Hays Haunts Hotel Halls

The Fairmont Château Laurier may not be the best choice for those wishing to get an undisturbed night’s sleep. A ghost has been known to create quite the racket in the wee hours of the morning; light sleepers beware. Charles Melville Hays is arguably our capital’s most iconic ghost and his spirit resides in the oldest hotel in Ottawa, the Fairmont Château Laurier. The Château Laurier comes in third on Reader’s Digest's list, 9 of Canada’s Most Haunted Places.

photo by tsaiproject                      https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

photo by tsaiproject                      https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

In 1899 our eighth prime minister, Sir Wilfred Laurier, yearned for a railway hotel that would establish Ottawa as the metropolis of the North. He sought the help of the president of the Grand Trunk Railway, Mr. Charles Melville Hays. Hays was born on May 16th, 1856, in Illinois, USA, and was only seventeen when he began working for the Grand Trunk Railway.

After two years of construction, the Château Laurier’s grand opening was set for April 26th, 1912. A few weeks prior, Hays had secured a room aboard the RMS Titanic. He was required to travel to England to tie up loose ends and purchase the luxurious decor that would furnish the Château Laurier. Tragically, Hays, along with a number of his family members, never set foot on Canadian soil again. On April 14th, 1912, the RMS Titanic struck the iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland which would ultimately decide its fate at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. The original furniture purchased for the hotel would never arrive, and what remains of it rests somewhere deep on the ocean floor.

June 1st, 1912, was a bittersweet day as Sir Wilfred Laurier officially opened the Château Laurier’s grand doors to the public. Over the next hundred years, the hotel would go on to become a hustle and bustle of businessmen, senators, actors, and sportsmen.

Photo by ross dunn https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Photo by ross dunn https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

I recently went on a Haunted Walk of Ottawa to hear the spectral stories from the Fairmont Château Laurier for myself. A couple from Brazil let out a gasp of disbelief when the tour guide mentioned that most of the paranormal activity occurs on the fifth floor, where you can find the Charles Melville Hays Memorial Suite. Not only had this couple checked into the Château Laurier, but their room was also on the fifth floor. The tour guide was quick to reassure the couple that Hays is widely regarded by staff and guests as a friendly ghost. I still find myself wondering if this couple slept soundly through the night. Were they woken by Hays' ghost? I guess I'll never know. 

The most talked about supernatural occurrences at the Château Laurier are those that were recounted by Patrick Watson, chairman of the CBC. Watson stayed at the hotel for some time in the 1980’s. Watson claimed to have heard a crack early one morning and when he got out of bed to see what it was, he noticed the glass ashtray on the table had split in half, yet had not fallen. On another occasion, Watson woke to the sound of a thud in his bathroom. He found his shaving kit–which had been wedged between the faucet and the wall–had fallen, its contents sprawled on the floor. Voices singing in the stairwells, ghostly apparitions, shoulder taps, and poltergeist-like rearranging of furniture are occurrences often reported by staff and guests at the Château Laurier. As commissioner of the Château Laurier, it's no surprise that Hays' spirit chose the hotel as his place of rest.

For those looking to silence their inner skeptic, to finally experience proof that ghosts exist, a night at this hotel could be your ticket. On your next visit to our nation’s capital, book your stay at the Fairmont Château Laurier to experience both history and the supernatural. That is, if you’re prepared for a restless night. 


Alexa Scott is a Carleton University Graduate currently in second year of the Professional Writing program at Algonquin College. When she's not in class, she can be found watching Law & Order and perfecting her guacamole recipe. She also loves to spend time at the park with her best friend, a mini Goldendoodle named Maple.