The Belvedere Orphanage in Newfoundland is slated for demolition after it was damaged by fire in April. The question is what happens to the spirits that are said to haunt this centuries-old orphanage, school and convent when it stands no more.
Historical accounts date the property and the first large home on it back to 1826. The property was purchased by the influential and controversial Catholic Bishop Michael Anthony Fleming, who died in the house in 1850, although it doesn’t appear he was one of the ghosts. In 1859, a convent on the property became an orphanage for girls run by the Sisters of Mercy. As the only orphanage in the city, by 1885 a new building was constructed to hold the foundlings and it was called the Belvedere Orphanage.
The orphanage closed in 1967 and the building became a school house, school board offices and a home for the local Catholic newspaper. News of abuses at the orphanage finally came out in the 90s and, while no charges were ever filed, the Sisters of Mercy abandoned the old building in 1999.
The Belvedere Orphanage was torn down December 2017, following years of abandonment and an extensive fire in April.
For years, people in the community speculated about a haunting presence in the decrepit building — particularly when it functioned as a school in the 1970s.
“I hope that spirit is now at peace,” said Lorraine Michael, the interim NDP leader for Newfoundland and Labrador.
Michael was a Roman Catholic nun and served as the principal for Belvedere Junior High School from 1971 to 1976 when it closed.
She stayed in the convent portion of the building and admits to hearing some strange sounds she couldn’t easily explain.
“It consisted of walking noises, somebody walking, and always on the top floor of the building,” she said.
Michael said the janitor also reported doors to classrooms being opened after he had closed them.
She said at one point staff called in an expert in paranormal occurrences from Memorial University, who deemed the putative ghost to be a poltergeist.
“Poltergeists are usually connected with teenage girls,” she said.
On another occasion, two women visiting from Argentina stayed at the school, and one woman came to her and said that from the minute she stepped onto the property her whole being was in touch with the suffering of young girls and she felt she was in touch with a particular spirit in the building.
Michael said she heard the footsteps on many occasions but never had the courage to go investigate.
“It wasn’t scary. I think I laid there knowing that I was hearing a ghost. I wasn’t going to go up and look, but neither was I scared of it.”
On another occasion, Michael said the superintendent of the school board arrived for work and his secretary was in the parking lot and wouldn’t go in. She said she had been alone in the building and heard footsteps down the main hallway. She wouldn’t go back inside on her own.
Michael said she recently received an email from a former colleague at Belvedere who joked that the demolition might finally see the departure of the ghost.
Michael said she hopes that is the case. “If the poltergeist was connected to the experience in the building — and I’m not an expert — but I assume now the spirit will be at rest,” she said.
While the girl whose spirit glided through the empty hallways of the orphanage has never been identified, one wonders if she will be at peace if there is no building for her to haunt. If the girl was buried there, secretly or otherwise, she could move on to the condos or whatever takes the place of the orphanage.
Stranger Than Fiction Stories by M.P. Pellicer