Local haunts

By Jane Zatylny

At twilight on a midsummer’s night, the setting sun paints an eerie light against the slate grey sky. “How apropos,” I think as I join a throng of tourists and locals who are assembling at Victoria’s Inner Harbour. About two dozen of us have gathered for a “Ghostly Walk ” to learn spooky secrets about the capital city’s back alleys, side streets, and heritage buildings.

Our guide, local historian and author John Adams, has been leading tours through Victoria’s most haunted places with his company, Discover the Past, since 1970. With a final glance at his watch and tap of his skull-capped cane, Adams clears his throat and offers some introductory words: “Welcome to the most haunted city in the Pacific Northwest,” he begins. “There are hundreds and hundreds of ghost stories about Victoria.”

Adams holds us rapt as he explains why Victoria is such prime ghost territory. “When people die, they leave behind energy. That energy is all around us.” He turns and points to the coastal scene below us. “We’re surrounded by saltwater. It holds energy and acts as a conductor.” To demonstrate his point, Adams asks us to move our hands apart—toward the people standing next to us—then slowly bring them back together. “You can feel it,” he insists, adding that it took him a few tries to do so himself.

Properly primed with this icebreaker, we head up Humboldt Street, past the Empress Hotel, to the first stop on our 90-minute tour.

As we stroll through the city’s downtown core, Adams regales us with ghost stories (no spoilers here). We stop and gaze with fresh eyes at the exterior façades of private clubs, theatres, churches, and grand hotels—places where ghosts are known to congregate.

Bells from Christ Church Cathedral, two blocks away, peal as we approach the elegant 100-year-old Royal Theatre. Before launching into his next tale, Adams asks us a simple question: how many of us have seen or felt the presence of a ghost? Eight people raise their hands. “Twenty percent. That’s pretty much in keeping with the general public,” he nods, adding that ghosts can make themselves known by scent, sound, or even by possessing an object that you bring into your home. “If you haven’t seen or felt a ghost, you’ve come to the right city,” he says, before leading us to another haunt.

As with many wildlife tours, there are no guaranteed sightings during a Ghostly Walk. But that’s okay with me. Generations and generations of people have called this place home—Aboriginal people, miners from the Gold Rush days, and early settlers, like James Douglas (see our profile of the “Father of British Columbia,” p. 57), from the Hudson’s Bay Company. Along with the stories of murder, mayhem, and heartbreak, I’ve learned some fascinating details about Victoria’s earliest inhabitants—and about its past. History came alive for me in these few blocks; I’ll never walk these streets again in quite the same way.

In our feature story, “Witchy Victoria,” beginning on p.32, writer John Threlfall explains why the capital city not only attracts ghosts, but witches, too. We hope you enjoy this issue.

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Christine Ly

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