Ghost stories are one kind of conversation that sticks with you, often in unexpected ways.
There are so many stories about hauntings at the Palace Grand Theatre that Julie Leclerc talks to the rooms when she does the routine security check on the Dawson City building.
“I walk in and I say, ‘okay guys, I’m just here to make sure your place is in order and doesn’t burn down’,” she says.
Leclerc patrols Parks Canada and other buildings in her job with security company Chief Isaac Inc., but her interest in ghosts increased as soon as she moved to Dawson a few years ago.
Asking people about ghosts is one of her favourite subjects. “If I’m in a social situation where people don’t really know each other, I ask that question – do you believe in ghosts? It’s an ice-breaker and I have so many of these stories in my head because you ask that question and people can’t stop talking.”
At one party, she was talking with someone who has a strong scientific side and is most comfortable when things can be rationally explained.
He said he was biking by the Palace Grand and saw a woman dressed in black, sitting on the boardwalk.
He glanced away for a split second and realized the woman’s clothes were the wrong style for today. When he looked back to check, she was gone.
The Palace Grand story that stays with Leclerc most is simple, but completely creepy.
“A fellow security guard told me that when he drives up to the building, the light in the top floor is always on. Then when you get upstairs, it’s off.”
The spook factor is a common conversation piece in Dawson, from serious discussions about spirits to tricks played on friends during camping trips.
Leclerc was surprised that part of her security training included instructions on how not to be scared of spirits, and what to do if you see one.
“For me it’s been about resetting my thoughts and my habits. I know there are things going on and I have to respect that,” she says.
She’s learned a lot by listening. “If I was in the big city and someone said to me ‘I can’t do that building anymore because I saw spirits there,’ I would have treated it differently,” she says, but in Dawson her company reassigned the staff person to another building.
Thousands of partiers, dancers, gold diggers, musicians and tourists have passed through the Palace Grand Theatre since it opened in July 1899.
Crowd sizes have fluctuated wildly, reflecting the gold rushes and busts in Dawson. The building hasn’t continuously been open for business, and it’s used for performances and films from May to September these days.
But the stories about the opera house-styled dancehall have a lingering effect.
“I tell the spirits we’re keeping the place safe for them so they’ll still have a place to hang out,” Leclerc adds.
We’ll never know for sure whether that’s a one-way conversation or not.