With Halloween just over a week and a half away, we thought we’d cast a spotlight on some of Vancouver’s most haunted places. Who better to ask about the paranormal than Founder & Chief Storyteller Will Woods at Forbidden Vancouver? Will weighed in, listing seven publicly haunted places. Why not visit each before deciding whether these landmarks are just plain eerie or definitely haunted.
Hotel Vancouver, Downtown
Wandering Vancouver’s main thoroughfares, visitors and residents will no doubt pass by Vancouver’s iconic Hotel Vancouver. Constructed in French Chateau style, it’s one of the most handsome feature of the city’s skyline.
What you may not know, is that it effectively replaced the second Hotel Vancouver, which stood at West Georgia and Howe. The second Hotel Vancouver was actually the grander hotel, but was demolished as part of the deal to build the third Hotel Vancouver. The owners were worried that Vancouver couldn’t support two large high-end hotels downtown – mad! The third (and current) hotel opened its doors in 1939.
Hotels this old are typically storied and Hotel Vancouver is no exception. The lore speaks of a resident ghost. She’s nicknamed “the Lady in Red” and is said to make occasional and fleeting appearances. Guests staying on the 14th floor should keep their eye out as she disappears into the elevators.
Speaking with hotel staff, a member of the engineering team told Will that one day he saw a young woman in a red dress appear from seemingly nowhere. Just a few feet in front of him, she walked right through a closed elevator door.
Who is the Lady in Red? There’s speculation she is the ghost of Jennie Pearl Cox. Cox was a glamorous Vancouver socialite who apparently died in a gruesome car accident directly outside the hotel in the early 1940s. Legend says that following her death she promptly took up residence inside the hotel.
Salmagundi West, Gastown
Salmagundi West is one of the oldest and most curious stores in Gastown. Selling eclectica and vintage Vancouver memorabilia, it’s housed in the flat-iron building at 321 West Cordova Street. The building dates back to 1889. Beneath ground-level lies an original vault, with earth floors and a musty smell – a very gothic space in of itself.
What makes it so creepy? Staff recount inexplicable occurrences. They include reports of experiencing peculiar cold blasts of air when opening closet doors. And in 2014 a brass kettle apparently untied itself from its fixture overnight, and was found on the floor the next day. The strange part? There were no signs of a break in or really, any other explanation at all. Most strange! Rumour has it these unexplained occurrences are the result of the husband of the original owner still haunting the premises. What he wants, the staff aren’t sure…
Sam Kee Building, Chinatown
The recently refurbished Sam Kee Building on West Pender Street is famously heralded as the “narrowest commercial building in the world.” Built by Kee in 1913 as a coffee house, its narrowness was a function of the City of Vancouver seizing the land under the former building in order to widen Pender Street. Mr. Kee was left with a narrow strip of land but was damned if the city was going to close his business down, so he rebuilt on what was left.
Will says, “There aren’t too many documented reports of ghosts in or around the building that I’m aware of, but I personally had a strange experience there. While standing directly outside waiting at the lights on Pender to change, facing away from the building, I felt a firm push in the back. When I immediately turned around to see who had pushed me, there was nobody with 10 feet of me. I’m naturally a sceptic when it comes to ghost stories, but it remains to this day something I cannot explain. I’ve featured the building myself on walking tours through the area, so I hope it wasn’t the ghost of Mr. Kee telling me to get lost!”
We have a feeling after reading this, readers walking along Cordova Street will keep an ear open for eerie sounds. There’s a local legend that crying can seemingly be heard from storm drains and beneath manhole covers from time to time on Cordova Street. What’s the lore behind the anguished weeping?
The Great Fire of 1886 features heavily on our Lost Souls of Gastown walking tour. It was an intense, violent blaze that burned Gastown to the ground in only 20 minutes. The city archives have many documented accounts of various unfortunate people that met their demise that day. The saddest is probably the mother and baby who climbed down a well on Cordova Street to escape the fire, but then suffocated after the flames ate up all the oxygen.
Having lead many tours through the area, Woods concedes that he’s never heard any crying. He has however met people who insist they have. (Admittedly they might have had one drink too many after a night in one of Gastown’s watering holes!) Will suggests his own theory: the story became part of the city’s folklore right after the fire – based on the unfortunate demise of the mother and baby – and has been passed down through the generations ever since.
Grand Hotel – 24 Water Street, Gastown
Formerly an antiques flea market and now a high-end retailer, 24 Water Street was originally the Grand Hotel. In the 1880s, Vanocuver was a rough-and-ready town growing fast on railway money.
The history of the hotel goes something like this. The proprietor of the hotel was a notorious blaggard by the name of Tommy Roberts, famous for conning money out of drunk loggers in town for a good time. Reportedly he made hotel patrons arrange their return transit to camp upon arrival and pay in full, knowing the men would oftentimes gamble their last pennies away. (Games of chance that may well have been fixed by the hotelier himself!) Ultimately, Tommy met his demise when he was shot during a poker game in 1918, aged 42. His murder is shrouded with some mystery.
Nowadays, there are various accounts of strange happenings in the store where the hotel once stood. Occurrences date back several years. Oddly, furniture and other boutique items are often re-arranged when no one’s looking. Whether Tommy’s ghost occupies his time by moving furniture around is conjecture. Perhaps he is endlessly looking for something he left in the store, before he was inconveniently shot?
Old Spaghetti Factory, Gastown
This restaurant is a popular one in Gastown…though little do casual diners know, it allegedly has four different ghosts in residence! Would you like a side of blatantly haunted with your pasta? Old Spaghetti Factory staff are acutely familiar with the lore.
Which form do the apparitions take? There’s a street car conductor, a mischievous red-headed fellow known as “little red man”, a young boy apparently named Edward, and a talkative girl holding a balloon.
The building that houses the restaurant was built by W. H. Malkin as the warehouse for his grocery company. He was also the city’s mayor for a time. Perhaps the various ghosts are all waiting around to complain to Mr Malkin about mouldy groceries they bought from him, or to register their disgruntlement with his mayoral decisions. Who knows.
Vogue Theatre, Granville Street
Theatres are often cited as haunted, and the Vogue Theatre on Granville Street certainly has the title of the most haunted in Vancouver. The Art Deco theatre was built in the 1941 as a cinema and is a National Historic Site of Canada. Today it is a live music venue.
Former manager Bill Allman is quoted on the Ghosts of Vancouver website as saying “I was locking up the carpentry room in the basement, and got that distinct feeling that someone was behind me. I turned around and I saw what I describe as a three dimensional shadow go by the door. So I scrambled out into the hall, and there was no one there. I was the only one around. I left the theatre relatively quickly after that. I believe I set a speed record that day!”