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Ghost Toast?

by Dave Yanko

KENOSEE LAKE -- One of Saskatchewan's classic ghost stories has a new twist. It may even have a happily-ever-after ending. But don't bet on it.

When Dale Orsted bought the Moose Head Inn at Kenosee Lake in 1990, he believed he was extending a tradition that began in the late 1960s when Ethel and Archibald Grandison constructed and operated the building as a dance hall for teens. Orsted, now in his 40s, spent his summers at this resort community located about two hours southeast of Regina. He remembers with great fondness Grandison Hall and its owners.

The Moose Head Inn is located in the Resort Village of Kenosee Lake.
The Moose Head Inn is located in the Resort Village of Kenosee Lake.

"They were great people. And they were in their 60s when they started this," says Orsted.

When Archie died around 20 years ago, Ethel sold the dance hall and Orsted bought it from a third party in 1990. The bottom floor of the Moose Head Inn is a restaurant, the second floor a cabaret/nightclub and third floor is an office and small apartment where Orsted lives.

Soon after the purchase, a curious thing happened. Glasses, ashtrays and knick-knacks went missing from the bar area of the nightclub.

At first, Orsted thought the missing items were the result of former employees, with keys, slipping into the club to nip keepsakes. But changing the locks on all the doors made no difference - items still went missing. Then they started reappearing. And then things got really weird.

"It started out with banging -- it sounded like somebody was trying to break into the place," Orsted said in an interview at the club. "The banging would go on for hours. It was super loud. . .

"I'd phone the police because I thought it was a burglar. I phoned two or three times and they came in here with their guns drawn. But there was no one here."

Orsted and his former manager and roommate Jeff Stephen were scared. They installed a security camera above the bar and after one incident, the banging could be heard clearly on the audio portion of the tape. But there were no images. The best police could do was suggest the sounds were coming from outside.

"This was before we thought it was a ghost," explains Orsted. "Now, I know I actually had the ghost's sound on videotape."

Orsted, his girlfriend and Stephen learned to live with the strange noises for a while. But when they carried out renovations in 1992, all heck broke loose.

"We started to tear out the carpets and, that same night, it started to go nuts. It took a week to get the carpet out and a new one installed. And every night, about four or five in the morning, this place would just start going."

Dale Orsted, owner and manager of the Moose Head Inn.
Dale Orsted, owner and manager of the
Moose Head Inn.

Noises emanating from the nightclub area were so deafeningly loud they sounded like horrible car crashes. Orsted later concluded through experiments conducted with several strong friends the only item in the building capable of producing those window-rattling crashes was a large steel desk hoisted several feet into the air and dropped to the floor. He could only guess the desk was being levitated and dropped.

The bone-jarring collision sounds weren't the only strange goings on. The dishwasher in the bar started up and turned off by itself, and doors on stalls in the women's washroom swung back and forth as cleaning staff looked on in fear. Mop pails flew across the dance floor with no apparent source of propulsion and lights in the building went on and off without a human touch. And more. . .

"There's been nights when there's maybe 20 people sitting around in here after hours and the doors just all of a sudden fly wide open," says Orsted, pointing to the heavy, double security doors at the side and rear of the bar. "And then they'd slam shut.

"There's lots of people that have seen and heard this stuff."

Orsted became so concerned about the strange happenings he actually moved out of the building for two years, preferring instead to commute from his home town of Estevan.

In the meantime, stories about Saskatchewan's haunted nightclub began appearing in ghost books and newspapers. Television stations in Regina and Minot, North Dakota sent reporters to do stories on the strange phenomena occurring at the Moose Head Inn. And a national television news magazine did a piece about a paranormal investigator from Winnipeg who came to the Moose Head to study the ghostly happenings first hand. His conclusion? Orsted's club seems to be an example of a 'classic haunting'.

"I didn't, myself, see or record anything unusual," investigator Roy Bauer said in a phone interview. "This (conclusion) was basically from the information they gave me, and from my past investigations. The classic haunting seemed to fit the best."

Bauer says that in a general way, he and his colleague 'probably make better skeptics than believers' when it comes to things ghostly.

"But you do have to have an open mind to investigate them because, supposedly, ghosts don't exist."

'Cher' believed there were three ghosts at the Moosehead.
'Cher' believed there were three ghosts at the Moose Head.

Not long after Bauer completed his investigation a psychic from Winnipeg contacted Orsted claiming to have clues as to the identity of the Moose Head ghost. Orsted said her detailed knowledge of the club, including its previous design and decor, was impressive considering she'd not set foot in the building. And while he chose not to present Ethel Grandison with the list of clues the psychic felt might solve the mystery, he was intrigued by how insightfully she connected the ghostly happenings to the renovations.

In fact, when he considered all the fuss attending the replacement of the carpets, he wondered whether the ghost might be that of a handyman who used to work at the building. In a vain attempt to appease the entity, he tried reversing some of the changes made to the interior of the club. The level of activity rose and fell, but the haunting continued.

Frightening new episodes included being awakened in the middle of the night by door knocking, doorknob fiddling, and what sounded like a man moaning in the hallway beyond the apartment door.

"It'd be scary," Orsted recalled. "But at least you knew you were safe if you were locked in a room upstairs. I'm more afraid of a burglar than a ghost."

In the summer of 1997, Orsted staged a 'psychic fair' at the Moose Head, with several psychics on hand to do palm and tarot card readings for customers. He and two female employees who had also experienced the ghostly shenanigans used the occasion to participate in a seance with one of the psychics. Its purpose was to shed some light on the Moose Head's invisible resident.

"She told us to imagine a big blue tarp over the whole building," said Orsted, who admits he had more trouble than his co-workers concentrating on the process. "And then she said 'picture a big cone coming out of the building and take it right up to the heavens and you'll see three angels. . .'"

Out of the seance emerged information about three ghosts: a cleaning lady, a young male who had drowned and an old man. With assistance from the Moose Head group, the psychic said she was able to convince two of the three entities to leave the premises. The third -- the old man -- didn't want to go. According to the psychic, the stubborn one was the ghost of Archibald Grandison, late owner of the dance hall. And she said he had a request for Orsted.

"He said he wanted me to look after his wife because she was getting old," Orsted said, adding Ethel Grandison lived in the house next door to the Moose Head.

Orsted wasn't taking any chances. He agreed to do so.

In spring, 1999, Ethel Grandison passed away. Ever since, there's been no trouble with ghosts at the Moose Head Inn. Not yet, anyway.

"I don't think there's been enough time yet to say that it's definitely gone," says Orsted, pointing out it's been just over a year since Ethel died. "And if there really were three ghosts, well. . ."

Robert Morrow
Robert Morrow

On the Victoria Day long weekend in May 2000, the Moose Head Inn sponsored its fourth annual 'psychic fair'. 'Cher', the woman who led Orsted and his staffers through the seance many believe determined the existence and identity of the ghost, was present with her daughter and fellow psychic 'Chalaine'. They were joined by a third psychic named Robert Morrow.

The psychics' verdict? To a person, they're convinced the Moose Head Inn is still haunted.

"I was in there last night," says Morrow. "And with me, I'm all over the place. I'm in the kitchen, I'm upstairs, I'm in the lounge, I'm in the slot room, I'm in the bar. I feel a presence in there. Very strongly."

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