October is the month marked by red-leafed trees and woodsmoke. Early morning fog settling over the streets of sleeping towns. The summer’s green grasses turning sallow with the cool of autumn. It’s a festive time. Family gatherings; suppers of hearty stews and root vegetables. There are pumpkins on porch steps and pots of cider simmering on kitchen stovetops.
In the evenings, when dark comes early and a silver moon rises behind near-naked trees, people settle into their homes, some retiring with books, conversation or television programs. But certain nights, with candles lit, perhaps a window open slightly to let in the crisp air, call for something else—something spookier.
Ghost stories, or some version of them, have been shared since ancient times. Gathering around a storyteller, wanting to turn away, but wanting to hear more is an old tradition. A way to pass on strange and unexplainable knowledge. A way to indulge our morbid interests.
Generally, a good ghost story will practice restraint. A tale that is too unbelievable is no longer scary, but those that straddle the line between mystery and reason, that suggest things aren’t quite as they should be, tend to dwell in the minds of those who hear them. But, arguably the most important element in a truly eerie account is that of history. The story behind the spectral vision at the end of a long hallway; the face in the window.
British Columbia is not without its own share of ghostly tales and many of them are rooted in odd, tragic and mysterious history. This edition of TSH will cover a few of them.
The Sagebrush Theatre in a quiet, residential neighbourhood of downtown Kamloops has its own haunted history. Built on the site of a cemetery that has since been moved, the theatre is home to a resident ghost known as Albert.
He is thought to be one Arnold Mallot, the first person sentenced to death by hanging in the city—Kamloops was even said to be the hanging capital of Canada at one point. He was buried beneath what would become the theatre, but a flood in the late ‘30s would see his coffin go missing.
While he was convicted of murder, Albert the ghost is known to be quite friendly, if somewhat mischievous. Students who attend the high school attached to the theatre inevitably hear about the times he has unplugged the vacuum while a custodian cleaned the empty building or how he’s been known to interfere with the production of shows.
Albert even has his own seat—Z24, in the back corner—and another tale recounts how a particularly bold individual sat in it despite being warned not to. Upon standing up he proceeded to tumble down the theatre steps…giving a whole new meaning to "break a leg."
Known as the Castle in the City, the iconic stone and copper-roofed facade of the Hotel Vancouver is a city landmark. Considered to be one of Canada’s grand railway hotels, it was constructed between 1929 and 1939 and was the tallest downtown building until 1972.
The hotel is still an elegant locale and retains much of its original charm. Old mail slots remain, where one could drop a letter from their floor to be sent. Elaborate fixtures above the elevators point to the floor each car is at. Rooms are updated, but finished with classic furnishings and comfortable linens. Many of the floors are done up in completely different decor—the higher up the more dramatic they seem to be—and it is a special treat to see what awaits you each time the elevator door opens.
The fourteenth floor is one of the most impressive, complete with wood panelling, metalwork and crystal chandeliers. It is a quieter section of the hotel, housing the most exclusive rooms, including the Morningside and Lieutenant Governor’s Suites. It’s also the floor that is said to be home to “The Lady in Red.”
It’s thought that she is the spirit of Vancouver socialite, Jennie Pearl Cox. While Cox perished in a car accident, she and her family spent a great deal of time at the hotel in the early ‘40s. There have been various accounts and sightings of “The Lady in Red” and, in 2017, an elevator mechanic claimed to capture a picture of her.
The hotel itself has acknowledged the existence of the spectre, leaning into her glamorous nature and even providing a recipe for a “Lady in Red Cocktail.” So next time you’re in the city, dress in your crimson finery, order a drink in Cox’s honour and see what you might find on the fourteenth floor.
Mandy the Doll
In 1991, a woman brought a doll to the Quesnel & District Museum and Archives. Assumedly, she hoped to donate the antique toy, but her motivations were not strictly charitable—she didn’t want her daughter playing with it.
Apparently, while in possession of the doll, the woman would wake in the night to hear a baby’s cries coming from her basement. Upon investigation, no baby was found and after donating the doll no such instances occurred.
Mandy, is a doll with a pale, cracked face and translucent eyes. She wears a bonnet and a white dress and sits in a locked glass cabinet in the Quesnel museum. She is the archetype of the haunted doll and has been known to interact with visitors as only haunted dolls can. From following patrons with her eyes to the pitter patter of phantom footsteps, she has made her supernatural presence known for decades.
While knowledge of Mandy’s life before the museum is somewhat spotty, its said that she belonged to an English couple whose twin children died of polio. Her link to such tragic beginnings may offer some clue to the strange activity surrounding her. Still, it leaves many mysterious gaps in her almost hundred year history—but sometimes it’s the not knowing that is the scariest.