Meet the group that investigates what goes bump in the night
Gates Annai (they/them) // Features Editor
Alina Sandu (she/her) // Illustrator
It was a crisp October night in 2021 when Marlene Whittle and two other members of the Coldspotters paranormal investigative team ventured into the infamous Overlynn Mansion. The group carried in cameras fitted with night vision lenses, voice recorders, spirit boxes and rem-pods, looking for any indication they were among visitors from the other side.
The mansion itself is an artifact of 1909, barely visible from McGill St. behind a thicket of trees and shrubs. Though well preserved on the inside, the exterior of the mansion wears its age, made up of a granite rubble base and half-timbered walls. It spans nearly half the block, though if it weren’t for the popularity it earned as a filming location, most might walk right past it without an idea of what occurs inside. However, according to some, it is Burnaby’s most haunted location.
Whittle, a soft-spoken investigator in her forties who sports a black lace skirt and dark mascara, carries a rem-pod to set in the long dark corridors. The device looks like a large, black cylinder, with five lights across the top and a retractable antenna. Once planted, it emits EMF, or electromagnetic field energy, and detects if anything physical or paranormal crosses its path, lighting up and letting off a loud whining ring that increases in intensity the closer the disturbance is. In theory, this could be used as a way for ghosts to answer questions, set off the device for yes, stay quiet for no.
As Whittle approaches the corner, she catches something in her periphery. A shadow of two legs, as though someone were standing next to her.
“Oh, I thought you were outside, Calvin,” she says nonchalantly, turning towards her friend. As she turns, the shadow… disappears. Whittle, now finding herself alone, travels back to the entrance, where the real Calvin is standing outside.
The Calvin in question is Calvin Price, a mid-50s warehouse manager by day, though by weekend he is the boisterous yet humble founder and leader of local paranormal group, the Coldspotters. A Vancouver local, Price has been lurking around graveyards and local haunts since 1988, when the Coldspotters name first came into being. The formations of the group were modest—made up of two friends just graduating highschool, both inspired by the 1984 classic film, Ghostbusters.
“Some of our other friends just thought we were freaks,” Price adds with a laugh. “I think the one thing I’d want people to know is we’re just normal people.”
The Coldspotters as we know them today didn’t come into being until 2012, almost 25 years later, when Price was searching for a community to revisit his paranormal interests. This community mainly existed within the Vancouver Paranormal Society (VPS), though events were few and far between. He met up with another member of VPS and the pair decided to start their own group, reviving the long-dormant Coldspotters name.
The group began with ambitious goals. They would investigate clients’ homes completely free, travel Canada and into the U.S. on group road trips, and organize frequent events with the paranormal community all year round. Two weeks after they began the Facebook community page, they got their first follower. Since then, the Coldspotters Facebook has amassed over 400 followers, and their numbers continue to grow. Now they have five permanent investigators handling investigations about twice a month, which the group claims is just enough demand to keep up with, alongside planning the events and trips.
“It’s a great little community to be in,” says Joanna Rosselli, Price’s wife and partner in investigations. The Coldspotters brought Rosselli and Price together, alongside the rest of the group, “You become a family,” Rosselli adds.
“We’ve all been through marriages, divorces, [and] death. We’ve all been there to help each other get through life,” says Whittle.
Price, laughing as he says it, also adds, “It’s perfection with a layer of dysfunctionality, which makes it crazy, and it’s fun.”
As for clients, that’s where the Coldspotters do their most meaningful work. The group encourages anyone who is experiencing paranormal activity to reach out to them. First, they hold a pre-interview with the client to garner information about what exactly is going on in the location. Bumps in the night? Objects moving on their own? Even the sound of footsteps might be reported as evidence of a possible haunting. After that, they give detailed instructions on how to limit noise and interference with their equipment. Things like dogs, children, or neighbours shouldn’t be present during the investigation, and microwaves should be unplugged to limit ambient electromagnetic (EMF) interference.
Then, the investigation starts. The Coldspotters will bring in their equipment, stuff like K2 EMF readers, which glow red when they detect high levels of EMF activity, and regular voice recorders to perform a baseline reading of the location. This allows them to understand what sort of noise or reading is unusual in a location. The investigation itself looks like the Coldspotters sitting together in the dark for hours on end, calling out normal noises in the moment so unexplained ones that come up in recordings afterwards can be noted and filed away as a ‘file of interest’.
When a client calls the Coldspotters it’s typically after a loss in the family. “Normally when you live in a house that’s anywhere from 30 to 40 years old it’s going to make noise,” Price says. “After you’ve lived there for a while you don’t hear them. Then a family member dies, suddenly you’re hearing all these noises. I think people can be a little disappointed.”
When dealing with these clients, the Coldspotters recognize that grief is a heavy topic to navigate. “We also try to be compassionate because we understand that they’ve lost someone and they’re looking for that validation, so we’ll talk about other ways they can validate [their loved one],” Whittle adds.
The Coldspotters leave the interpretation of what they find up to the homeowners. In this way, the next steps they take are personalized to the client. Clients may request their space to be smudged, which is a process of burning sage to cleanse a space of negative energy. Otherwise, they ask the Coldspotters for help reaching spirit mediums or psychics to allow them to interact with the afterlife. This is where the community connections the Coldspotters have made come in handy.
It is their policy as a group to remain professional and respectful when inside a client’s house, but the Coldspotters get to let loose and have some old-fashioned paranormal fun when investigating historical buildings and public locations around Vancouver, such as Overlynn Mansion. Even after seven years of investigating the mansion, there is still one piece of evidence they’re looking to nab. “The one apparition that we’ve been waiting to see and meet,” Price says, “is the little girl in Overlynn.”
According to history dug up by Coldspotters historians, the mansion was originally owned by the Peters family, who lost both the mother and young daughter to the Spanish Flu. Decades later, and long after the mansion was emptied out, a housekeeper hired by the building’s owners was vacuuming by herself in the parlour. According to the tale, the woman watched a little girl of about seven or eight walk out of the wall right in front of her, cross the floor, and disappear through the other wall. The housekeeper fled and has never gone back in since.
While Price has, on multiple occasions, stayed alone overnight trying to catch even a glimpse of the girl, she remains unfortunately elusive. The one place they are unwilling to even check, however, is the Overlynn Mansion basement,
“There’s a lot of spiders,” winces Price.