NINETTE —Like a scene from a horror movie, multiple layers of paint flakes off the walls of the darkened halls of the Ninette Sanatorium’s long-vacant nurses’ building.
Some of the property’s buildings are in much better shape, fuelling hope they might be salvaged, but the nurses’ building is rough — mould lines surfaces and the air in certain rooms is thick enough with moisture to feel its weight in your lungs.
On Saturday, a group of paranormal investigators toured the historic buildings, which served in the housing and treatment of the province’s tuberculosis patients from 1910 to its closure in 1972.
Called the Saskatchewan and Maritime Paranormal Society (S.A.M.), the group first linked up with Saskatchewan-based property owner Ronnie Aschenbrenner approximately one month ago. They have revisited the site a few times since then, joined by groups of at least a couple dozen others each time to participate in ghost hunts.
"They really opened up this place and made it alive," Aschenbrenner said on Saturday, meeting with group members at the property’s administrative building, which is one of the better preserved buildings on site.
Aschenbrenner purchased the expansive property approximately five years ago in hopes of turning it into an artists’ retreat, but quickly found that she’d bitten off more than she could chew.
"I’m not a rich woman, I just have big dreams," she said.
If the buildings are to be saved, the first step will be fixing the leaking roofs, which is where the paranormal group comes into play.
They’re hosting a community fundraiser from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Aug. 5, during which various family friendly activities will take place, including a bouncy castle for kids, a garage sale, motorcycle show n’ shine and other activities.
Admission is $5, with tours of the buildings an additional $20 and participation in ghost hunts from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. $40, with proceeds going toward the restoration of the buildings’ roofs.
While there used to be more than a dozen buildings on the property, only a few remain standing today.
"Once they’re gone, they’re gone," S.A.M. founder Brad Monks said, pointing to the importance of saving them while they can.
Now a resident of Qu’Appelle, Sask., Monks grew up on the East Coast, where tales of ghosts and pirates are more common.
It was there that he got hooked on digging into alleged cases of paranormal activity, resulting in the formation of S.A.M. approximately seven months ago.
The Ninette Sanatorium is a particularly unique find due to both its rich history and the manner in which the buildings haven’t changed too much during the decades since the facility closed, aside from their physical deterioration and vandalization.
There has been some modernization, with Portage la Prairie’s Youth for Christ investing an estimated $750,000 on improvements a few years ago in hopes of turning it into a youth camp. As such, a handful of washrooms appear brand new and some new piping and equipment is sprinkled through the buildings. However, the majority of the space remains pretty well the same as when Ninette Sanatorium staff left it in 1972, with original equipment spread throughout.
The cafeteria even still has many of its original dishes on display.
In considering paranormal investigations such as what is taking place at the Ninette Sanatorium, the issue of respect is worth clarifying, and S.A.M. has its detractors.
People died at the Ninette Sanatorium, including a disproportionate number of Indigenous people during the facility’s final few decades leading up to its 1972 closure.
A believer in spirits herself, Swan Lake First Nation Chief Francine Meeches said the best approach would be to leave the spirits alone.
"You’re upsetting what they’re doing," she said, adding: "Leave them be."
Annette Dugas’s mother, Elsie Moar, was a patient at the Ninette Sanatorium in the early 1960s and died in a car crash in 1962 before she was able to return home.
Moar was buried in an unmarked grave at the Belmont Hillside Cemetery.
To Dugas and others, the Ninette Sanatorium is a place that carries nothing but bad memories and is not worth saving.
Informed of the paranormal investigations taking place at the Ninette Sanatorium, Dugas said that she agrees with Meeches’ perspective that they should be left alone.
"If there’s anybody in there, leave them," she said. "It’s our families’ lives, it’s not entertainment."
Monks said that while he understands people’s concern, his outfit puts respect front and centre.
He takes his paranormal investigations seriously, during which he employs a network of gadgets in order to measure light, electromagnetic activity, sound and other variables.
To him, it isn’t a game.
While Monks’ beliefs might differ from others, he said that everything is done out of respect.
"I treat a spirit the same as I treat a living human being," he said, adding that if someone on his team veers toward disrespect, they’re cut immediately.
Still, a deliberate form of disrespect is rampant within the buildings at the Ninette Sanatorium site, where vandals have been breaking in wherever they can to hold parties, spray paint and smash things.
During Saturday’s tours, brand new damage was noted to have occurred recently, with vandals having smashed a window to get into one of the buildings where they broke a table tennis table and caused other destruction.
Having spent the morning clearing paths and securing buildings to prevent further vandalization, Monks said that anyone he catches disrespecting the property or people, living or otherwise, would be ejected immediately.
Approximately a dozen people camped out at the Ninette Sanatorium building on Saturday, including Monks and his family, who spent the night in the administration building.
The Aug. 5 event will include free overnight camping. Monks said that things tend to get more active once the sun sets.
» Twitter: @TylerClarkeMB