Ottawa Little Theatre's resident ghost "Martha" is up to her old tricks again after a fire alarm went off inside the building on Canada Day.
Over the years, theatre staff have reported strange and unexplained disturbances, along with a few sightings of Martha. It's believed the theatre is haunted because a tombstone bearing the name "Martha" was discovered after the excavation of the King Edward Avenue site's original building, which once housed Eastern Wesleyan Methodist Church.
Wednesday night, Ottawa firefighters arrived at the theatre and found no evidence of a break-in or fire. The fire alarm is in a backstage staircase where, years ago, Martha's partially broken tombstone was unearthed.
The plot thickens, as Wednesday's false fire alarm came 39 years to the day after a devastating blaze
destroyed the original theatre building.
"It sent a shiver up my spine when I heard the news," said stage manager Jim Hogan.
"We never had a false alarm at the theatre. We had one actual alarm that we triggered ourselves when we overloaded the green room and the heat sensor went off, but we never had a fire alarm go off when nobody was in the building."
"The (old) theatre burned down on July 1, 1970, before midnight, so it's such a coincidence," said John Muggleton, the theatre's director of marketing and communications, who arrived at the site after receiving a call from the alarm company.
He said a few people were in the building earlier on Canada Day, but the theatre had been closed following a performance Sunday night.
Martha's identity has long been a mystery to the Ottawa Little Theatre, said Muggleton.
"The story goes that, when it was a church, there was a small theatre group called Under the Stairs Players. They wanted a bigger performance space, so they excavated the walls of the foundation of the church, and when they were knocking out the walls a tombstone came through the earth. The only name on it was Martha."
The building was a Methodist church from 1873 to 1928, then home to the Ottawa Drama League. It was formed in 1913 and was a forerunner to the Ottawa Little Theatre.
The theatre staged plays in the stone and frame building until 1970, when fire swept through and destroyed it. A fundraising campaign was launched and a new building was erected on the same site.
The cause of the 1970 fire was never determined, said Muggleton.
Hogan has never seen the ghostly Martha, although he's been inside the theatre when strange things have occurred.
"I was there late one night by myself working the sound cues for a show, I think it was back in 1985," he said.
He was in the sound and light booth, high up in the ceiling of the hall. The booth is reachable by a corrugated aluminum walkway and anyone coming to the booth could be heard, he said.
"I heard the sound of someone running down the walkway. I first thought someone was trying to scare me, so I called out and nobody answered."
Hogan looked around, saw no one, and then again heard the sound of footsteps, which whizzed right past him.
"I'm not an easily spooked person, but from that point I left the building, and I didn't even go back to the booth."
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