By Drew McLachlan
“I could feel . . . something — like I was being watched.”
Willow Friday opened Iron Oxide, an arts supply store in Nanaimo, on January 6th. It wasn’t her first business — she has operated the House of Indigo Boutique since 2002 — but she was nonetheless excited to see a second dream come true. So when she first received the keys to the building last May, she invited a group of friends to come see it and help her make plans.
“One of my friends instantly had this untoward feeling,” she recalls, “like there was something in there, and she had to leave.”
Vancouver Island had just added to its inventory of haunted places — or at least, allegedly haunted places. Though you wouldn’t know it from cable TV, not everyone believes in ghosts (yet). But for those who do, V.I. is a treasure trove of spiritual material.
In the case of the No. 2 Fire Hall on Victoria Road in Nanaimo, the spook decided to get busy. On numerous occasions, Friday would be renovating her new space on the ground floor and become possessed by a surge of energy, which she likens to the feeling of a young athlete being coached. When she stopped for breaks, hammers would fall from shelves, nearly missing her, and on one occasion a can of open paint fell from a step ladder, drenching her daughter.
Fed up with their silent (and invisible) partner, the two decided to “sage” the space, a common practice that involves bathing a haunted site with burning sage incense in an attempt to smudge, or cleanse, it.
“It was the most bizarre, awkward moment,” recalls Friday. “Fifteen minutes after we started, this woman came downstairs from the restaurant in a bit of a panic — she thought the building was on fire. There were some holes where a vent used to be, and I smoked the entire restaurant up just when they were beginning their dinner rush. The staff didn’t know I was renting the building yet, so I had to apologize during my first meeting with my new neighbours.”
Elsewhere in Nanaimo, historic Beban House is said to be home to a young boy, often seen bouncing a red rubber ball. The Qualicum Inn, 50 km. to the north, allegedly still houses guests from its days as a boy’s boarding school, to which staff attribute pranks involving telephones and printers.
In Victoria, golfers often report seeing a woman in a white dress near the seventh hole of the Victoria Golf Club. Some say she is Doris Gravlin, who was strangled by her husband in September 1936 and dragged across the fairway to a nearby beach.
But for some residents, just hearing the stories isn’t enough. Groups like the Vancouver Island Paranormal Society, founded by husband and wife team Robert and Michelle Turner, have materialized in recent years to conduct investigations and otherwise document ghostly activity, as have similar groups on the Lower Mainland.
Vancouver resident Darryl Pearson, a welder and fabricator by trade, founded Northern Paranormal Investigations (NPI) after leaving a previous group. NPI maintains an eclectic company of occult sleuths, including a construction worker, an actor, and a retired postal worker, among others. Pearson says they often receive requests for help from Vancouver Island, although, as a non-profit organization, the group has trouble affording the cost of ferry travel to investigate them.
NPI uses standard ghosthunting methods, including electronic voice recording (EVP), as well as an electromagnetic field detector/trigger (EMT), disguised as a stuffed dog, which they have nicknamed Fluffy. Fluffy allows them to “communicate” with ghosts, the theory being that spirits can manipulate EMT fields, setting off a light or sound on the detector (two for yes, one for no) when the team poses a question.
“A lot of times you go into an investigation and everything that goes on in the house seems to be paranormal,” explains Pearson. “It’s incredible how many things people start noticing once they see one or two odd things happen. We have to go in and say, ‘No, this is not paranormal, here are some ways to look at what’s happening.’ Once we do our investigation, we have to go back and say this is what we did or did not find. There’s a lot of times where we can put people’s minds at ease and that’s a big thing for us as a group too.”
While finding definitive proof of the paranormal is rare for Pearson, he claims that there have been two occasions in which the unexplainable remained so. One was at a heritage home in East Vancouver.
“We asked some questions and we got some very direct responses back,” he says. “Nothing verbal on any recorder, but when you ask a question, and the device beeps, and it does it multiple times, you start feeling odd. We couldn’t explain that — all we could do is come back and tell the client that what they were telling us, based on the responses we received, lined up. Who they said was here is here. We can’t debunk it, we can’t say it doesn’t exist.”
In the absence of profit, Pearson and his team find resolution in their research.
“Before I started the group, I believed that something else was out there. I didn’t know what it was, I didn’t know what to expect, I just knew that something different was out there — and I wanted to find out what it was . . . I’ll probably never find all the answers I’m looking for, but if I keep looking we’re bound to get some interesting results.”
Pearson says that when they are able to debunk a haunting, it’s typical for the client to face disappointment rather than relief — something that Willow Friday echoes as she looks around her new store.
“I feel like I have a buddy,” she explains. “Maybe I’m crazy, but I feel like he has helped me, whoever he is. He’s pushed me to accomplish something truly great.”