As I previously mentioned, I have little personal recollection of the Kootenay Hotel, but I feel confident in the retelling of one particular Kootenay story. This is a story I heard told and retold many times as I grew up in Atlin.
I will preface this by saying many in the community are familiar with this story, some intimately, and they may have different variations, but the following is the story I heard told by my mom and others.
The timeline is vague to me, but best recollections place it in the late nineteen-fifties or early sixties. In those days, some of the First Nation’s communities south of Atlin were extremely isolated and were only reached by air or across miles of roadless wilderness.
Some of the villages were closer and more accessible to Alaska, Juneau in particular; but as it was a different country and if your business involved government or medical needs the closest big Canadian town was Whitehorse, Yukon. Whitehorse at that time had the only Canadian hospital within hundreds of miles or more.
As the story goes, an elder woman from an isolated village needed regular medical treatment only available in Whitehorse. I believe this occurred a few times a year and for reasons not fully understood by me, her travel necessitated an overnight stay each way in Atlin.
At that time the only accommodations available were the Kootenay Hotel. The elder lady was quite old and feeble and needed help getting around. Assistance readily granted by the proprietor.
Our lady enjoyed smoking a pipe and especially liked a nightcap bowl before turning in for the evening. As the lady was very old, and I believed blind, the owner did not allow her to have matches in her room.
To get around the chance of an accident, the lady and the proprietor worked out a method. When the lady was ready to turn in and desired her night cap, she would tap her cane on the floor and the bartender would come up and light her bowl and visit while she smoked. Upon the completion of her smoke, he would make sure all embers were out, she would retire and he would return to his saloon duties. As you may have surmised, the lady was always placed in the same room directly over the bar.
As it was told, this arrangement worked well for a number of visits until one evening, whether due to loud revelry in the bar or too much partaking of his own wares, the bartender did not hear the tapping of the lady’s cane.
The next morning, the lady was found passed away in her room. As she was in her nineties with failing health, her passing was considered inevitable and little thought was given to the omission of her nightly indulgence.
Fast forward a few years, and now my parents own the Kootenay. Unaware of the story and blissfully ignorant to any rumor that maybe our lady still lingered in the Old Koot, they busily went about their new vocation as hoteliers.
During the summer of their first year in business, a couple of B.C. Tell workers were staying in the Hotel. One gentleman, let’s call him Bob, stayed in the room directly over the bar and the other gentleman, we’ll call him Dick (his actual name – Dick Burlingette [sp]) stayed immediately across the hallway from Bob’s room.
That first night in the wee hours of the morning, Dick was abruptly awoken by a frantic pounding on his door. He quickly opened it to find his partner Bob standing there, pale faced and out of breath, holding all of his possessions.
Bob asked if he could stay in Dick’s room for the remainder of the night. Bob told Dick he had been awoken by a loud tapping sound in the middle of the night. At first, he thought it could be a number of different things, water in the pipes, the wind, etc. But as the night progressed the tapping became more insistent and louder and seemed to be emanating from right beside the bed. Bob said his room grew cooler as the tapping increased.
At first Dick dismissed Bob’s story, writing it off to a nightmare, mild psychosis or perhaps too many after dinner libations. At the same time Dick understood Bob was indeed scared, it was no act.
Dick offered Bob a spare blanket and pillow and a spot on the floor next to his bed. Later after everything quieted and Dick had drifted off to sleep, he was awoken again, but this time by a violently shaking. Bob had a hold of his leg, and was tugging at it vigorously and loudly whispering, “There do you hear it? The tapping, can you hear it?” At this point Dick said he was about to crown Bob or kick him out of his room or both, but he realized he could hear something.
The longer he listened, the more pronounced the tapping became. Dick wasn’t a believer in the paranormal and he was convinced there was a perfectly rational explanation, so he strode across the hall and flung open the door, much to the whimpering protests of Bob.
A quick perusal of the small room did not reveal anything out of the ordinary, but Dick proceeded to look under the bed and behind the lone dresser just to be certain. Throughout the rest of the night, the two men heard the tapping and Dick investigated the room a number of times.
Although it was obviously coming from the room in question, Dick also listened at the doors to the rooms on either side, only to confirm the tapping was indeed coming from Bob’s.
The next day, Dick brought all this up to my parents. Bob did not, as he left town in the early morning hours, never to return. Dick became good friends with my parents and eventually moved his family to Atlin and was the B.C. Tell representative for a few years.
Dick stayed in the hotel for the rest of his time in Atlin that summer, but he never again heard the tapping. The one thing he reiterated time and again was that no matter if there was a ghost or a plausible explanation, the tapping he heard that night was real and it came from the room over the bar, and Bob’s fear was absolutely real.
As Dick’s story spread, more stories started coming out of the woodwork. My parents were quick to learn of many encounters with the tapping from the room over the bar over the years. It was not a secret in Atlin, only to them.
Neither of my parents were believers in ghosts, in fact, quite the opposite, but both took the tapping seriously and they and a number of Atlinites became impromptu ghost hunters and spent the better half of one weekend scouring The Old Kootenay for any tangible explanation for the tapping.
My dad searched the roof and sides of the building looking for a loose wire or piece of tar paper, my mom and a couple ladies including Edie Bragga (sp), crawled through the attic and searched high and low through all the rooms. The bathrooms were down the hall but the water and drains were checked none the less.
Nothing was ever found. That fall the Old Kootenay succumbed to fire for the third and final time and with it went the mystery of the old lady, her pipe, her death and the tapping.
A few people tried to keep the old ghost alive by suggesting she’d moved to the tower of the Old Court House so she could haunt my parents for being the proprietors of the Kootenay when she burned.
This rumor never gained much traction as one more creak, bang or tapping would hardly be noticed in that building. All it did was add yet another fear to an already freaked out little kid’s imagination.
Years later, I worked on the roof of the Old Court House, shingling and removing the dormers. While tearing out some rot, I found an old pipe.
“Hmmmm, do you think she might have, nah, never mind.”
Side Note: After moving to Atlin, Dick and family acquired a timber wolf puppy. Dogs in Atlin ran free and so did the wolf. I remember my friend Adam Shore and I played with him often and he followed us around with our dogs.
Eventually he grew bigger than most of the dogs in town and they grew to fear him and this ended up in a number of fights. After the wolf kicked a few dog butts, it was determined he should be tied up at all times unless on a leash.
It was sad to see that magnificent animal pacing on the end of a chain. When the family was away, we fed and watered the wolf. I remember my dad probing the packed snow around his yard in search of his food bowl which he buried everyday.
Happy to say the wolf was soon sent to a vast game preserve in Lower BC where he lived out his life and sired many litters.
For many more Atlin stories, read Atlin Where Everyone Knows Your Dog’s Name.