years of age.
"I think at some point Mrs. Gideon tried to convert him, because she didn't like that he swore all the time," Morgan says. "She's the one who taught him bible songs, so he knew 'Onward, Christian Soldiers' and all kinds of different songs."
When Polly died in 1972, the hotel owners at the time, Dorothy Hopcott and Don McLellan staged an elaborate funeral for him, with "all kinds of dignitaries" from Whitehorse and elsewhere, Morgan says.
"He is buried just inside the cemetery, and he has this beautiful bronze plaque. All kinds of people came out to celebrate Polly's life and had a big funeral procession."
Unfortunately for Bessie Gideon, however - at least according to the late radio raconteur, Les McLaughlin - a survey of the cemetery failed to turn up her own gravesite.
That's not to say she has remained unrecognized.
In addition to the reported sightings and strange sounds attributed to her spirit, Canada Post has now immortalized the former hotel owner by issuing a postage stamp in her memory.
"We were sworn to secrecy, and we didn't know for sure that they were going to do it until recently, when they made an announcement and the launch a couple of weeks ago," Morgan says.
When she and Toole eventually re-open the hotel, she expects Bessie Gideon and Polly the parrot to be on hand.
"When you ring the bell, you'll have to have a toast to the ghost, I think."