Take a stroll through the streets of Gastown, the old heart of Vancouver, and the home of many restless ghosts.
Joss Arnott // Staff Writer
Sandrine Dionne // Illustrator
“It was in my kitchen,” said Lydia Williams, speaking about one of the many encounters she’s had with ghosts over the years. “You know how when you’re waiting for the toast to finish you just stand there, you have nothing else to do.” She gestured around her as we talked beside Waterfront Station, a few minutes before the tour started.
“I caught this movement from the corner of my eye and I look to see a dish towel just flapping like crazy. All the doors and windows were closed—no draft. As I turned to look at the towel, I felt a ghost move right through me. I can’t say it feels good,” she said. “It doesn’t feel painful. It just feels kind of gross, I can’t describe it beyond that.” Williams paused and shrugged. “But then my toast went up and I was immediately distracted. Instead of being totally freaked out, I thought, well ok, toast is up.” She smiled. “It’s funny how you react in the situation, sometimes you’re just not that scared.”
Williams is no stranger to the paranormal. As the owner of Ghostly Vancouver Tours, she’s been telling stories, researching and investigating ghosts as part of a team for years. Williams’ company offers walking tours through Gastown that uncovers the hidden stories of the neighbourhood and sheds light on its paranormal elements. The looping tour treads through the old heart of the city and lasts ninety minutes, hitting all the notable stops in Gastown. Among the tour’s haunted stops are Blood Alley, the Lookout Building and the Lamplighter Public House.
“I’ve always loved the paranormal…I really love the idea of being a storyteller.” Williams has a passion for the paranormal that she infuses into her tours. Whether it be the story of Blood Alley’s Lady in Black or the Headless Brakeman that wanders the tracks below Waterfront, Williams brings unexpected care and levity to her craft. There are no tricks or ploys used on the tour—Williams presents the story of each ghost based on eyewitnesses reports and whatever historical evidence she can find. From there, Williams makes her own observations but makes no claims that what she’s saying is the definitive truth. “What makes a good story is having a place where you have regularly seen ghosts,” said Williams, referring to places with multiple sightings over years like Old Spaghetti Factory in Gastown. “They’re seen, they do the same things. It builds a mystery to it.”
Williams begins every tour by asking her audience how much they believe in ghosts on a scale from zero to ten. “I don’t think you have to be a believer to love ghost stories,” said Williams, “I think people want to believe. The unknown is something everyone is really attracted to.” This approach to the tour lets even the most skeptical find something they can enjoy on the tour, which delves into a lot of Gastown’s forgotten history. “My favourite part of this job is connecting with people, talking to people about their experiences,” said Williams.
There will probably never be a satisfying conclusion on ghosts. Williams mentioned multiple times that the only way to truly believe is to have the first-hand experience. I’m not really sure if I believe in ghosts. I was a five out of ten when Williams began our tour. But Awhen Williams told our group the story of the White Lady, a spirit that has haunted the Lookout building in Gastown for over a hundred years, I felt a shiver slide down my back. Maybe the White Lady still waits in the Lookout Building to this day, wailing into the black night.