By Greg Mansfield
Welcome to my home town – Vancouver, British Columbia!
When I started the Ghosts of Vancouver website in 2007, I figured I’d find about a dozen or so haunted locations to write about. But I underestimated how haunted my city is! I’m now up to 30 locations featured on the website and 43 places in my Ghosts of Vancouver book. And there are plenty more on my list to research and write about.
Because Vancouver is a relatively young city, people sometimes ask me why it’s so haunted. Maybe its the rainy weather. Perhaps because its history is rich with colourful characters who ran ramshackle saloons and busy brothels. Or maybe it’s because the locals don’t want to leave this beautiful city. Whatever the reason, Vancouver has a good number of ghostly inhabitants.
Here are the must-see haunted locations of downtown Vancouver.
Haunted Places in Vancouver
Location: 12 Water St, Vancouver, BC
Open: Daily for outdoor passageways; all reasonable times for shops and restaurants
Admission: Free; reservations required for restaurants
Gaoler’s Mews is located in the heart of Gastown, Vancouver’s oldest and most touristy district. The first building on this site was built in the mid-1800s. It housed Vancouver’s first jail. After it burned down in Vancouver’s great fire of 1886, it was replaced by a brick fire hall. Behind the building is a cobble-stoned courtyard, where a hangman’s scaffold once stood. There, in the mid-1800s, over 40 people were publicly executed.
Before it moved across the street in 2008, the popular Irish Heather pub was located in Gaoler’s Mews for several years (at 217 Carrall Street). There are at least three ghosts in and around the unit where the Irish Heather was, which today houses a restaurant called L’abbatoire.
One of the ghosts is of a woman dressed in black. She’s sometimes seen behind the restaurant, gliding along the cobble-stoned passageway from where the hangman’s scaffold was. She glides southward to the end of the passage, where she passes through a wrought-iron gate leading to Blood Alley. Once through the gate, she vanishes. Some speculate she’s the spirit of a widow of someone who was hanged in the courtyard, eternally mourning her lost love.
One night a contractor was working alone in the Irish Heather, fixing up the men’s washroom on the ground floor. He placed his tools in the hallway at the back of the pub, near the toilet door. But when he went to grab a tool he needed, all the tools were missing. He looked around and eventually found them neatly stacked by the front entrance.
On several mornings one of the kitchen staff, working alone, heard her name called by a female voice. When she looked around there was nobody there.
In a back storage area near the kitchen, the apparition of a woman dressed in white was spotted a few times by various staff members. Each time she was seen for just a couple of seconds before disappearing.
The third ghost is of a man dressed in black. He was seen a few times by Irish Heather staff, heading down the hallway past the bar and towards the rear of the premises. He’s thought to be the same ghost as the one who used to appear in Blake’s Coffee Parlour, next door.
Like the Irish Heather, Blake’s was situated in Gaoler’s Mews (at 221 Carroll Street), and moved out when the building underwent renovations in 2008. In the early 1900s, the Blake’s space housed a popular saloon with a brothel upstairs. The ghost of the man dressed in black was often seen passing through the brick wall between the two spaces. where a door once was. He was usually spotted in Blake’s in the early to mid-afternoon.
One of the spookiest areas in the Irish Heather was the second storey loft. This area served as a restaurant section. Several staff members felt an unnerving presence around the tables near the top of the stairs.
One night after closing, some workmen doing renovations downstairs heard a lot of banging in the loft. When they went up to see what was going on, they found all the chairs at the tables tipped over and lying on their backs. Nobody had been in the loft when the chairs were pushed over. Nobody among the living, that is.
During a quiet Sunday evening, one of the servers chatted with a fellow employee at the bar. Suddenly, they both heard footsteps clomping down the wooden stairs from the loft. When they looked to see who it was, there was nobody there. The loft section had been closed for the night and was empty.
In 2007, a gentleman from Ireland visited the Irish Heather. He sat near the foot of the stairs leading to the loft. He called one of the owners over to him and said, “You know you have a lady upstairs?” The owner thought he was talking about some customers seated in the loft. “No, no, you’ve got a spirit upstairs,” he said. “But you don’t need to worry about anything. There’s a man, too, but he’s not the important one. She’s important.”
Location: 43 Powell St, Vancouver, BC
Open: Store 10:00am – 6:00pm; private residences on upper floors are closed to the public
Also in Gastown, the six-storey flatiron building at the convergence of Water, Alexander and Powell Streets is the old Hotel Europe. It’s also known as the Angelo Calori Building, after the hotelier who had it built. It was purposefully situated close to the old steamship docks at the foot of Columbia Street. From there a bus would transfer passengers to the hotel. Completed in 1909, it’s the earliest reinforced concrete structure in Vancouver. To this day, it has its original Italian tile floors and leaded-glass windows.
During its first few years, the Hotel Europe flourished. In 1916, however, the second Hotel Vancouver opened across town. The popularity of that newer, grander hotel quickly shifted the heart of the city to the southwest, away from the area known as Gastown. The Hotel Europe soon lost favour and fell into disrepute as a brothel.
In the 1920s and 30s, the ground floor unit at the building’s apex, which is currently occupied by a poster store, was a beer parlour. In the basement below was its keg cellar. The cellar is still accessible today by stairs from the sidewalk-level entrance at the building’s apex. This underground area once extended beneath the sidewalk on both sides of the building in what were commonly known as “areaways”.
Areaways were a typical feature of commercial buildings in Gastown. They were used to load and unload freight through trap doors in the sidewalk. The glass bricks in the sidewalks beside the Hotel Europe on Alexander and Powell Streets provided daylight to the areaways. The areaways were filled in and bricked up many years ago, however. What remains of the cellar is used for storage. And the upper floors of the building were converted into subsidized housing units in 1983.
The Hotel Europe houses one ghost for sure and possibly two. The first paranormal encounter was reported in the 1980s by a contractor. He was working on some repairs on his own in the cellar, close to a bricked-up areaway door. The contractor left the cellar briefly to fetch something and, when he returned, his tools were scattered all around the floor. He then heard scratching noises coming from behind the brick wall and felt a bad presence. Frightened, he quickly gathered up his tools and left the cellar as fast as he could. He flatly refused to work there again.
Scratching noises are still sometimes heard coming from the other side of the bricked up areaway in the cellar. It could be the sounds of rats or mice, but remember – the areaways were filled in years ago.
The second spirit, who could be same as the first, is the apparition of a man dressed in a black coat with a flat cap. He appears in the poster shop on the street level.
One evening in the early 2000s, just after closing, the poster store’s owner saw the ghost clearly reflected in her convex security mirror, near the apex of the building. She was surprised to see him as she was sure the store was empty of customers when she’d locked the door. When she walked over to take a look, nobody was there. The man had suddenly and silently vanished.
Shaken by the strange experience, she locked up and left in a hurry. She saw the apparition again on another occasion. Whoever the man is, he’s probably confused by a poster store there in the place of his favourite watering hole!
Location: 900 West Georgia St, Vancouver, BC
Open: Daily; upper floors accessible to guests only
Admission: Free; reservations required for accommodations
The Fairmont Hotel Vancouver is situated on Georgia Street, between Burrard and Hornby Streets. It’s one of several chateau-style hotels built by the Canadian National Railway in the early twentieth century. They include the Chateau Lake Louise in Alberta and the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec.
The Hotel Vancouver was restored in the mid-1990s. It features a steep-pitched copper roof, ornate dormers, and ghoulish gargoyles.
The hotel is haunted by a benevolent and elegantly dressed “Lady in Red”. She’s often spotted on the 14th floor, and is also seen in the ground floor lobby near the guest elevator doors. She sometimes passes through elevator doors on those floors and glides along the hallways. Most intriguing is that the 1st and 14th floors are the only ones with elevator doors that lead to a dummy elevator shaft. The ghost has been seen passing through those disused, locked doors.
The Lady in Red is also encountered in some of the guest rooms. Once, a Japanese family that checked into a room on the 14th floor called the front desk to ask whether their room had been double-booked. They described seeing the Lady in Red in the room, which had caused their confusion.
In another incident, a bellman escorting guests into room 1403 saw the Lady in Red follow his guests through the door into the room. When he entered, the lady had vanished.
More recently, disembodied footsteps and strange sounds have been recorded by security cameras in a stairwell near the 14th floor.
Some say the Lady in Red is the ghost of Jennie Pearl Cox. She was a Vancouver socialite who regularly attended the hotel’s ballroom dances in the early 1940s. Apparently, she took up eternal residence in the hotel after dying in a car accident in 1944. Whether she’s the spirit of Ms. Cox or not, the ghost is well known by the hotel’s staff.
Old Spaghetti Factory
Location: 53 Water St, Vancouver, BC
Open: Sun – Thu, 11:00am – 9:30pm; Fri – Sat, 11:00am – 10:00pm
The first in a chain of Old Spaghetti Factory restaurants opened at this location in Gastown in 1970. Located in what was once the headquarters of W.H. Malkin Co. Ltd. (grocery wholesalers), the restaurant is wonderfully decorated with antiques and artifacts from yesteryear.
The Old Spaghetti Factory has four ghosts in residence. The first and best known is the spirit of a tram conductor. He frequents the old trolley car that’s parked inside the restaurant and contains dining tables.
The trolley, Number 53, was once a part of the British Columbia Electric Railway Company’s fleet of electric trams. Built in nearby New Westminster in 1904, it served as a public transit trolley in and around Vancouver for many years. In 1957, it and dozens of other trolley cars were decommissioned in favour of the electric and diesel buses that are commonplace in the city today.
The trolley car was installed in the building in 1969, during the set-up of the restaurant. It’s up for debate whether the conductor’s ghost came with the trolley or not. Some say he died in a collision on an underground rail line below the restaurant. But this is unlikely because Vancouver’s trolley cars all ran at street level. And as the building has no historical connection with the B.C. Electric Railway Co., the ghost probably came with the tram car.
Regardless of his origin, various staff members have seen the ghost of the uniformed conductor. He always appears seated at the same dining table inside the streetcar late at night, after closing. Also, place settings are moved by unseen hands, and inexplicable cold spots are experienced inside the car.
The second ghost at The Old Spaghetti Factory is a small, mischievous spirit with a ruddy face and bright red hair. Simply known as the Little Red Man or Looky-loo, he calls out to staff members by name and strolls through the kitchen. His favourite prank is to surprise female customers in the ladies’ washroom.
On one particular occasion, two ladies saw the dwarfish man leave one of the cubicles, dressed in a red shirt and red long johns. After looking at them and laughing mischievously, he left through the washroom door. To their surprise, nobody else had seen the unmistakable man leave the washroom. It’s said that one of the women took a picture of the ghost. But when the film was developed, he appeared as a blur.
Nobody knows who the little red man is or why he haunts the restaurant. One thing’s for certain, however — he’s a devilish little fellow.
The restaurant’s third ghost is that of a young boy. In early 2012, this ghost gave a female server a terrible fright. She was in the back section of the restaurant, helping to close up for the night. While she was busy resetting some tables, a boy ran past her towards the very back.
With it being so late and no customers left in the restaurant, she thought it was strange that a boy was running around. So she followed him. The boy ran under a table alongside the back wall, turned around and looked up at her. When she looked at his face, she saw that his eye sockets were empty. Terrified, she ran to the front of the restaurant to tell the manager about what she’d seen. She told him that she couldn’t work at the restaurant any longer and resigned on the spot.
A psychic visited the restaurant and identified the ghost of the little boy as Edward. She also pointed out that there’s a vortex located at the back of the premises. (A vortex is a supposed portal to other dimensions that enables spirits to come into our world. Some also believe that vortexes are linked to the Earth’s electromagnetic field. This influences where and when these portals open and close.) She also claimed that several small artifacts that decorate the restaurant have spirits attached to them.
The boy ghost is thought to be responsible for bending cutlery on tables in the back of the restaurant. One night during closing hours, a staff member walked through the back area to check that place settings had been properly laid out. He was stunned to see that each cutlery item was bent upwards on one of the tables. Other staff members saw the bent cutlery, too. But by the time they brought the restaurant manager over to see, it was all back to normal. In addition, the ghost sometimes places a dining chair on top of a table in the back section, which the staff find in the morning.
In 2015, another server had an encounter with Edward. After closing, she saw the boy dressed in a flat cap, wool jacket, and corduroy pants run towards the back of the restaurant. She chased him and, as he’s done before, he ducked under a table. She ran to the front of the restaurant to take the manager back with her to see the boy. But when they got there he was gone. And then they noticed that the place settings had been disturbed — the cutlery was all in a pile in the middle of the tabletop.
On another occasion, a customer sat in a row of booths behind the entrance to the restaurant. She saw the boy reflected in a mirror on the back wall. He was using an arm to spin around a narrow column behind the front desk. When she turned around to look at the boy, he’d vanished.
The fourth ghost in the Old Spaghetti Factory is of a little girl who appears at a table in the front window. She sits and holds a balloon. Nobody knows who she is. Once, a friend of the restaurant’s general manager had a conversation with her that lasted several minutes. The little girl explained to him that she was looking for her mother. When he returned to the table after telling the manager about her, she had disappeared.
Vancouver Art Gallery
Location: 750 Hornby St, Vancouver, BC
Open: Daily, at reasonable times
Admission: Some charge
The Vancouver Art Gallery is situated in what was once British Columbia’s provincial courthouse. The gallery’s permanent collection includes major works by Emily Carr, the Group of Seven, and Marc Chagall. It also hosts touring exhibitions and public lectures.
Several spirits haunt the gallery. The best known is of an immigration officer who was murdered outside the building in 1914.
Cleaning staff hear disembodied footsteps in the upper floors at night. They’re caused by the ghost of a former security guard who is occasionally seen on patrol.
Other strange noises are heard, too, including the sounds of someone rummaging through various offices. When the cleaners look to see who’s there, the offices are empty. Meanwhile, gallery employees sometimes find items on their desks rearranged when they arrive at work.
The apparition of an unidentified man is encountered in the basement, where prisoner holding cells used to be located and where artwork is now stored. He’s believed to be the spectre of a former accused, forever waiting for his next day in court.
The ghost of a judge dressed in his robes has also been seen.
Vancouver Police Museum
Location: 240 East Cordova St, Vancouver, BC
Open: Saturdays, 11:00am – 5:00pm and Sundays, 12:00pm – 5:00pm
Admission: Some charge
The Vancouver Police Museum and Archives (VPMA) opened in 1986 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Vancouver Police Department. The building where the museum is located was built in 1932 for Vancouver’s Coroner’s Services. For several decades, it housed the city’s Coroner’s Courtroom, morgue, autopsy room, and forensic laboratory.
The VPMA is haunted by unidentified sprits who slam doors to various rooms when only museum staff are there to hear it. Footsteps are heard, too, and when museum employees search for whoever causes them, they find everything quiet and unoccupied.
In the autopsy room, where pathologists examined over 20,000 cadavers between 1932 and 1980, two stainless-steel dissection tables, a weigh scale, and some old autopsy tools are on display. Disembodied whispers are heard in the room and nearby morgue.
Some employees and volunteers see strange light anomalies, including orbs, throughout the building. Others encounter three-dimensional shadow figures. After having these frightening encounters, many refuse to work alone in the museum at night.
Location: 601 West Cordova St, Vancouver, BC
Open: 24 hours for public areas
Situated at the western end of Gastown, Waterfront Station has many ghosts. In fact, it’s one of the most haunted buildings in downtown Vancouver. Built by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1915, the station was the Pacific terminus for their transcontinental passenger trains from Toronto and Montreal until it was taken over by VIA Rail in 1979.
Today, this heritage building is a busy hub that connects passengers between the city’s various public transportation systems. These include the SkyTrain, the SeaBus, the West Coast Express train, city buses, and Helijet’s helicopter service to Victoria.
The Waterfront Station is a grand place, built in an era when travelling by train had a sense of class and elegance. The west side of the building housed restaurants and a dance hall. The east wing contained full-time residences and lodging for travellers. Today, a restaurant occupies the east wing on the street level. On the upper floors, some rooms are taken up by business offices. The rest are either vacant or used for storage.
In modern times, the Waterfront Station’s night security guards have witnessed apparitions and poltergeist-like activities.
One night, a guard saw the ghost of a woman in a 1920s flapper dress. She was dancing alone in a corridor on the west side of the building. He could hear the sound of 1920s music playing as she danced. When he approached her, the music stopped and she suddenly vanished.
Another security guard received the fright of his life while patrolling the northwest corner of the building. As he entered an empty room with nothing but his flashlight to light the way, he encountered the ghost of an old woman. She was glowing phosphorous white and had a mournful look on her face. As he stood stupefied, she reached out to him. Completely terrified, he ran from the room.
On an upper floor in the east side of the building, another guard experienced poltergeist-like activity while on night patrol. As he walked through a room used to store a number of old desks, the desks moved together behind him without a sound. When he turned to make his way back through the room and realized he was blocked by the desks, the stunned and badly frightened security guard leapt on top of the desks and ran from the room.
In addition to these encounters, various security guards at the Waterfront Station have heard the sounds of phantom footsteps walking on the tiled floors of the building late at night when nobody else is around. Others have seen the ghosts of three little old ladies sitting on a station bench, as if waiting for a train that never arrives. The beautiful Waterfront Station is a very haunted place indeed.