Ghost stories are often more than campfire fiction
Justin Scott // Managing Editor
Illustration by Max Littledale
As much as Sitara Grey and her roommates wanted to believe everything was okay, it had gotten to the point where she and everyone else in her apartment knew something needed to be done. For weeks, their apartment had not felt like a home, playing host to numerous unsettling and strange events. Eventually, they decided that they needed to sit down and have a serious discussion, as one of the roommates from Canada, Marie Last, had some serious questions to answer.
Grey grew up in Margeret River in Western Australia and later moved down to Perth to attend Murdoch University. She was accepted into the University’s housing and was assigned roommates. “I’d never lived away from home so I was actually really nervous about moving into the place and getting four roommates I had never met before,” she said.
Luckily for Grey however, her anxieties were proven unnecessary. “As soon as I got there, we all got along right away, I was so happy,” she recalled. The new roommates soon became friends and life couldn’t have been better.
For the entire first semester and the beginning of the second, they lived without problems, until Last went away for a weekend in March. “Honestly before that, our place was always happy. You know when you walk into a room or a home and you just smile? That was what our place was like,” she said. However, once Last got home from her weekend road trip, things changed.
“At first it wasn’t anything serious,” Grey explained, “we just felt… unsafe.”
Over the next few weeks, strange things started happening. “We had one mate who would just black out,” she said. Worried the girl might be anemic, Grey and her other roommates insisted that she see a doctor, who found her iron levels were fine. Grey and others in the apartment felt increasingly unsafe, but couldn’t explain why.
“We were even locking our windows at night,” she said, even though they lived on the fourth floor and there were no ladders or anything on the building that would allow access to the windows.
Over this period, Grey had been noticing strange bruising on her right thigh, but thought nothing of it. One morning however, it became all she could think about. “I was going to have a shower, and Claire [another roommate] had just finished in there. She walked out with just a towel on, and I saw the exact same bruises on her legs,” Grey explained. At this point, she knew it was time to act.
Grey and her roommates discussed it only to realize that everything had started after Last had returned from her trip. All sitting in the living room, they waited for Last to finish class and once she came through the door, they said they needed to talk.
“The first thing we did was ask her if she had a bruise on her leg,” said Grey, and sure enough, she did. Last told them all about her road trip – what she had done and where. Eventually the girls realized that one of the parks Last had visited was on Aboriginal land. “She had gone four wheeling one day, and we think she may have been on burial ground,” Grey said. Having believed in spirits her whole life, Grey was immediately concerned.
While Grey and her roommates weren’t sure what to do at first, for many in Vancouver who have experiences like this, they call the Vancouver and Interior Paranormal Society (VIPS). Established in 1993, VIPS is a not-for-profit society that investigates paranormal activity in the Lower Mainland and BC’s Interior.
“Paranormal is an umbrella word. Spirits, cryptozoology – which would include Sasquatch watching – you have Ufology, all those different things. It’s that which you can’t explain,” clarified VIPS vice president, case manager and lead investigator, Kelly Berge. As a member of the Atlantic Paranormal Society, VIPS conducts all their investigations on a purely scientific basis, only working in tangible facts and evidence.
VIPS is made up of team members dedicated to investigating happenings that they’re contacted about. “I spend a lot of time with people before we investigate,” said Berge. “Back and forth emails, I ask them to call me – I want them to call me and not the other way around because I want to see their commitment – I spend a lot of time on the phone with them and not just once, two or three times,” she explained.
For VIPS, investigations are done with a passion and thirst for an understanding of the unknown. Due to this, most are conducted on weekends because team members work during the week. This means that they must be selective with what cases they accept, so Berge makes sure that the cases have a legitimate merit to them before agreeing. Once Berge is satisfied that whoever is reaching out does in fact have a need for an investigation, the team coordinates a time that works, and a new investigation begins.
Vancouver and Interior Paranormal Society has captured many spirits on film with specialized equipment. Photos c/o VIPS
The society has a diverse and endearing team, who are all fascinated by paranormal events for one reason or another. “My childhood was right around the Scooby-Doo era, so as a child that captivated my first interest into anything paranormal,” said team member Mike Lutke. “With Scooby–Doo, it’s always something explainable, so, fast forward many years and you start getting into the paranormal shows that are on TV and it’s like, ‘Okay this is real life, these are real investigators and not just cartoon characters,’ and that fascinated me,” he continued.
While most of the team believes in the paranormal, every Mulder needs a Scully.
Gord Perrin initially joined VIPS because of his wife, Karen, who can still remember her first paranormal encounter. She was seven years old and still living in her home country of England. “Our house backed onto a graveyard and I was just looking out of my window one night and I saw what looked like a grey mist, and it was in the shape of a human,” she remembered. “I just watched it glide through the cemetery and I was mesmerized.” Since then, Karen has had many more experiences and identifies as a Sensitive – someone who has increased senses when it comes to spirits and paranormal activity.
Gord, however, who refers to himself as an “open minded skeptic” needs more evidence before he can fully believe. “I respect everybody in this group and I’m interested in it all, but for me something needs to come slap you in the face, and nothing’s happened to me my whole life,” he said. While he may feel like the odd man out on occasion, Gord and the rest of the team acknowledge how valuable he is as a member, as he is someone who will challenge them to seek more evidence.
Once in the middle of an investigation, the team pushes aside their theories to focus on the facts. To help them do this, the team has collected a large arsenal of equipment that allows them to gather data and conduct tests that they hope will lead them to a conclusion or some kind of an understanding.
They use Mel Metres, which monitor Electro Magnetic Frequencies (EMFs) and temperature changes; Environmental Detection Instruments (EDIs), which are new in the paranormal field, to monitor EMFs and temperature changes as well as changes in humidity, air pressure and detect vibrations; Laser grids and ultra violet cameras to try and see spirits; and high-quality audio recorders to capture Electronic Voice Phenomenon (EVPs). They also carry objects like small balls and ChapStick – objects light enough to monitor the movement of any spirit who may try.
Lutke even brings a carbon monoxide detector to ensure that whoever called them had all their faculties about them, as the gas can cause hallucinations.
While none of their equipment has “ghost detection” capabilities per se, they believe that by monitoring the environment around them, they can gain a greater understanding of what is occurring. For example, VIPS and most others active in their field believe that spirits emit EMFs seeing as they’re made purely of energy – which would make sense. So, while picking up an EMF isn’t definitive proof of paranormal activity, it’s certainly something. EVPs can be even more convincing, as they can be heard and often understood. For the team, few things are as exciting as capturing a Class A EVP on one of their audio recorders.
“It’s a voice that we can hear that’s not one of the investigators, or anyone else there. It’s going to be loud, clear, unmistakable in what it says, full toned and hopefully it shows up in the flat line of the audio,” explained Berge. For team skeptic Gord, EVPs can be some of the most intriguing phenomena. “I know it’s real, it’s strange, it’s weird. ‘It’s not my first one, I’ve caught a few others,” he’ll think to himself, “I’m always thinking that’s a cat off in the distance, or that’s a car, it’s just the way my mind works.”
Of course, the team will experience things during investigations that may not offer any proof, but further solidifies their beliefs. Lutke recalled one experience in particular that he will never forget. “We were on an investigation and Kelly was there, but she was in a separate part of the place we were investigating,” he explained. “So, during the EVP session she said, ‘can you touch Mike on the lower back?’ Well at that moment I was in a totally different part of the building with another investigator, and I felt myself get touched on the lower back,” he said.
Lutke was startled at first and looked around himself to see if there was anything that could have touched him, but found nothing. He continued his investigation, then returned to the rest of the group to report his findings. Upon his return, he told the team what had happened. “I told Kelly and I said, ‘you’re not going to believe this,’ and she said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me, I just asked for something to touch you.”
As fascinating as the investigations can be, according to Berge, the goal of an investigation isn’t to find proof of paranormal activity, but to ease their clients’ mind. “We want to have achievable, hands-on, measurable data,” she said. “We want that so we can provide it to the client and say, ‘Look, you’re not going crazy, we can’t really explain this but it looks like something is going on and this is what we have for you.”
While this is the goal, it doesn’t always go as planned. “Sometimes you leave an investigation with more questions than you had going into it,” said Lutke. On the other hand, the team will often be able to fully explain the phenomena to their clients, with it often being as simple as water pipes and furnaces making noises.
However, for most people, there are no numbers or read-outs that will be as convincing as a first hand encounter with a spirit. Though Vancouver may be a relatively young city, one doesn’t have to join VIPS to encounter paranormal activity here. The city’s Fairmont Hotel has its infamous Red Lady, The Penthouse Nightclub is said to have a resident spirit, and even Waterfront station is apparently enjoyed by some not-so-living inhabitants.
If you still aren’t convinced, you may be surprised to learn that nearly half of the people around you would disagree. A recent study conducted by the Harris Poll found that 42 per cent of Americans believe in ghosts. Additionally, a recent Gallup Survey found that nearly 75 per cent of Americans believe in some kind of paranormal activity, and the Pew Research Centre released data that showed nearly one-in-five Americans believe that they’ve seen a ghost in their lifetime.
Unfortunately for Grey, her experience wasn’t as simple as seeing a ghost. After her and her roommates established their theory that a spirit had followed Last home on her trip, they began to take action. “We did a water cleansing,” she recalled, “We sterilized water with sterling silver and we sterilized our apartment and all our stuff, and then that night we all slept in our living room together.” However, she quickly realized the cleansing hadn’t been enough.
“That night I woke up at 3 a.m. to the sound of water running so I woke up my roommate and she went over the kitchen and right when she flashed her light the water stopped. After she went back to sleep I stayed up and the water started running again, so I just put on music and tried to sleep.”
She can’t recall whether there was any water left in the sink, but is adamant that she could clearly hear it running while there wasn’t anyone in the kitchen to turn it on. And it didn’t stop there. “The day after the cleansing, I was in my room and a candle flew across my room and hit my arm and hot wax went all over it. Then all my books fell off my shelf and onto me. I honestly didn’t know what to do.” At this point, she and her roommates left their apartment for a weekend and visited one of their family’s vacation homes.
Before leaving however, they tried to remedy the situation one last time. “We told the spirit that ‘We’re just here for school. We don’t care if you’re here but please don’t communicate with us’.”
According to Berge, this was exactly what they should have done. She explained that dealing with a spirit can be just like dealing with another person, so sometimes it’s as simple as explaining the situation. “Be respectful and just say ‘This is my home, and you’re welcome to be here as well but just understand that this is me and my family’s home… You respect us and we’ll respect you.”
Upon arriving home from their weekend away, the roommates had no more issues. Grey never fully understood what happened but knows what she experienced.
If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, Berge advises that you try to handle it yourself before contacting VIPS. “Always try and deal with it yourself first,” she said. “Always look for reasonable explanations, always keep an open mind and don’t go to that place of immediately thinking it’s paranormal. Relax, and if you really do believe it’s paranormal then just set limits. Calmly, respectfully, kindly set limits and remember that ghosts are people too.”
Or at least, they were.