Devil's Playground documentary explores Calgary's most haunted urban myth

Devil's Playground documentary explores Calgary's most haunted urban myth

Legend has it that sometime in the past century, a schoolhouse on the edge of Calgary burned down killing all inside. To this day, it is said, the ghosts of those who died haunt the city.

The tale of the Devil's Playground is a famous southern Alberta urban legend that has fascinated ghost hunters and storytellers for years.

But is it true?

Did the school even exist? If so, where was it? Did it really catch on fire? Do the ghosts of four or eight schoolchildren — depending on which version you hear — still haunt the land where the building once stood?

Those are questions Calgary filmmaker Dori Davidson-Revill has pondered since he first heard the story in high school. He has devoted the last five years of his life to investigating the tale and next week his documentary will make its debut at the Calgary Comic Expo.

Davidson-Revill says he wanted to delve deep into the history of the Devil's Playground and explore the whole legend to uncover the truth.

"It's a real place in Calgary. There was actually a school on the land and it was run by a well-known family in Calgary, known as the Ellis family," Davidson-Revill told the Calgary Eyeopener Friday.

"But as for a lot of the paranormal stuff, we tried separating the fact from the fiction."

Fact vs. fiction

Pinning down the exact location of the schoolhouse took some effort.

Davidson-Revill says over the years, at least 30 different locations were named as the "real" site of the Devil's Playground. He and his team investigated several of them, including Symon's Valley Ranch and an abandoned home on Centre Street.

They finally pinpointed the real location at a once-rural area at 84th Street and Ninth Avenue S.E.

"The majority of the stories focused around that one, and that is the actual location, which is now gone. It's been torn down," he said.

Davidson-Revill collected a lot of anecdotal accounts from eyewitnesses who claimed to have seen strange things at the site — handprints on foggy car windows, the sounds of children laughing, animal bones placed in strange patterns around the property. 

A pact with the devil

They also heard several different versions about what exactly led to the fire.

"We've had strange stories, from a crazy nun who burned the place down because she made a pact with the devil, to actual flying saucers and cows," he said.

An interview with the owner of the property, Don Ellis, who has since died, revealed he was more afraid of people looking for ghosts than he was of ghosts themselves.

"He just told us scary stories of the trespassers, it was more a human element than it was an actual paranormal element haunting the land," Davidson-Revill said.

"He was always being harassed by people walking on [his property], some of them armed, and they would try looking for ghosts, they would break into his house."

Comic expo debut

Davidson-Revill says his attempts to look for historical records of the event were met by filing errors. However, he did manage to determine a school existed on the property and it was active into the 1950s, despite some versions of the story saying the schoolhouse burned down at the turn of the 20th century.

It was said to have been torched by a trespasser. 

"The history is more fascinating than the paranormal aspect, and a lot more fun," said Davidson-Revill.

Check out the the first cut of Devil's Playground when it premiers April 28 at the Calgary Comic Expo.

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With files from the Calgary Eyeopener