The Haunting of Hat Creek Ranch

posted in: Ghosts & Hauntings | 0

Words and images by Greg Mansfield

The Roadhouse, Hat Creek Ranch
The Roadhouse, Hat Creek Ranch

On a recent road trip around southwestern British Columbia, I made a point to visit Hat Creek Ranch near Cache Creek. This is because I’ve known about the haunting of Hat Creek Ranch for many years.

Hat Creek Ranch is a heritage property and national historic site. The Hudson’s Bay Company originally established it as a fur trading post in 1861. It later became a vital hub during the Cariboo Gold Rush of the 1860s. The ranch was ideally located on the Cariboo Wagon Road, a crucial route for transporting supplies and people to the goldfields. This made it a popular stopping place.

In 1901, James Cornwall, a Scottish immigrant, acquired the property and expanded its operations. he turned it into a successful cattle ranch that, over the years, survived economic challenges and changes in ownership.

Today, Hat Creek Ranch is a living museum. It offers visitors a journey into the past. With authentic buildings from the 19th century, the ranch provides a glimpse into the past lives of pioneers, indigenous peoples, and gold-rush prospectors.

When my wife, father, and I arrived at the ranch, we purchased our entry bracelets and jumped on a stagecoach that took us on a bumpy but fun ride around the grounds to the roadhouse. In its heyday, this building was the beating heart of the ranch. The owners and staff members lived in the house. And visitors dined there and stayed the night.

As we entered the roadhouse two guides greeted us. One of them was Jordan Westside. He kindly offered to provide us with a private tour of the building, which we accepted. I asked him if he could tell us anything about its ghosts. His eyes lit up and he said, “I sure can.”

The Haunting of Hat Creek Ranch

Part of the second floor hallway, Hat Creek Ranch Roadhouse
Part of the second floor hallway, Hat Creek Ranch Roadhouse

I knew in advance that the haunting of Hat Creek Ranch includes the well-known ghost of a Chinese man who once worked there as a cook. Many people have seen him in and around the roadhouse, as well as the ghost of a little girl around 9 years old.

Another commonly cited ghost is a man wearing a top hat, thought to be one of the original roadhouse proprietors. Witnesses often see him in the dining area or near the fireplace. He appears and disappears mysteriously, leaving behind a chill in the air.

Other ghosts at the ranch include the apparition of a lady in a white dress. She’s thought to be the spirit of Susan Allison. She was the wife of John “Cariboo” Cameron, who was a prominent figure in the area. Some visitors report seeing her ghostly figure in the house, dressed in 19th century attire.

On the main floor, drinking glasses move by themselves in the bar and people have their clothes tugged. Upstairs, where much of the paranormal activity occurs, phantom footsteps echo through the dark corridors, doors open and close on their own, and a female voice cries out for help. Some people have heard whispers, laughter, and whistles when no one else is around. Shadows move in the corners of rooms, contributing to the roadhouse’s eerie atmosphere.

Jordan Westside’s Experiences

Jordan Westside, standing where he saw a mysterious orb
Jordan Westside, standing where he saw a mysterious orb

Our tour guide, Jordan, told me he’s spent a lot of time at the Hat Creek Ranch since he was a boy. His older brother used to work at the ranch, and he would take Jordan there with him. To pass the time while his brother was working, Jordan would play video games and help feed the animals in the pens behind the roadhouse. As an adult, Jordan has worked in the ranch’s visitor’s centre as a cook and more recently as a roadhouse guide. Having spent over two decades at the ranch, he’s had many encounters with its spirits.

One of the first stories Jordan shared with me was a time recently when he saw a mysterious orb of light, about the size of a tennis ball, float from one side of the upstairs hallway and through an open door into one of the old ranch hand’s rooms. It seemed to move with intelligence and purpose.

Face to Face with the Chinese Cook

When Jordan was 8 years old and his brother took him to the ranch on a hot July day, Jordan felt restless and said he thought being at the roadhouse was boring. He knew about the haunting of Hat Creek Ranch but hadn’t experienced anything. So, he asked his brother, “Where’s the ghost?”

Jordan’s brother led him to the bottom of the front staircase and said, “If you want to see the ghost, go upstairs.” Jordan promptly walked up the stairs. When he got to the top, he could see the long, dark hallway running ahead of him, all the way along to the back stairs. Nobody was around. He turned left into the side hallway that runs perpendicular to the main one. There, he felt the air go icy cold, and shivers ran down his arms.

On edge with fear, Jordan walked forward until he reached the far end of the hallway. Even though it was a warm and sunny day, the atmosphere remained cold. He then turned around and, peering back along the hallway he’d just travelled, saw the silhouette of a person standing in the distance.

Jordan thought the figure might be his brother. He moved forward to see who it was, and the other person also moved closer. Jordan’s heart skipped a beat when he realised that the individual was gliding down the corridor, not walking. And when they got to within 20 feet of each other, Jordan could see the other person clearly. It wasn’t his brother. It was an Asian man. Jordan knew all about the ghost of the Chinese cook and realised it was him.

Frozen with fear, Jordan watched as the apparition of the Chinese cook moved slightly closer to him, then dissolved into thin air. Jordan shot down the hallway, his heart pounding like a bass drum, and down the back stairs as fast as he could. He looked for his brother but couldn’t find him. He eventually found him well away from the roadhouse. Any lingering doubts Jordan had that it might have been his brother playing tricks on him evaporated.

A Tragic Accident

Part of the Roadhouse living room, with the broom closet door to the right
Part of the Roadhouse living room, with the broom closet door to the right

Jordan explained to me that the Chinese cook is thought to have died by hanging. This is because his apparition has also been seen in the granary, hanging from a rope. Apparently, the cook was falsely implicated in the death of the little girl whose ghost lingers at the ranch.

The story of the girl’s demise is that one winter’s evening her uncle returned to the roadhouse in a drunken state. He had sexually abused her many times in the past. She knew he would probably do despicable things to her that night. So, she hid in a broom closet on the main floor. But the simple swivel-lock on the outside of the closet door was loose and it closed behind her. She was trapped inside. Tragically, she froze to death in the closet overnight.

When someone found the girl’s body the next day, her uncle implicated the Chinese cook for her death. Nobody knows whether the cook hanged himself or was lynched in the granary, but he met his end there. And to this day the cook and the little girl, whom modern-day staff members refer to as Sally, haunt the roadhouse. Staff members also speculate that the apparition of the well-dressed man in the top hat is the spectre of her abusive uncle, who once owned the ranch.

Sometimes human tragedies leave behind the souls of those who are stuck where their dramas unfolded and cost them their lives. This certainly seems to be the case with the haunting of Hat Creek Ranch.

Hat Creek Ranch Visitor Suggestions

Ride the stagecoach from the front entrance, which takes you on a tour of the ranch and drops you off at the 1860s roadhouse. Take a tour of the house with a guide dressed in period costume.

Drop by the Indigenous Interpretive Site, where local guides will show you the tools, crafts, and technologies of the Secwepemc (Shuswap) Nation.

Enjoy breakfast, lunch, or a snack at the ranch’s restaurant near the front entrance.

Hat Creek Ranch has a variety of accommodations available, including the Prospector’s Shack, Cabin, and camping and RV sites.

Suggested Reading

Ghost Stories and Mysterious Creatures of British Columbia
Ghost Stories of British Columbia

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