For those who didn’t know, Victoria is considered one of most haunted cities in British Columbia.
Almost every building in the downtown core has a ghost story.
Some say it’s a result of our Wild West beginnings during the Gold Rush, when the streets were full of fortune hunters, pleasure houses, saloons, public hangings, and opium dens – back when vice was around every corner.
Or perhaps the desecration of native burial sites released spirits that could not rest. Maybe it is the position of alleged “ley lines” in the area – natural rock formations – and the surrounding salt water believed to be a conductor of paranormal energy.
Whatever the reason, Victoria’s spooky reputation has stuck around for years. So, in anticipation of Halloween, we’ve compiled some of the most famous active locations of paranormal activity in the city.
As can be expected, most center around what was once Fort Victoria, the foundation of our town.
1 – Bastion Square
Bastion Square, in the heart of Victoria’s Old Town, is considered the most haunted part of the city. Formerly known as Fort Victoria, these are the grounds from which the city of Victoria grew.
Prisoners were once transported through the square to the courthouse, jail, and for hangings behind the Maritime Museum. Almost every building around the historic square is believed to host some level of paranormal activity.
2 – Former Maritime Museum Location
Considered the most haunted edifice in Bastion Square, the old Provincial Courthouse (Formerly the Maritime Museum Location) was built on the site of Victoria’s gallows.
The bodies of executed men who were buried in unmarked graves still lie under the building. Judge Begbie (who has come to be called “The Hanging Judge”) presided over the hangings during the town’s Wild West days. He, as well as former inmates, are believed to haunt the building.
3 – Helmcken Alley
Helmcken Alley that leads onto Bastion Square, used to be the site of a jail, where those scheduled to be hanged were housed. It is believed that in the 1850’s a prisoner was being transported when a guard beat him and he died in the alley. Many who walk here claim to have been followed by a man in chains or to hear the sound of rattling.
4 – Rithet Building
Right behind Helmcken Alley, in the basement of the Rithet Building, is the site of the original Fort water well. Legend has it that in 1858 a young First Nations boy was paid by a miner to retrieve a kettle he had dropped into the well. Unfortunately the boy slipped and fell, and was buried by falling debris.
In 1978 while the buildings were being renovated, the well was uncovered and restored as a centerpiece. It is believed that the boy’s spirit was then released and can be seen walking and playing around the lobby, before disappearing into the well.
4 – Garrick’s Head Pub
The pub was a place where many of those heading for the gallows had their last meal, on Judge Begbie no less, who was actually not too fond of the death penalty.
However, its main ghost is believed to be that of former owner, Mike Powers, who was ambushed and brutally murdered by two attackers over 100 years ago. He can be seen resting by the fireplace on chilly nights.
5 – Former Camille’s Restaurant in Bastion Square
Two ghosts are said to be active in this former restaurant. They are thought to be the ghosts of a man named “Brady” and his companion “Lady Churchill” or “Charlotte” who dined here regularly, before Brady came to a violent end.
One night, Brady was waiting for Charlotte at the pub when he got into a fight. His opponent smashed a bottle and slashed Brady’s throat. He staggered out behind the pub and soon after died from his injury. Many believe that Brady and Lady Churchill meet here again and again to relive their happy times together. They can be detected by the sudden smell of cigar smoke and heavy perfume.
6 – Old Morris Tobacconist
Old Morris Tobacconist is a sumptuous heritage building with original polished wood cabinets, onyx pillars, and leaded glass. It is thought to be haunted by the ghost of a former employee, who died suddenly in the upstairs workshop. His footsteps and the sound of cupboard doors opening and closing are often heard when no one is upstairs. Poltergeist activity has also been reported, such as items flying off shelves and lightbulbs exploding. Strange activity and feeling of being watched, also occur in the basement.
His footsteps and the sound of cupboard doors opening and closing are often heard when no one is upstairs. Poltergeist activity has also been reported, such as items flying off shelves and lightbulbs exploding. Strange activity and feeling of being watched also occur in the basement.
7 – Murchie’s Tea and Coffee
John Murchie established his blended teas in Canada’s west in the 1890’s. Toward the back of the shop there is a set of stairs leading down to Langley Street.
The cause of Murchie’s abnormal activity is unclear. Though it looks normal enough, the Langley Street staircase is apparently inhabited by a poltergeist. Lower doors slam out of nowhere, small objects are thrown by unseen hands, and the adjacent elevator mysteriously activates itself.
8 – Roger’s Chocolates
The location of the original Roger’s, where Charles and Leah Rogers started making chocolates in the back of their grocery store in 1885.
Originally, the couple did not make milk chocolate, which Charles loathed, but the company began to make it after their deaths.
Thereafter employees regularly found milk chocolate strewn on the floor, as well as items rearranged. Once, a customer who had thrown out a sample he did not like, felt it flung on the back of his head – yet nobody was behind him.
Another mysterious incident saw the unexplained appearance of a child’s handprint on the mirror in the a corner of the store.
9 – Royal Theatre
The 1913 turn-of-the-century European-style building has seen some of the world’s greatest performances. It is also the site of ghostly activity, with the apparition of a man sighted and attendees feeling “stabbed.”
10 – Pioneer Square
Also known as “The Old Burying Ground” Pioneer Square was a cemetery from 1855 to 1873 and still contains more than 1,300 bodies beneath its surface.
When it was deactivated as a burial site and turned into a city park around 1908, the council simply removed dozens of stone markers, and the park’s manager at the time resigned after community anger. The spirits of those desecrated graves are believed to wander the park.
The ghost of Adelaide Griffin, Victoria’s first official ghost sighting, on Christmas 1861 haunts the grounds. Robert Johnson, who slit his throat in a house across the street in the 1870s, can also occasionally be seen reenacting his death.
11 – The Parliament Buildings
Following a scandalous personal life that included a divorce, affair and apparent mistreatment of his former wife, the famous architect Francis Rattenbury escaped to England. When he encountered financial woes, his new young wife began an affair with their teenage chauffeur, who then killed Rattenbury in a savage attack.
The architect was laid to rest in an unmarked grave. His young wife then killed herself with multiple stabs by a dagger to her chest, before throwing herself into a river.
Rattenbury’s apparition – a thin man with a mustache, walking with a cane – can be seen from time to time. He is believed to have come back to the sites of his former glory days to get the recognition he did not find in England. Look for him at the Parliament Buildings and The Empress Hotel.
12 – Helmcken House
Built in 1852, Helmcken House is the original family home of Dr. John Sebastian Helmcken, the first doctor in the city. When he became gravelly ill, to comfort him, his daughter Dolly would play the piano late into the night.
After he passed away, she maintained his room just as he had left it. At night the sound of the piano can still be heard and Dolly is sometimes seen floating past the attic windows. Some visitors report seeing Dr. Helmcken join his daughter at the piano.
13 – The Empress Hotel
Victoria’s landmark hotel is thought to be haunted by multiple ghosts! Along with architect Francis Rattenbury iwalking the halls (See The Parliament Buildings above). A maid on the sixth floor also still cleans after death.
During the 1960’s, a construction worker saw a shadowy figure swinging from the ceiling, it turned out another worker had hanged himself there a year earlier. The area in question was converted into luxury suites.
Guests have also reported an elderly woman knocking on doors and looking lost. She leads those helping her toward the elevator. At one time the Empress, in order to generate income, rented its rooms to those looking for long-term accommodation, which often included the elderly. She is thought to have been one such long-term resident who died of old age and then haunted her room. That room, however, was demolished to make space for an elevator, leaving her lost in the hotel.
14 – The Gatsby Mansion
The Queen Anne style home of the Pendray family is reported to be haunted by a father and son. William J. Pendray had built a soap factory on sacred Songhees burial land. The soap factory burned down the day it was set to open.
He then rebuilt a new factory on the same site, this time with pipes in the ceiling for sprinklers. A pipe came loose and smashed him in the head, killing him instantly. One of his sons also killed when he was thrown by a horse. People who stay in room 15 – the Gatsby Mansion’s honeymoon suite – are often terrified by a floating head disrupting their sleep.
15 – Emily Carr House
The childhood home of Emily Carr and a place of some of her happiest memories, today the house is a museum. However, the ghost of the famous painter has apparently been back to visit over the years. Prior to the provincial government buying the house, it was used as an arts centre. Volunteers reported that every time they tried to hang exhibits up for a new show, the pieces would fly off the walls.
16 – James Bay Inn
Operating since 1911, between 1942-1945 the hotel was run as a priory by a Catholic order. Emily Carr came to stay as a patient, following a stroke. She painted in what is now the upstairs lobby and her portrait on the wall greets visitors.
On March 2, 1945, Emily died of another stroke. Her room was where the men’s washrooms are now in the James Bay Inn Pub.
The hotel is supposedly the site of very strong paranormal activity. People report a feeling of being watched, phones ringing at odd hours of the night, lights flickering, and a fire upstairs turning itself on. Emily Carr’s ghost is sometimes also seen floating around the pub and in some of the first floor bedrooms, particularly haunting anyone who criticizes her artwork!
17 – Beacon Hill Park
One of Victoria’s most famous hauntings, and to date an unsolved murder: The Beacon Hill Doppelganger.
In the late 1970’s, witnesses saw a tanned woman with long blonde hair standing on top of a rock around the Superior and Douglas entrance, with her arms above her head and mouth wide open, looking up at the sky. This went on for many months.
Then, in November 1983, a body was found in a shallow grave under some bushes near the rock where the blonde woman had been. Shortly after that, a woman with fair skin and long dark hair was seen standing on the same rock morning after morning, repeating the behavior of the woman from the 1970’s. She looked like the woman who had been murdered and was the exact inverted image of the earlier apparition. Except – there was no doubt about it – she was not a real human. Hence the name Doppelganger, which is a German word for one’s double and considered to be a harbinger of death.
18 – The Bent Mast Pub
The Bent Mast is a James Bay restaurant and pub in a 1884 house. The house has been – at different times – a rooming home, a brothel, four different restaurants, and an erotic art gallery. Staff openly acknowledge the presence of several ghosts! There’s a happy child, a cranky old man who hides things in the kitchen and harasses women, and an older, matronly figure on the main floor who gives the pub warmth.
The second floor, where the washrooms and meeting room are, is also an area of strong ghostly activity. Visitors report feeling dizzy, pressure in their chest, and even somebody pushing them to leave.
19 – St Ann’s Academy
Founded in 1858, the academy was originally a convent, but from 1863-1970’s also operated as a Residential School for First Nation girls.
People have heard children’s voices and described an eeriness in many parts of the complex. A young woman who died there from an illness has been seen dressed in white standing by the sun-dial on the front lawn. Visitors have also heard the bell toll mysteriously and there was even a report of (the busy spectr!) of Emily Carr.
Nuns who passed away were buried on the grounds of St. Ann’s, until 1908, when a plot in the northeast corner of Ross Bay Cemetery was opened for them. The sisters who had been buried at St. Ann’s before the new cemetery was established were finally moved to Ross Bay in 1974. Some say they have seen the ghosts of nuns on the grounds, which may be due to the original graveyard.
20 – Fan Tan Alley
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 make their way down Canada’s narrowest street – Fan Tan Alley.
Once the center of opium dens and “Fan Tan” gambling rooms, a young Chinese man pushed his way through and hid here after killing a prostitute. She had spurned his advances, and in revenge he brutally killed her. She was given a proper burial, in order to appease her spirit and there have never been reports of her haunting. The man, however, is said to still run down Fan Tan Alley, pushing people out of his way.
21 – Market Square
In the late 1800s, Market Square teemed with sailors and gold prospectors seeking adventure and fortune. It was bustling with hotels, saloons, and shops that outfitted thousands of miners on their way to the Klondike gold fields.
Until about 1900, a ravine and stream ran through Market Square, separating what is now Johnson Street from Pandora Avenue, before it was diverted underground. This is significant, as many believe water is a conduit for the paranormal!
The square is known to be a central haunt for numerous spirits, believed to be those of past fortune seekers. Each store within the market has allegedly experienced poltergeist activity and sightings of various ghosts.
22 – McPherson Playhouse
Staff openly admit that this theater is actively haunted. A “man in grey” believed to be a previous manager who took his own life has been seen.
Numerous other spirits are reported to roam the building. A specter called “The Frenchman” appears outside on the corner of the street in October. Poltergeist activity, such as objects being moved, has also been reported.
23 – Hotel Rialto
Formerly called Hotel Douglas, the building was constructed in 1911 by a Chinese merchant. It closed in 2007, and after extensive renovations, reopened as Hotel Rialto in 2009. Behind the front desk is the only door to the basement. In the past, the basement was briefly used as a morgue. Employees have reported an mysterious knocking on the door, despite nobody being in the basement.
24 – Tapa Bar
Located n Trounce Alley, the lane itself has a colorful history. Built privately by Thomas Trounce, the alley gave him access to buildings he owned on either side of the alley. The City forced him to put up gates at each end to keep it “private.”
Secure and well lit, it became a popular rendezvous point for prostitutes and their clients. Tapa Bar staff and customers have reported seeing a woman in period costume under tables. Lights in the washroom have also been observed flickering.
25 – Langham Court Theatre
A popular theater for plays and musicals, this Rockland building started life as the carriage house and barn of “The Laurels” – the home of the Robert Ward family, built in 1876. There is an apparition called “The Lady in the Loft” which has been seen by both performers and patrons.
26 – Ross Bay Cemetery
Ross Bay is one of the most visually arresting cemeteries in British Columbia, as well as the final resting place of Emily Carr and Sir Douglas, among many others. Some believe its ghostly activity is a result of it’s proximity to the sea – salt water conducting spirits!
Ross Bay Cemetery is noted for several resident ghosts, including: Isabella Ross, the first woman in British Columbia to own land, whose farm stood where the cemetery is now and after whom it takes its name; David Fee – who was murdered on the steps of St. Andrew’s Cathedral on Christmas Eve in 1890; and a mysterious, elderly couple dressed in fancy Victorian attire who sometimes glide along the western side of the cemetery.
27 – Royal Victoria Golf Course
The golf course has the most well-known spirit in Victoria, called the “April Ghost.” Doris Gravlin was a thirty-year-old nurse and mother, who had separated from her alcoholic husband, a former reporter named Victor.
One day in September of 1936, they arranged a meeting to discuss a reconciliation. Her severely beaten and shoeless body was found days later on the golf course by a caddie and showed signs of strangulation. Her husband was also missing and his body was found floating in the ocean near the golf course a month later. He had Doris’s shoes in his pocket.
There have been many sightings of her apparition, typically in March, and why she became the “April” ghost is a mystery. The 7th hole is where she is often seen. She appears in many forms, from wearing a simple brown suit in the afternoon, to a white apparition later at night. Between 9:30pm and 10pm is the most common time to catch a glimpse of her.
She sometimes plays havoc with motorists passing the golf course when she crosses the street and even enters their cars. It is believed that if an unmarried couple see her, they will never wed.
28 – Glenlyon Norfolk School (junior campus)
The former home of architect (and famous apparition) Francis Rattenbury is now the junior campus of Glenlyon Norfolk School. The caretaker has arrived in the morning to hear mysterious noises and footsteps in the school but no trespassing alarms go off. Cold spots and moving objects such as books in the library have also been reported. Others have seen white hands and figures near the large tree next to the building, and apparitions in the windows.
29 – Craigdarroch Castle
Built in the late 1800’s by coal baron Robert Dunsmuir, Craigdarroch is now a National Historic Site. But many visitors feel this castle is also a hub of ghostly activity! The building saw countless souls pass through its walls while it served as a military hospital, a college, government offices, and music conservatory.
Joan, the wife of Robert Dunsmuir, is thought to be one of the apparitions that appear. Some report hearing whispers, objects moving right in front of them, a child sobbing, and the piano playing on its own. Phantom burning candles are often smelled, as this was the scent that Joan enjoyed.
People have also reported seeing a woman in a white dress standing alone by a window in the ballroom. You can now even take a Google street view tour of the interior of the castle and perhaps see something other eyes have missed!
30 – Point Ellice House
Point Ellice House is a Victorian museum set amidst restored gardens and located beside the Gorge waterway. The house was home to the O’Reilly family for 125 years. It is believed to be haunted by the O’Reilly’s, perhaps because of its proximity to water (conduit for paranormal activity), the noise and chaos of the industrial zone in which it now exists, or the tragic accident that happened right near its shore.
Children and adults have reported being given tours by members of the family. A woman in a blue dress has been one such mystery tour guide – Kathleen O’Reilly wore the same blue dress. Voices have also been heard.
The house is also located across from the former Point Ellice Bridge (Bay Street Bridge) which collapsed on May 26, 1896, due to an overloaded street car. 55 people perished in the water nearby, making it the worst accident in Canadian transit history. There are reports of a mysterious red glow that appears at night above the water where the passengers perished.
31 – Hatley Castle
Hatley Castle was built in 1908 for Lieutenant Governor James Dunsmuir and his wife Laura. The first ghost sighting was by their daughter Eleanor, who saw a spirit of a young man in the Japanese garden, who she believed was her brother Jim Jr., who had died in battle.
Eventually, the castle was turned into a naval military academy. Many of the cadets quickly reported being dragged by someone out of bed in the middle of the night. Some think this was Mrs. Dunsmuir trying to prevent these young men from going to war, or perhaps she was searching for her departed soldier son.
There are also reports that the Dunsmuir’s servant Annabelle can be seen near the third floor window, where she committed suicide after being jilted by a lover. Pots have also been heard banging in the vacant kitchen, and a white figure has drifted by. Ten years ago, countless such stories even prompted Royal Roads University staff to call in a paranormal research society to explore the castle!
Have you seen or experienced anything “paranormal” in any of these places?
Let us know in the comments below!