Oct. 31, 2022

Who is the ghost of the Earth Sciences building?

UCalgary legend relived by former employee who encountered 'Mrs. Fish' more than 40 years ago
Aileen Fish was an active member of the Calgary community and would later be identified as the ghost of the Earth Sciences faculty lounge.
Aileen Fish was an active member of the Calgary community and would later be identified as the ghost of the Earth Sciences faculty lounge. UCalgary Archives

The year is 1980. The place: the University of Calgary.

The faculty lounge on the 7th floor of the Earth Sciences building, to be exact. A special event has just wrapped, and the lounge staff are cleaning up.

Usually a team affair, the early departure of a bartender has left part-time worker Shannon, a high school student, as the lone occupant of the lounge.

With the doors locked, Shannon proceeds to finish out the night’s tasks by scooping the ice out of the salad bar, in the middle of the empty room. After about five minutes, she feels someone in the room with her.

“I just saw a movement, and I looked up and someone was walking very deliberately towards me,” Shannon recalls over 40 years later. “Before I could even really react, they just faded as they walked. They didn’t disappear, they just faded out.”

Startled and scared, Shannon retreated to the lounge office, where she called her mom to come and grab her. While trying to convince herself that she was seeing things, Shannon had to reconcile the fact that she had seen a woman with brown hair in a shoulder-length flip and a skirt that swayed as she moved.

“I didn’t see facial features, but the hair, and the skirt, and the movement are what I remember,” she says.

Another shock came for Shannon a day later, when she was telling the story to her manager. The manager, seemingly unperturbed, told her, “Must’ve been Mrs. Fish.”

For Shannon, it was validation for what she had seen, but also confirmation of something usually confined to student gossip: UCalgary had a ghost.

It also leads to the more fascinating question of who was Mrs. Fish?

Aileen Alexander Hackett was born in 1898 in Wiarton, Ont. She received her teaching certificate at Camrose Normal School and her BA in English and history from McGill University in 1921. That same year she married her husband, Dr. Frank Fish, and they moved to Alberta, ultimately settling in Calgary in 1930.

Aileen was an active member of the Calgary community, volunteering her time with organizations like Beta Sigma Phi, Calgary Women's Literary Club, Women's Canadian Club of Calgary, Calgary Local Council of Women, YWCA, Calgary Women's Progressive Conservative Association and the Alberta Mental Health Association.

She arrived on campus in 1960, serving as adviser to women students until 1965.

For her outstanding community service, Aileen was named to the Order of Canada in 1973. The University of Calgary recognized her with an honorary doctorate during its June 1976 convocation. She passed away a year later in 1977.

Her legacy is still felt at the university today, as undergraduate arts students majoring in English can apply for the Dr. Aileen Fish Memorial Bursary. The $2,000 award is donated by the Beta Sigma Phi Sorority, a woman’s friendship organization, of which Aileen was an honorary member.

During her time at the university, Aileen was known to frequent a faculty lounge, the one on the 7th floor of the Earth Sciences building. After a long day, she would unwind with an after-work beer.

It’s an enjoyment that she seems to have taken into the afterlife, as bartenders would recall her favourite kind of beer either missing or rearranged in the fridge.

Shannon says she didn’t feel any fear of the woman who walked toward her that night, only her abrupt disappearance. She seemed as kindly in spirit as she was in real life. 

It remains the one and only time in Shannon’s life where she has encountered anything supernatural, neither believing in it before or even after the one event. But that night, she knows something happened in that lounge.

“It seemed very real to me,” she says.

How then can one describe the ghost of a woman who left such a profound and positive impact on her community?

It seems Shannon herself has described Mrs. Fish the best: ephemeral, brown-haired and a wee bit thirsty.