A ghost roams the halls of the Plaza Hotel in downtown Kamloops. She seems to be a friendly phantom, in the mode of Casper, but she can be mischievous now and then.
Just ask former Plaza co-owner Tina Lange.
“There were several times when I was in the building, particularly late at night because you have to work around the clock up there, I would catch sight of a woman, peripheral vision, just sort of going around the corner, going up the stairs, but there was never anybody there,” Lange said.
Whether the spectral guest adds to the value of the grand old hotel remains to be seen. The Plaza is again up for sale, with owners Sumer and Babban Dhillon listing it for $6.75 million. The Plaza, at Victoria Street and Fourth Avenue, is a six-storey, 68-room hotel equipped with a liquor store, cannabis retailer, lounge, nail salon and parking lot. A description of the hotel on realtor.ca states the rooms brought in about $29,000 per key in 2022.
The Dhillons bought the Plaza in the spring of 2017 and reopened the shuttered Fireside Lounge, renaming it Tumbleweed Lounge as a nod to the watering hole they own in Dallas — Tumbleweed Pub.
Lange, who managed and co-owned the hotel with Vancouver hotelier Rob Macdonald for a few years, leaving in May 2011, said she heard of ghosts as some travellers specifically chose to stay in the heritage building because the Plaza was on lists of purported haunted sites.
Lange would spend time in the hotel by herself — for example, over Christmas when the guest rooms were empty.
“And I had two experiences that, you know, probably made me pee my pants,” Lange recounted, citing large, heavy door metal doors slowly closing on their own and coffee maker baskets ejecting themselves from machines.
Aside from sharing hallways with apparent active apparitions, Lange said the Plaza is a fantastic building, though one that is not easy on the wallet, due to its age.
The hotel is also a city-designated heritage property, which means it can not be torn down and there are conditions placed upon renovations.
“It’s glorious. It was a wonderful to work in. It’s warm. It’s got so much charm. It’s got all the original staircase with the big newel posts and wide staircases going right up to the fifth floor, which is, you know, pretty great to run up and down those stairs,” Lange said. “But on the other side, it’s got the oldest elevator in the city — small and slow. And there’s a sign in there that says if you jump up and down, the elevator will stop and I cannot tell you how many people wanted to test that theory.”
Yes, the elevator would stop and Lange would have to run five flights of stairs to get to the rooftop patio and into a mechanical room to restart the lift.
“In the meantime, there’s people locked in the elevator, which I’m telling you is very small,” Lange said. “Uh You know, we changed out all the mattresses once and they had to be physically carried up and down the stairs because you couldn’t get a queen size mattress into the elevator.”
Another feature of the hotel, but one not currently in use, is the rooftop patio (which was used for a memorable event in 1937, as a story on the following page details).
Lange said current building codes and necessary upgrades have left the rooftop patio off-limits to regular use.
“I used to go up there practically every day. I was just in love with that spot, I had chairs up there just so I could sit up there and enjoy it.,” she said. “And the view is just spectacular. I took groups up there all the time, from various countries, to show them. You know, you could see all the way over to St. Joseph’s church (on the Tk’emlúps reserve) and you really see all the rivers and everything.”
Unfortunately, that space lacks water supply and washrooms and houses noisy venting systems, furnaces, air conditioners — all the components of the engine that keeps the Plaza humming.
Back in the day, though, the Plaza rooftop patio was known as the Tea Garden and featured white wicker furniture and potted palm trees.
Lange said the Plaza was also the hotel at which Princess (and future Queen) Elizabeth and Prince Philip were to stay in during their 1951 visit to Kamloops.
“And, so, they redid the the honeymoon suite, which is on the fifth floor and it’s on the corner of the building,” Lange said., noting the royal couple’s itinerary changed and they never did enjoy the revamped room. “It’s still there, the honeymoon suite. It’s beautiful and still the nicest suite.”
The Plaza does not have certain amenities found at more modern hotels, such as a pool or hot tub.
But it does have an appeal.
“You get people who are interested in something that’s got, you know, some heritage appeal, some charm,” Lange said. “It’s a little bit different kind of quirky. There’s about, I don’t know, six or seven rooms in the hotel that are the original small rooms.”
Those rooms, Lange noted, are tiny — a single bed, no closets, small bathroom and shower and a couple of hooks on the wall. Originally, she said, those rooms didn’t even have bathrooms.
“And I didn’t know that until I had customers coming in, elderly customers, who asked if they could please have one of the rooms with the bathroom,” Lange said, noting they had stayed at the Plaza when they were younger, when they had to walk down the hall to use the washroom.
“So, you know, we would market those little tiny rooms as the special heritage rooms and, of course, a great price on them."
While the Plaza has endeared itself to many, including Lange, she said it is also “the building from hell” when it came to issues like plumbing and heating and air conditioning.
“You know, every time I turned around, there was a leak somewhere,” she said. “I remember the boiler was in trouble and I had to literally sleep downstairs and, every 20 minutes, going and turning the boiler off and then turning it back on because if I didn’t do that, the concern was it was going to explode. They’ve since quit using the boilers. There were two of them — huge, crazy things.”
But doing work around the hotel did yield fascinating facts.
“Every time I did a renovation, there was so many surprises, but some of them were fun,” Lange said, noting the time she redid the back banquet room and had to add sound suppression material in the space between the banquet room and the hotel rooms above. “There’s a huge space in there, probably about eight feet to deal with, but it was full of pipes and wires and whatnot. But the fun thing was, we discovered that when it had been a stripper bar, one of the rooms above there was right above the stage and they had a hole cut in the floor and the girls would actually come down the brass pole from the floor above and slide down.”
Alas, that brass pole, while in storage in the hotel’s basement, was later stolen, much to Lange’s chagrin.
It is suspected a tradesperson walked off with it, but perhaps it was that pesky ghost, who may or may not have enjoyed sliding down the brass pole in human form long ago.
THE PLAZA HAS A RICH, AND ODD, HISTORY
In 1937, the city held a celebration marking the 125th anniversary of the establishment of Fort Kamloops in 1812.
The celebration was an economic stimulus package; organizers wanted to market Kamloops as a tourist destination and help residents recover from the Great Depression. They were inspired by Vancouver’s Golden Jubilee celebration in 1936, which had attracted thousands of visitors.
With little money available from government, the organizers relied on press coverage and corporate sponsors to spread the word about Kamloops and its attractions. The Hudson’s Bay Company and the Canadian Pacific Railway, both companies with deep roots in the Kamloops community, advertised the anniversary widely. CBC Radio, created a year earlier in 1936, also covered the festivities, as did newspapers across Canada.
The strangest publicity the 125th anniversary received, however, was from the Deutches Kurzwellensender (KWS), the government shortwave radio station in Nazi Germany. The station prepared a short program about Kamloops’ history and tourist attractions, which it broadcast in English for listeners in North America.
On June 7, 1937, loudspeakers were set up on the roof of the Plaza Hotel so the public could listen in. The sound quality was poor, but G.D. Brown, secretary of the anniversary committee, wrote to the KWS in Berlin to thank them for the publicity. Brown believed the broadcast helped to “weld Canada and Germany together in good-will throughout the world,” according to the Inland Sentinal newspaper. In hindsight, this hope was misplaced as two years later, the two countries were at war.
— Excerpted from historian Forrest Pass’s article in the July 2012 KTW Kamloops History publication marking 200 years since the creation of Fort Kamloops.