It’s a foggy evening in downtown Victoria’s Inner Harbour at the crossroads of Government Street and Yates Street. A man with a striking resemblance to one of the city’s former politicians wanders into the intersection, walking straight into a passing car. Miraculously, he emerges from the other side of the vehicle, unscathed. Those little hairs on the back of your neck start to stand up, your sixth sense revealing something’s not quite right. Your heart rate rises slowly in anticipation of the unknown.

We tell ourselves there’s nothing to be afraid of…ghosts don’t exist, right? The answer is best explained by the region’s foremost authority on the city’s dark past and haunted present. A man with a knack for spine-tingling tales.

 

Enter John Adams, Victoria’s pre-eminent historian and lead guide for the Halloween Ghostly Walks. A convert to the world of the supernatural, in his younger days, Adams was skeptical of whether ghosts were real. Ask him today, though, and he’s completely convinced:

“I had several encounters with ghosts when I was younger, but was convinced they were just natural phenomena. As an adult, when I began collecting ghost stories and finding out more about the subject, I came to understand there are many well-documented encounters with ghosts and what I had experienced was typical. I have interviewed many people whose stories are quite believable and now realize there is no reason to doubt my own experiences.”

Follow John Adams as he leads you down Victoria’s most haunted alleyways in search of unspeakable tales. Credit: Discover the Past Tours
Follow John Adams as he leads you down Victoria’s most haunted alleyways in search of unspeakable tales. Credit: Discover the Past Tours

For Adams, who has been collecting Victoria’s stories for years, there is no doubt British Columbia’s capital is the most haunted locale in the Pacific Northwest. He explains:

“Victoria is an old city, with layers and layers of ghostly energy building up over time. Physical features around the city hold the ghosts here: the underlying bedrock, the surrounding saltwater and the hills and mountains that wrap around Victoria on every side.”

Factor in Victoria’s numerous original brick walls and alleyways lining Old Town, Chinatown and the Inner Harbour into the equation, and it is no wonder lost souls never escape the city. If you are not afraid of encountering a lingering spirit or two, Adams’ suggests venturing out on the town to pay a visit to five of his favorite haunts.

1.Bastion Square & Helmcken Alley

A central communal space today, Bastion Square is home to pop up markets, restaurants and a variety of shops. Years ago, however, it was the site of the city’s public hangings. The gallows may be gone, but the spirits of the many unsavory characters who met their end in the spot are not. Adams says this may be one of the spookiest locations in town, stating, “The muffled footsteps and dragging chains of the ghost of a murdered prisoner are often heard near the place where he was killed.”

Bastion Square in downtown Victoria, a friendly gathering place today, but troubled by a harrowing past. Credit: Flickr/irschick
Bastion Square in downtown Victoria, a friendly gathering place today, but troubled by a harrowing past. Credit: Flickr/irschick

2. Fairmont Empress Hotel & Parliament Buildings

Long known as the grand dame of the Inner Harbour, the elegant Fairmont Empress is known to house its fair share of spooks. That thin, ghostly mustached man with a cane wandering the halls? He is not lost. He’s the Empress’ architect, Francis Rattenbury, come back to admire his masterpiece (Rattenbury also haunts the Parliament Buildings, his other famous construction in Victoria) and seek the recognition he deserves, after being murdered by his 18-year-old chauffeur, his second wife’s lover.

3. Market Square

Located a few minutes away on Johnson Street, the vibrant Market Square has its own harrowing history. The spot is linked to a famous Jack-the-Ripper style murder in 1899 and is haunted by the ghosts of the citizens who once frequented the saloons and brothels that lined the street, which housed Victoria’s once infamous red light district.

Wander down Victoria's historic alleys to get up close and personal with spooks. Credit: Discover the Past Tours
Wander down Victoria’s historic alleys to get up close and personal with spooks. Credit: Discover the Past Tours

4. Boomerang Court

Head down the dimly lit Chancery Lane and you’ll find yourself in Boomerang Court, the little plot behind Bastion Square. Here, Adams says, “The famous ‘Woman in White’ (Adelaide Griffin while she was alive) is often seen as a glowing human form passing right through lamp posts and other objects she encounters. She is one of the earliest documented ghosts, dating back to 1861.”

5. Fan Tan Alley

One of Victoria’s most beloved sites, the impressively narrow Fan Tan Alley, is home to one of Adams’ favorite stories. He explains, “An eighteen-year-old from China, named Chan, fell in love with a beautiful girl in Chinatown in the 1880s. When he proposed marriage, she refused him, and later he murdered her in a jealous rage.”

“Chan fled through Fan Tan Alley and hid in the American Hotel where he worked. He was found days later, hungry and frightened. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to be hanged, but committed suicide instead. Chan’s ghost appears in Fan Tan Alley and in the place where his body was found.”

Victoria’s historic Chinatown brims with spooks come nightfall. Credit: Tourism Victoria
Victoria’s historic Chinatown brims with spooks come nightfall. Credit: Tourism Victoria

While some people may whisper these stories are merely legends, whether you believe in ghosts or not, there is no denying Victoria has a flair toward the supernatural. The echoing footsteps of unseen figures, floating apparitions gliding down city streets or doors opening and closing seemingly on their own.

If you delight in hair-raising tales or if seeing a ghost is on your bucket list, head to Victoria this autumn and discover the Northwest’s most haunted city for yourself. You may even come back with a spooky story or two!

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