Ghosts in Gastown

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As Halloween is the best time of the year to scare yourself silly, I thought it best to spook you all with some chilling tales from right here in Vancouver. After doing a little research, I discovered that the city is riddled with a ghostly past; many of our well-known landmarks are said to be haunted. I ventured downtown to snap a few photos and discover more about what haunts Vancouver’s famous streets.

Venturing into Gastown, I was surprised to learn that the historical buildings in the area are reportedly the hub of ghostly activity in Vancouver. The Dominion Building, one of the city’s first steel-framed high-rise buildings, was constructed in 1910. As the urban legend says, the celebration soon came to a fatal end when the building’s architect, John S. Helyer, was apparently killed after tripping down the staircase. Many who now work there say that mysterious footsteps can be heard on the stairs between the seventh and eighth floors. Helyer’s apparition has allegedly been seen as well.

Gaoler’s Mews, a well-preserved tourist attraction on Water street, left a particularly strong impression on me. Surrounded by cobblestoned courtyards and wrought-iron gates, it’s apparent that this site is rich with history; being the site of Vancouver’s first public jail, much of its story is not pretty.

Before being rebuilt after burning down in 1886, many of the criminals housed here were publicly hung to death in the courtyard west of the building. Since then, a strange woman in black is said to haunt the premises. Some speculate that she is the spirit of a widow who had lost her husband to the noose. She apparently chills the staff members when she calls out their names, and has been seen gliding through the gate to Blood Alley.

The hauntingly titled Blood Alley — the side-street parallel to Water Street — also has a dark past. I was rather spooked while walking down the deserted cobblestones, the eerie silence only broken by a murder of crows. The alley is said to have been named for the the buckets of blood spilled on the street by butchers who ran businesses here at the turn of the 20th century. During this time, payday muggings and murders were common among street-folk, and psychics have recently fled the alley claiming that it is thick with the presence of horrible spirits.

Next time you go out for pasta, keep a look out for the ghosts that inhabit the Old Spaghetti Factory. We’re all familiar with Trolley #53 pleasantly sitting inside the restaurant, and some of us (including myself) have eaten inside of it. Rumour has it that after closing time, a spirit of a uniformed conductor likes to sit and observe from one of the tables inside the trolley.

Additionally, the ghost of a red-haired man dressed in red long-johns has been known to haunt the customers, and once gave two women a fright when he appeared one evening leaving a cubicle in the ladies restroom. The “little red man” turned to the ladies and laughed at them before exiting through the back door of the restaurant. Even more chilling is that no other customer saw the man leave the room, and when the ladies tried to capture him in a photo, he appeared only as a blur.

During the night, phantom footsteps walk the tiled floors of Waterfront Station, which is allegedly one of the most haunted places in Vancouver. Built by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1915, the station was originally used for transcontinental passenger trains from across the country. Over the last few decades, night security guards have witnessed a series of apparitions and ghost-like activities throughout the building.

One guard stumbled upon the apparition of a woman in a dress dancing to mysterious 20s music alone in the corridor. When the guard rushed over to investigate, the music had stopped and the woman had vanished. Furthermore, guards have reported sighting three elderly ladies sitting on a station bench in the main hall, seemingly awaiting a train that will never arrive.

Finally, the ghost of a headless brakeman has often been seen to wander along the train tracks just north of the building. In 1928, the man slipped and fell on the wet tracks, rendering himself unconscious. Unfortunately, the man was then run over by a passing train and decapitated as a result. Now, the headless man has apparently terrified a few passengers while they await the Skytrain’s arrival.

Vancouver is certainly brimming with a paranormal history, so the next time you find yourself wandering through a deserted Gastown alleyway, you may want to consider walking a little faster. Afterall, you never who, or what, might be watching you.