An evening stroll amongst the Lost Souls of Gastown will not disappoint
Devon Simpson // Contributor
We are fascinated with death – the mystery, the loneliness and the absolute reality that one day it will happen to each of us. We are thrilled by stories told of others and the horrors they faced, especially when they are based on reality. The drama, the suspense and the terror excites us all even if it does creep us out. Perhaps that is why so many people love Halloween.
While some dress in disguises and play pranks, others honour and remember the dead. Folklore around this time of year has it that the veil between the world of the living and that of the dead is at the thinnest, allowing the spirits to walk amongst the living. Regardless of how we observe this time of year our minds often wander to the past and those that were left behind.
There are many haunted tours operating all over the city in October. From the Haunted Trolley Tour in Stanley Park to Forbidden Vancouver, which takes curious guests through the secret opium dens in Chinatown, Stanley Park and Gastown. Forbidden Vancouver creator (and history buff) Will Woods has developed a “gothic theatre adventure” that leads tourists (and locals!) around Gastown’s cobblestone streets looking back through history with laminated photographs. Expert storytellers tell tales of murder, despair and tragedy in the very streets where they transpired a century or more before.
“It’s not a ghost tour, it is a gothic theatre adventure designed to take guests back in time,” Woods said of the walking tour that winds its way through the back alleys of Vancouver after dark. He created the company in 2012, inspired by similar tour companies in Seattle and Edinburgh. Today, 12 guides run Forbidden Vancouver, many of which are actors.
Cheap thrills and a gimmicky air of ‘ghost’ tour is not present on this walk. Instead, the real enchantment is in the city’s history. Woods’ descriptions of Vancouver’s history captivates imaginations. “[People] escaped the Great Fire while flames licked the skin off their backs,” Woods dramatized at one point.
In the core of Gastown, perhaps after a pint of pumpkin ale from a local brewery down the street, a group collects to start their evening. A guide dressed in authentic costume emerges from the shadows, carrying a historical picture book remembering those who walked these streets.
“Our storytellers are imagined residents of old Vancouver,” said Woods. “There are female leads and male leads – each tour is different, but based on documented accounts from our city’s earliest years.”
In a dimly lit alleyway just off Water Street, the hustle and bustle of the modern world slips away each night as the ghostly guide creates a bridge between the living and the dead. Each stop on the walking tour holds a new story – told from the perspective of someone who lived through the event and, who quite possibly was responsible for it. Leaning against the brick walls, the stories come to life and it’s easy to feel the spirits of a cruel and harsh city.