If These Walls Could Talk

Giving up the ghost at the Queen’s Hotel

Illustration of 280 Victoria Street.

Illustration by Wendy Treverton

The first thing you need to know about the “Queen’s Hotel” is that it is haunted. Or at least it was during the three years ending in April 2013 when the home at 280 Victoria Street turned five random strangers into bosom buddies.

Well, six random strangers, if you count the ghost. Which Kayla Smith, Artsci’13, does. “We had a theory that the house was a little bit haunted. Not too much, but enough to make it interesting,” she says.

“Once in a while,” adds Bianca Del Vecchio, Artsci’13, “you’d hear footsteps on the porch like someone was coming up, but no one was there.”

Research on the house by Kingston architectural historian Jennifer McKendry lends a piquancy to the spectral theory. It turns out the narrow, three-storey house built in 1910 was once home to Great Lakes mariner Capt. William David Spence, who took part in the search for Sir John Franklin after his ill-fated expedition. In 1935, Spence’s funeral was held in the house. He had died of injuries sustained slipping on ice on the sidewalk in front of … the home’s porch.

Cue the Twilight Zone music.

The house was always cold, too – during winter storms the housemates would build a blanket fort in the living room and huddle together for warmth. But the spirit of the house was always warm, says Ms. Smith. “It didn’t feel like a negative space; there was no negative energy there. It was really like a positive, homey place.”

The housemates’ friends felt it, too. The house at 280 Victoria had been dubbed the Queen’s Hotel because someone’s dad had found an old sign for the Queen’s Hotel in a junkyard and mounted it on the dining room wall. But the home also developed a reputation for hospitality.
“On any given evening there was always a random person or two who would just arrive, eat with us, and hang out and then go home – or sleep on the couch,” says Ms. Smith.

One summer, the house was front row to rehearsals by the Tragically Hip, who were practising in the basement of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church just a couple of doors away. 
The housemates – Ms. Smith, Ms. Del Vecchio, Taylor Murdoch, Artsci’13, Naiha Shahzad, Artsci’13, MA’14, and Rebecca Lickiss, Artsci’13 – were mostly strangers when they first moved in. Ms. Lickiss and Ms. Shahzad had met at Adelaide Hall. They picked up Ms. Smith at a “speed-dating-for-roommates” event at the end of first year and found Ms. Murdoch on Kijiji. Ms. Del Vecchio didn’t show up until third year.

Almost instantly, there was a connection. They were caring for each other in sickness, taking pains to accommodate each other’s dietary needs. They had a house recipe for chocolate chip cookies framed on the wall. “Whenever anybody had a really bad day or a tough exam, we’d whip up a batch of the cookies,” says Ms. Del Vecchio.

The house ghost apparently enjoyed the camaraderie, says Ms. Smith, and was unhappy when the housemates left. Ms. Lickiss, the last to leave 280 Victoria, was doing a final walk-through when she saw a light upstairs where no one had been for days. In the room, she found the piles of textbooks stored by the home’s incoming housemates strewn across the floor. “It was probably the only moment when my general aura of skepticism [about the ghost] was a little bit ruffled,” says Ms. Lickiss. “I ran down the stairs, shut the door, and never went back.”

Tell us about the University District house you lived in and the memories you made.

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