A brush with the paranormal and ghosts of centuries past!
Autumn. The time of year when leaves begin to turn from green to gold, then finally deep red or brown as the wind flings them from their brittle branches and sends them whirling down damp lanes and empty sidewalks. The season when cold weather begins to creep in, at first only detectable by an extra button being done up in the morning, or perhaps an earlier than usual shiver as the sun sets. The orange pumpkins from the roadside farms make their way to front porches, sporting glowing grimaces that flicker in the smoky night air. It all culminates on Halloween night, when ghoulish sugar-fuelled children dart from door to door toting pillowcases stuffed with treats. Maybe it's because I've outgrown my sweet tooth, or perhaps I've developed a macabre streak over the years (a possible side effect of a chronic childhood Crispy Crunch addiction) but my favourite part about the Halloween season is the spookiness. Ghost stories and haunted lore work their way into conversations, early morning and late evening fogs make objects and people hard to discern. Dogs howl, black cats seem to proliferate.
Travelling to or around British Columbia, what could be a better Halloween treat than a brush with the paranormal? What better way to relish the fall season than to take yourself on a stroll through a desolate graveyard at dusk, snoop through an old castle or manor on a stormy evening, or lurk around an alley famous for public hangings lorded over by ghosts of centuries past? Sure, we don't have an equivalent to Stonehenge, or for that matter any post-colonial structures that are much more than 150 years old, but make no mistake: BC is home to plenty a creepy place.
I'm from Victoria, so I'm most familiar with our typical "haunts"…but I've heard stories from across the province that would make anyone's skin crawl. In fact, the Wild West has all the makings for a good ghost population: a shady railroad history that claimed many casualties along the way, abandoned mining towns with gold-rush era hotels and abandoned Bawdy Houses, World War II internment camps in the BC Interior, a few high profile serial killers over the years, and plenty of murder-suicide dramas among our blue-blooded forefathers. If you're starting to rethink your holiday on account of all the morbidity, don't fret; by daylight this is a beautiful and welcoming province! Just don't find yourself wandering the halls of Colwood's Hatley Castle alone, or take to lingering after hours at The Keg Steakhouse in New Westminster.
All right, if you're still reading this it's probably because we share the same fascination with the supernatural, so I'll let you in on some of the best places to rub shoulders with some of BC's most notorious ghosts. Aside from the places I'm about to highlight, another good way to discover haunted spots is to ask the locals from whichever community you're visiting. Lots of cities also offer haunted walking tours or guided trips and events to the best spooky places. When all else fails, there's always the town cemetery!
In the Kootenays, The Langham Cultural Centre in Kaslo was built as a hotel in 1896, and after various other incarnations became an Internment House for Japanese Canadians during the Second World War. It is said to be haunted by the spirit of a young Japanese girl who died at the house after an accident on the stairs. People have heard the sound of a ball bouncing, little footsteps running back and forth, and sensed a general presence of a friendly ghost who plays tricks like turning lights on and off. Mission's heritage park in the Fraser Valley is home to a graveyard that has long been a source of cult and ritualistic activity throughout the years. An angry spirit can be sensed wandering throughout the park at night, often leaving people so spooked they never go back. The Chinlac massacre site, near Vanderhoof in Northern BC, is the fabled (and archaeologically confirmed) location of a massive slaughter in the late 1700s where an entire community of women and children were killed––and some say filleted and cannibalized––by rival southern Chilcotin natives while their men were out hunting. This strike prompted a similar revenge attack which took place later on, someplace nearby. Today, the entire area leaves a sense of desolation and eeriness among both campers (who often end up packing up and leaving in the middle of the night due to fright) and the archaeologists who come to dig through the remains.
Water Street in downtown Vancouver is said to be haunted by the ghost of a headless Asian mineworker who was decapitated after a tragic fall on the nearby railway. Gastown's Old Spaghetti Factory sits on top of the site of a historic train crash, and over the years countless reports from restaurant staff claim the ghost of a man can be seen sitting in the restaurant's trolley car, rearranging the cutlery. The famous Hotel Vancouver isn't only known for its historical prominence and unparalleled service. The Lady In Red is the resident ghost; when the hotel elevator makes frequent unscheduled stops on the 14th floor, a lady's figure wearing a red dress can often be seen floating down the hallway. Take in a show at The Orpheum Theatre in Vancouver and see if you can spot the ghost of the acrobat who died during a Vaudeville act.
If you're looking for the most paranormal bang for your buck, New Westminster, in Greater Vancouver seems to be a ghostly hotspot (or cold spot, so to speak). Ghosts have been reported in many places including Fleetwood Elementary School; New Westminster Secondary School, where several boys have died throughout the years in various accidents (one in the pool, one in the woodworking shop; their ghosts are often seen in the hallways or in the case of the boy who drowned, floating face down in the basement pool only to disappear seconds later); Irving House; Bernie Legge Theatre, home of the "Lady in White"; The Keg Steakhouse which is supposedly haunted by a young girl and a lady whose face can be seen in the mirror; 12th St, the site of a teenager's suicide years ago; and Sapperton, where a state prison used to stand.
Vancouver Island has more than a few ghosts, haunting various locations around Victoria and elsewhere. Some of the Island's famous haunted spots include the Dunsmuir family's Craigdarroch Castle, where after hours the piano can be heard playing by itself, and Hatley Castle––another former Dunsmuir property––where the ghost of a maid who committed suicide after an affair gone wrong can be seen around the property, and the ghost of Laura Dunsmuir who seems to haunt the castle's main hallways. The Royal Victoria Golf Course is supposedly haunted by the ghost of Doris Gravlin, The April Ghost, who was murdered in 1936 by her ex-husband, who then killed himself. People walking through the golf course at night or driving nearby have seen a lady floating along the green and hovering around the road. Bastion Square was the local site for hangings in downtown Victoria. Today, the square still maintains an eeriness and people have spotted ghosts nearby. The James Bay Inn in Victoria is said to be haunted by various ghosts, including that of the painter Emily Carr, who was a resident at one time.
Unfortunately, after an introductory smattering of haunted places I'm well over my allotted word count and it's getting late, very late. In fact, it's nearly midnight, and with all this talk of spirits I think I'll grab my flashlight and EMF meter and hit Ross Bay Cemetery... See you there, right?
*Main Image: Cemetery in Courtenay on Vancouver Island, British Columbia
What could be a better Halloween treat than a brush with the paranormal?
"The greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time" - Bill Bryson