There’s just something extra special about Victoria. It’s beautiful and peaceful, the people are friendly and the food is phenomenal. But beneath the shiny exterior, lurks a shadowy past full of tragic events, callous characters and grim circumstances. In part one of our two part coverage of haunted places in Victoria we are giving you a list of the top places downtown where hauntings have been reported and the stories of the spirits that may still be with us. Whether you’re staying within walking distance at The Corazon, Harbourview Executive at the Reef, Reef Executive Condo, Beacon Hill View Condo, James Bay Studio Stay, or Seaglass Suite or farther away in Sooke at Pacific Coast Beach House and Suite or up at the Malahat Mountain House, it’s worth the trip to wander through these areas at night!
There is one place in Victoria that has the most dense concentration of alleged hauntings and that’s Bastion Square, right in the heart of Downtown. By day, this square is a picturesque cobbled, heritage square complete with patios, modern art installation and harbour view – but it wasn’t always this way. In 1843, the Hudson Bay Trading Company established a trading post in the heart of Camosun, known today as Victoria, right in the site of Bastion Square. Since then, the square has been the site of murders, hangings and prisoners and was later established as the beautiful pedestrian mall we see today.
This hip cocktail bar, the site of the long standing restaurant Camille’s is said to have two spirits Brady and Charlotte or Lady Churchill. As the story goes, the two were very much in love and one night, they were supposed to meet but Brady got into a raucous bar fight that ended in him being brutally murdered. Since then it has been said that they will come back to that spot to be together once again. When they’re around, waitstaff and patrons have reported experiencing a strong smell of cigar smoke and perfume.
Since it opened its doors right at the entrance of Bastion Square in 1867, the Garrick Head has been a popular drinking spot for Victorians and remains so today! It’s reported that on cold nights, when the pub is quiet and the streets are dark, a man appears by the fire. Always with his back to you, you’ll look and he’s there, look again, and he’s gone. This man is said to be Michael Powers, the pub’s owner in the early 1900’s who was mysteriously murdered over 100 years ago…
Bastion Square has always been a place that drew crowds. But long before it was a beautiful pedestrian mall that drew crowds of visitors and locals to it’s patios and markets, it was the site of the city prison and drew crowds that were there to watch public hangings. These macabre displays would draw hundreds of people and while some of the bodies were identified and claimed for burial with friends and family, many weren’t and those people were buried right there, in Bastion Square. As time went on, these bodies have had buildings erected over them, some have even been recovered as construction took place. Helmcken Alley in particular was where the prisoners were led from the jail to the gallows and people have reported hearing rattling chains and seeing someone following them out of the corner of their eye if they walk through the alley at night.
It’s not surprising that one of the most active locations for ghost sightings is located right in Bastion Square. Long before it became the beloved Maritime Museum in 1965, it was the site of the original city courthouse. Built in 1889, was the first concrete building in Victoria and is said to be haunted by none other than “The Hanging Judge” (a moniker that may not have been entirely deserved) Judge Matthew Begbie, himself. In life, he was known for his no-nonsense approach to upholding the law in the early days of Victoria’s colonization and his staunch defense of Chinese and Aboriginal rights. To all historical accounts, he was tough but fair in his rulings. He was also prone to hyperbole when it came to airing his opinion which may have been a way for him to disseminate the message throughout the Province that he, and the laws of British Columbia, were not to be trifled with. During his tenure, he held court for over 50 murder trials, 27 of which ended in the sentance of death by hanging.
Today, although the courthouse is no more, it is reported that he frequents the museum and is known for keeping the other resident ghosts, mostly former prisoners, in check. He regularly makes his presence known from beyond the grave, especially if he is unimpressed with a visitor’s behaviour in the museum and others have noted a man, similar in appearance to Begbie, standing behind them in pictures taken within the museum. There have been reports that attempts to communicate with Begbie have been successful and people have witnessed incredible phenomena while using a spirit box.
Another spirit that is said to wander the halls of the museum is known as “The Crying Lady”. Although this spirit doesn’t show themselves as often as Begbie, she has been known to present herself to unsuspecting guests who have left the museum in a hurry and are unable to shake an incredible sadness and tearfulness that can last for days. Others have reported that they have been suddenly overwhelmed with emotion and began to cry after visiting the museum and not being able to explain why. Staff have been dealing with strange phenomena that is attributed to The Crying Lady for years and had, on more than one occasion, asked paranormal researchers to come in to help after some particularly disturbing, unexplained disturbances.
Besides these two prominent ghosts, there are reports that the spirits of guards, prisoners, and even children have been experienced by visitors. As if this museum needs more paranormal activity, when the Empress of Ireland exhibit was on display in 2014 the unexplained disturbances reached a fever pitch. The Empress of Ireland is known as the worst peacetime Maritime disaster in Canadian history, on the same scale as the Titanic. On a misty morning on the St. Lawrence river, the Empress of Ireland was on it’s way from Quebec City when it was hit by a Norwegian cargo ship and within minutes, it sank below the waves of the dark St. Lawrence waters. Over one thousand people lost their lives on that disastrous morning. When the Maritime Museum brought the exhibit to Victoria, it was an opportunity for the public to learn about this little known tragedy in Canada’s history. What they didn’t expect is that when a room that had been sealed for over thirty years was opened, it let loose something that began to wreak havoc on the museum. Pictures have been reportedly thrown from the walls, artifacts moved and many visitors report seeing this poltergeist activity during their visits!
Point Ellice Bridge, today more commonly known as the Bay Street Bridge, was the site of a massive street car crash in May, 1896, claiming 55 lives of the 140 passengers. During the annual Victoria Day celebrations, street car number 16 was full of passengers who had, moments before, been waving flags and singing songs on the Point Ellice Bridge when suddenly the wooden bridge gave way plunging the street car into the cold, deep waters of the Upper Harbour. Many were trapped in the car as it made it’s slow descent into the black depths, others were killed by falling debris and others stood helpless as they watched the light of the streetcar grow dimmer and dimmer as it was swallowed by the sea. To this day, it retains the dubious honour of being the worst streetcar accident in North America. There have been many sightings, late at night, of a red light, exactly the same as the one that disappeared into the depths all those years ago, hovering just above the water.
When it comes to Victoria’s list of family owned and operated businesses, Rogers Chocolates takes one of the top spots for longevity. In 1885, Charles Rogers opened a green grocer on Government Street in downtown Victoria. It was a popular shop, not for the fruit and veggies, but for the chocolates that Rogers imported from San Francisco. Rogers soon decided to make the chocolates himself and his first recipe was for the Victoria Creams that are still popular to this day. While Charles and his wife Leah were successful in business, they were worried about one of their sons who was troubled. Their worry was not unfounded as one day, on public transit, he decided to light some explosives. The prank backfired, literally and metaphorically as he was unable to get out of harm’s way fast enough and lost several fingers. In years since, long after the original family passed away, there have been several reports from staff at the original Rogers Chocolates location that a handprint will appear on the monitoring mirror that is installed in the shop. Not only are these mirrors intentionally placed on the ceiling and therefore, have to be accessed by a ladder but the staff noticed that the handprint was always that of someone missing several fingers. After each time the handprint was wiped away, it would appear again only a few days later.
Additionally, there are many reports of rocking chairs in the office moving on their own accord and in one particularly interesting incident, a customer had a chocolate thrown at their head after biting and replacing a chocolate sample that was’t to their liking.
In Chinatown, Fan Tan alley has made appearances in movies and TV shows, and has thousands of people walk through it every year. It’s a very cool part of Victoria’s architectural heritage and has great shops to wander through. But many people also have reported that they have experienced being pushed quite hard while walking through the alley only to look around and see no one close enough to do so and no one looking at them as you would expect if you’d just been pushed off balance. Many historians believe that it could be linked to the story of a young man named Chan, who fell hopelessly in love with a popular entertainer of the time, a slave girl named Yo Gum who was owned by the wealthy and powerful businessman Yo Tang. Chan went to see Yo Gum one night and asked her to marry him, she couldn’t so the next night he gave her a vial of poison to kill Yo Tang and free herself to marry Chan. Yo Gum was far too scared to poison Yo Tang and refused to do as Chan had instructed. Chan watched as admirers of Yo Gum flocked to her apartment and in a rage he took a cleaver and as Yo Gum leaned out her window, beheaded her. Chan ran frantically through the streets and finally turned down Fan Tan alley where his path was blocked by dozens of men who had emerged from the gambling dens to stop Chan. Chan fought with all his strength, pushing through the throng, breaking free and running out the other end of Fan Tan alley. He was later discovered, sentenced and imprisoned where he hung himself. For Yo Gum, an elaborate funeral was arranged by Yo Tang where no expense was spared to try to prevent her spirit from getting caught in our plane. It appeared to have been successful as there have been no reports of hauntings in the building Yo Gum was murdered, but in Fan Tan alley, you might find yourself being pushed out of the way by the spirit of Chan as he forever attempts to run from his heinous crime.