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  • Writer's pictureMathieu Powell

Ghosts and the Paranormal in Victoria BC

My kids love this time of year! Not just the ridiculous overload of candy, the gaudy plastic, and cardboard costumes and the scary (but age appropriate) movies which scare me but doesn’t seem to faze them; they love the idea of ghosts and hauntings and scary things that go “bump” in the night. When I revealed the fact Victoria is the MOST haunted place in B.C., they were absolutely delighted and enthralled. They wanted to go on a field trip to find those ghosts as quickly as possible.

A bit of research revealed almost every building in the downtown core is haunted, and most of the paranormal activities center around what was once Fort Victoria. Today, the old center of the city is known as Bastion Square, and every building around the square boasts paranormal activity.

Back in the days of the gold rush, when rampant greed and speculation sometimes led men to run afoul of the law, condemned prisoners were walked in chains through the square to the courthouse and hung behind the Old Provincial Courthouse in Victoria’s gallows. The executed men were buried in unmarked graves which lie still under the building which eventually became the Maritime Museum until 2014. Judge Begbie, “The Hanging Judge” who presided over the hangings, along with those he condemned to death now haunt 28 Bastion Square.

Helmcken Alley leads onto Bastion Square and used to be the jail house. In 1850, a prisoner being transported was beaten by a guard with a grudge, and now the man’s ghost haunts the alley. Many have witnessed his spectral form or heard the clanking of the chains he still wears.

Garrick's Head Pub is where those doomed for the gallows had their last meal. The somber, hungry ghosts are sometimes joined by the pub’s former owner, Mike Powers who, one dark night in the early 1900s, was brutally murdered by two attackers. His ghost shows up in his easy chair by the fireplace on chilly nights.

“The Old Burying Ground” was a cemetery from 1855 to 1873 before it became Pioneer Square. It is reported to still contain more than 1,300 bodies beneath its surface. When it was turned into a city park around 1908, the city council removed dozens of stone markers without exhuming the bodies. The new park’s manager resigned soon after. The official story is he resigned due to the community’s anger, but some suspect the real reason he retired was because he was haunted by the spirits of these desecrated graves, who wander the park to this day.

Francis Rattenbury designed the Empress Hotel, the Parliament Buildings and other icon heritage sites. Unfortunately, his personal life didn’t reflect his professional excellence. After he moved to England and fell into difficult financial times, he was killed when his young wife savagely attacked him. He was laid to rest in an unmarked grave, and his wife killed herself with multiple stabs by a dagger to her chest, before throwing herself into a river. Rattenbury’s apparition haunts the buildings he designed looking for the recognition he never found in England.

If fact, The Empress is haunted by many ghosts! Along with architect Francis Rattenbury, a maid on the sixth floor also still cleans after death, and a construction worker who hung himself in what are now the luxury suites. A lost and forlorn elderly woman knocks on doors, then leads people who offer to help her toward the elevator, and then she vanishes. It is believed she once rented a long-term room, died of old age within, but now wanders lost because the room she inhabited was demolished to make room for an elevator.

The childhood home of Emily Carr is now a museum. The famous painter’s ghost might not appreciate this. Volunteers have reported art flying off the walls when they try to hang a new exhibit. Emily died of a stroke in 1945. Her room was in what is now the men’s washrooms in the James Bay Pub. Emily Carr’s ghost is sometimes seen floating around the pub and in some of the first-floor bedrooms.

The Bent Mast was once a rooming home, a brothel, an erotic art gallery and four restaurants. Many ghosts have been seen here; a happy child, a cranky, mischievous old man, and matronly figure on the main floor. Visitors report feeling pushed or dizzy on the second floor.

Between 1863-1970’s. St. Ann's Academy was a Residential School for First Nation girls. There are reports of children’s voices, a tolling bell, a young woman dressed in white on the front lawn, and nuns who passed away and were buried on the grounds.

Interestingly, the Gate of Harmonious interest in Chinatown was built to scare away evil spirits. However, many still feel the ghosts of the past as they pass through Fan Tan Alley, the center of opium dens and gambling rooms for Chinese men who were often separated from their families.

Did you know a stream once ran through Market Square, separating what is now Johnson Street from Pandora Avenue? The stream was diverted underground, but the hidden water still acts as a conduit for the paranormal. Poltergeist of fortune seekers still under sway of gold fever gather in the square to be seen by the living.

Many famous people are buried at the Ross Bay Cemetery, including Emily Carr, Sir Douglas, David Fee, and Isabella Ross who owned the farm where the cemetery now stands. Their ghosts, along with an elderly couple dressed in their Victorian finest haunt the cemetery.

The Royal Victoria Golf Course is where you will find the “April Ghost,” Doris Gravlin, who had separated from her alcoholic husband. Her strangled body was found shoeless on the golf course and Victor, her husband, was found floating in the ocean near the golf course a month later with Doris’s shoes in his pocket. Doris often shows up at the 7th hole between 9:30pm and 10pm. But be warned! Do not go looking for her if you are engaged to be married. It is said an unmarried couple will never wed if they see her.

Craigdarroch Castle is a centre of paranormal activity. Many visitors have reported moving objects, whispering, a child sobbing, and a piano playing on its own. Most believe Joan Dunsmuir’s spirit inhabits the castle, often seen as a woman in a white dress standing alone by a window in the ballroom.

Hatley Castle is also a famous location for ghosts. Built by James Dunsmuir for his wife Laura and large family of 12 children. When WWI broke out, Jim, the youngest son of James and Laura Dunsmuir, was eager to serve, despite his parents’ protests. He boarded the RMS Lusitania which was torpedoes by a German U-boat on the way to England. Jim’s body was never found. James was heartbroken by the death of his son and shortly after, he died still mourning his loss.

While Royal Roads was a military college, cadets reported the apparition of Laura Dunsmuir searching their faces in the dorms and occasionally pulling them from their beds. Some think Mrs. Dunsmuir was seeking her departed son or trying to prevent other young men from going to war. Countless supernatural stories such as these prompted Royal Roads University staff to call in a paranormal research society to explore the castle!

Many restless spirits inhabit William Head Prison. When it was a maximum-security prison, one of its unfortunate inmates was beheaded by his peers. They threw his head into the sea and tried to dispose of his body before being discovered. The headless ghost has haunted terrified prisoners ever since. Before William Head became a prison it was a Chinese internment camp where Chinese men made their first stop, were processed, hosed down and given their shots before being indentured into slavery to build our railroads. Many came to an untimely end, and to this day, there are still graves of unidentified people at the site.

These are only a few of the ghosts and famous haunts in and around Victoria. If you have seen or heard any ghostly apparitions, write us about it! We’d enjoy hearing from you.

Wishing you a happy, haunted Halloween!

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