Favourite haunts: Ghost stories from downtown Vancouver
Published Friday, October 27, 2017 4:31PM PDT
Last Updated Friday, November 1, 2019 7:41AM PDT
A brush of cold air in a restaurant, building materials thrown across a room, a headless man holding out a lantern: These are just some stories of the supernatural reported in Vancouver's heritage buildings.
The city has a rich history of lore spanning from the area's original inhabitants – the Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest – to the cultural mosaic it is today.
Millions have lived and died within its borders, and depending who you listen to, some of the area's earlier inhabitants never really left.
Many of the city's older buildings and former gathering places are said to be haunted by those who once walked the hallways, streets and alleys while alive. Experiences with local ghosts range from vague feelings of being watched to full-blown, lifelike apparitions.
Whether you believe in the supernatural or are just looking for entertainment, here is a sample of some of those stories:
One of Vancouver's busiest transit hubs is said to be one of the city's most haunted buildings as well.
Security guards and janitorial staff have reported encounters with the century-old building's paranormal inhabitants, including a woman in red, 1920s-style clothing, swaying to jazz music after the station has closed. Three elderly women have been seen sitting on a bench in the main hall, seemingly uninterested in the living beings inside the building.
- 2019 report: Is this transit hub Vancouver's most haunted spot?
Another story, relayed to CTV News by Ghostly Vancouver Tours owner Stephanie Watts, involves a more active entity.
A security guard was searching the back of a basement storage room with a flashlight. Finding the room empty, he turned back toward the door. While he'd been facing the back wall, someone (or something) had rearranged the boxes and desks being stored in the room, blocking him in.
Another guard had an encounter with an older woman. He was in an old kitchen, where food for the old Canadian Pacific Railway trains used to be prepared, when he found himself face-to-face with the apparition. The woman stared at him intently, then started to float toward him, the story goes. The guard panicked and ran away.
But that wasn't the end of his encounter with the woman. He began to dream of her every night, then started to see her face in mirrors and windows. He suddenly had an urge to paint her, Watts said, though he wasn't an artist by any stretch.
He brought the portrait to the old kitchen, and left it in the spot where he'd seen the ghost. He was never haunted again.
Watts said another tour guide was approached recently by a man who works at the station, who told the group that the painting is still there in the basement kitchen. Management had tried to move it, but the person who brought the painting to another SkyTrain station started dreaming of the woman so the portrait was brought back.
Initiation for new guards is to go downstairs and say hello to the woman, Watts said.
Another apparition is one Watts herself says she's witnessed. It's the ghost of Hub Clark, a brakeman who once worked in the rail yard at the station.
Clark was hopping between the tracks one day in 1928 when he slipped and fell, knocking himself unconscious. He may have survived were it not for a passing train, which decapitated the worker. Watts said she's seen his flickering lantern, and TransLink employees have reported seeing the headless man who carries it.
The above image from the City of Vancouver Archives shows the view looking west on Cordova Street of construction on the third Canadian Pacific Railway station in May 1914.
A lady in white has been spotted at the building next door to Waterfront Station. Known as The Landing, the building was once a warehouse that provided supplies to gold rush miners.
The ghost of a woman has been spotted only by men, only on cold, wet nights, but has been reported by multiple people.
Watts said one of the concierges first saw her during his first night shift alone. The woman was standing by a large window at the back of the building, looking out towards the water. When he went to approach her, he found himself frozen in place.
He realized she was crying, but was unable to speak. Her sobbing got louder and more hysterical until it almost sounded like laughter. Then she was gone, Watts said, but in her place was a small puddle of water.
The puddle was such a common occurrence that it warped part of the floor, Watts said. Crews came in to find an explanation for the water, but were unable to find anything.
Some believe she may be the widow of Hub Clark, looking out at the tracks where he died.
Old Spaghetti Factory
When a popular Gastown restaurant that opened decades ago brought in an old trolley car as décor, it is said that the trolley's conductor came with it.
Since being taken off the tracks, British Columbia Electric Railway Company Trolley Number 53 has been outfitted to hold dining tables, but those who eat inside the car have reported feeling a brush of cold air. Some say they've felt an icy breeze in their hair.
Others say they've seen the actual ghost – a man in a conductor's uniform who paces the car, as if checking for tickets.
The conductor isn't the only apparition haunting the Italian eatery. Female patrons have reported seeing a short man in the mirror behind them as they wash their hands in the washroom.
The man wears red longjohns and has a long beard, and appears to be wringing his hands. Women who turn around to confront him see him disappear. However, the ghost hasn't been seen recently, and may have moved on to other washrooms.
A new ghost was reported in 2012, and is the eeriest of the group. A woman working a late shift was cleaning up after the restaurant closed when she says a young boy running through the restaurant.
She gave chase, but when she caught up with the youngster under a table, she faced a child with gaping eye sockets and a mouth frozen in a silent scream. The woman quit that night, Watts said.
The child was such a common sighting that management reportedly asked staff to fill out incident reports. A psychic said his name is Edward, and he came to the restaurant with one of the antiques on its walls.
J.W. Horne building
Now home to an antique store, one of Gastown's several wedge-shaped buildings is said to be haunted by more than one spirit.
Watts’s stories come from the owner of Salmagundi West, a woman who considered herself a skeptic prior to spooky encounters inside the store.
Most of the spirits are believed to have been attached to items in the store, like a necklace stored in a jewelry case. When a customer asked to see the item and the case was open, both women felt a gust of cold air.
They didn't think much of it – the building is old and drafty – but later a brass kettle that had been hanging from the ceiling for 20 years came crashing down. The rope that had held it in place for two decades wasn't cut or frayed, but instead appeared to have been untied.
The store owner also believes at least one ghost lives in the basement. During renovations, the owner got a feeling she was being watched while in a corner where the cellar door had once been, and a gallery space is said to instill a feeling of dread or nausea in those who visit. No matter how many lights there are in the room, one corner is always dark and cold, and occasionally a shadowy figure can be seen across the room.
Multiple paranormal investigations have been conducted in the building, and a man's face appeared in photos taken of a dark corner. An electronic voice phenomenon was captured during an investigation, and a man's voice can be heard saying what sounds like, "It's after me."
Watts was there during an investigation, and said investigators were unaware of the face and voice until they looked back later at what they'd captured.
The above image shows the J.W. Horne building, located in the 300 block of Cambie Street, in 1959. (City of Vancouver Archives)
Once home to a court house and a hotel frequented by prostitutes, several spectral sightings have been reported in the alley containing the restaurant L'Abbatoir.
One incident was reported by a contractor. Realizing he was missing a tool he needed, he ran to a different floor to grab what he needed. When he returned to his work area, he saw that his building materials had been thrown violent against a wall. His work light and the overhead light simultaneously dimmed as he returned, and he froze on the spot.
Then suddenly the lights turned back up, and he found the spell unbroken. The contractor ran out and never returned.
Another story was reported by the owner of a restaurant that used to stand on the site. He heard loud boot steps, but realized there was no entrance or exit in the area where the noises came from. Then he heard the rattling of chains.
He approached the area, but saw nothing. Then suddenly he heard a creaking noise, and the bang of a jail cell door. The spot where the sound came from is now bathroom stalls, fitted in to what used to be the jail cells of the old courthouse, Watts said.
Some staff who have worked in the area have reported hearing their own names being called, and some say they've seen a man in a bowler hat. The man looks like a live person, but then marches through the restaurant and fades through a glass passageway.
It is believed that the man might have spent time in the hotel or brothel, or that he was a police officer who worked in the courthouse or patrolled the area.
He is often seen around the same time as the ghost of a woman in a black dress.
The multi-storey department store on Granville Street is said to be inhabited by some type of spirit.
Staff have reported seeing elevator doors opening on their own, the elevator travelling from floor to floor, and the sound of squeaking wheels near one of the washrooms.
The spirit(s) are said to have set off motion detectors and alarm clocks at random.
Orpheum and Vogue theatres
The Orpheum opened in 1927, and is said to be home to several spirits.
Performers, guests and employees have reported seeing a ball of light near the stage or a man on the stage. There are rumours that he might be a vaudeville performer who died during a show, but Watts said there is no record of someone dying in the theatre.
- 2019 video: Ghostly tales from the Orpheum
Others have seen a female usher sitting in the coat check area, and an older woman who sitting in the upper tier of the seating area during rehearsals.
A paranormal investigation conducted in the building uncovered a presence in the men's washroom, and a digital recorder picked up a man's voice shouting at them to "f--k off."
One theory is that the man is a disgruntled janitor, but a local entertainment lawyer who used to be theatre manager told Watts the encounter sounded to him like an old friend who had died in the early 2000s.
The Vogue Theatre is also said to host ghosts. One has been seen or heard in the seating area and areas where employees would be: the catwalks, dressing rooms and projection booth.
Others have heard banging noises and slamming doors, or felt a presence in the basement.
Vancouver Art Gallery
The ghost of an immigration officer who was fatally shot in 1914 is said to walk the hallways of the city's largest gallery.
William Charles Hopkinson was shot in the building that once housed a courthouse in the months following the Komagata Maru incident. Hopkinson was at the court to testify in the murder of an informant who had been charged with killing two people when he was assassinated.
"Charlie" is said to be heard rummaging through the building's offices, and rearranging desks. He's also been seen on the building's upper floor.
Hallways, stairwells, the lobby and other parts of the 78-year-old Fairmont Hotel Vancouver are said to be haunted by the ghost of a woman.
Nicknamed the "Lady in Red," the apparition made headlines in May when a man posted a photo on social media claiming to show the well-dressed spectre.
The ghost is believed to be that of Jennie Pearl Cox, a socialite who frequently attended events in the ballroom and died in a car crash five years after the hotel opened.
Her ghost has been spotted on the 14th floor in guest rooms and floating outside windows. She's also been seen in the lobby near the elevators and in hallways, and her footsteps and other strange sounds have been heard in the stairwell near the 14th floor.
Embracing the uninvited guest, the hotel used to have a drink named after her, made of Southern Comfort, Grand Marnier, cranberry juice and champagne.
A picture of a red figure at a window of the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver is creating a stir on social media on May 26, 2017. (Twitter/Scott Graham)
St. Paul's Hospital
Many sightings have been reported at the hospital that first opened in 1894, especially in the older parts of the property.
Watts said her mother, who works as a nurse, once saw nuns in the courtyard, but the women faded as she looked at them more closely.
Others have reported hearing voices and other noises, or lights turning on and off.