The Empress Hotel Victoria

Craigdorroch Castle, Victoria, circa 1890 (photo by Garrett Smith, courtesy BC Archives and Records/H-02479).

There’s a nightlife in beautiful, historic Victoria, B.C., far more exclusive than the hottest dance clubs. In fact, you and I aren’t even invited. This is a nightlife alive with the afterlife. If you want to get down with paranormal activity, Victoria is the hottest place in the west for the coldest spirits. I’ll be your tour guide. After all, hunting ghosts is my hobby

Victoria boasts over 5,000 years of First Nations history and a community of colourful characters after the old Fort Victoria was founded in 1843. Tourists from across the globe flood Victoria for its old school British flavour and an inner harbour full of vistas and buskery entertainment.

But, this wrap-around waterfront city on Vancouver Island has a dark side leftover from its wild west days. Perhaps an ill omen was the great storm in 1909 that bashed the shores of Ross Bay Cemetery, the city’s first and still-standing burial plot, washing away large portions of the predominantly Chinese, Japanese and First Nations graves. Not good.

Ghost stories are one of the most exciting things about Victoria, and spending nights hunting them down is an excellent way to pass time. But let me stress, ghosts are real. They aren’t jokes and whispers from myths – they actually exist. For the last few years, my friends and I have searched for the living dead, and we’ve experienced many frightening things. If you’re up for the challenge, visit these true Victoria haunts and report back with stories and sightings.

Ghost Hunting

Do you see the late Joan Dunsmuir? This photo was taken this year by one of our Ghoul Inc. team members

Parliament Buildings
Francis Rattenbury, playboy architect of the Empress and Parliament Buildings was bludgeoned to death by his second wife’s lover, a chauffer, over a mistress. Rattenbury haunts the Parliament Buildings, some hypothesize, because he feels he hasn’t received the right accolades for his work

The BC Maritime Museum
The BC Maritime Museum was built on the old gallows and graves of hung criminals. It’s not uncommon to hear the sounds of chains and moans there, even in the day.

Oak Bay Golf Course
Once upon a time, a groom murdered his wife on the cliffs of the Oak Bay Golf Course before doing himself in. Seeing a woman in a bridal gown is a regular occurrence.

St. Ann’s Academy
Wacky artist Emily Carr has been seen many times on the lawns of St. Ann’s Academy. Some have also seen her at her grave in Ross Bay, a tourist favourite.

The Empress Hotel
After the tunnel under the Empress Hotel was cemented shut, workers heard a man’s screams. After cracking the tunnel open, the only trace of the man were fingernail scrape marks on the inside of the concrete block.

Speaking of the Empress…
Speaking of the Empress, an old woman haunts the sixth floor. People see her regularly as a solid figure who asks for help finding her room. When the hotel guests head to the hall to help her, she’s gone. Talk to Empress staff about glasses, chairs, and bed sheets moving after cleaners have prepped the rooms and they’ll spin you a yarn.

Craigdarroch Castle
The most haunted place in Victoria is coal baron Robert Dunsmuir‘s Craigdarroch Castle (pictured above). Volunteers hear whispers close to their ears and report seeing objects moving in front of their eyes. There’s no doubt that Dunsmuir’s wife, Joan, is trapped in the home. Team members from Ghoul Inc. and a dozen tourists this season have taken photographs of her, and she appears exactly as she is in paintings (pictured above). Outside, the smell of lard tallow candles (a favourite of Joan’s) waft from her room to the parking lot. If you’re fortunate enough, she’ll play the piano for you. It happens.

If I’ve piqued your interest and you’re ready to go ghost hunting in Victoria, here are my tips before setting out into the dark:

  1. You must have a lot of patience, a very receptive and controlled mind, and iron nerves. Luckily, these can be learned.
  2. Carry a cell phone, a flashlight, a digital voice recorder to tape electronic voice phenomena (EVPs) and a camera with a lot of extra batteries.
  3. Take photos everywhere. Don’t wait for a ghost to appear. You’ll undoubtedly catch one by feeling sudden cold and movement. Start snapping blindly (The photo of Joan Dunsmuir, above, was taken this way).
  4. Go with someone. It’s safer, and you’ll want a friend to confirm what you saw and heard.
  5. Don’t do anything illegal. You might end up trapped on earth when you die.

The most important thing is this: honour the dead. Ghost hunting is not about exploiting the dead for entertainment. The point is physically coming into contact with someone who is trapped in time. Be nice. It could be you wandering the earth in the afterlife.

Join the conversation! 15 Comments

  1. I didn’t see the ghost in the picture at first, or at second, or third … but after finishing the article I went back for yet another look, and voila! There she is.

  2. There is much more than joan in this place. A recent TripAdvisor review explains in some detail how they believe they’ve witnessed a male apparition of some sort in one of the upper floors. I talked to a guy at a halloween party about ten years ago, who worked on the reconstruction of the interior and said they often heard a little girl’s voice and just “chalked it up to the ghost” when he could never find out where inside it was coming from.

    Definitely makes you wonder about Craigdarroch, since it’s been through so much, and to hear these kinds of stories from so many different people.

    • James Roxby Stewart

      Yes! This tourist season was crazy at the castle. A couple people said they were standing outside and saw a man peeking out through one of the ground floor rooms through curtains at them. Which seems to be a new thing there, the first a lot of people have heard of it I think. Also, cab drivers have been talking a lot about the huge amount of tourists that either saw something or caught something on film this year. So, maybe more shots will show up (credit to Stacy Satterfield for the recent photo above). Interest is growing as to who the male spirit is.

      As for the child… this brings in an old story. The Dunsmuirs, and possibly those after them, had hired help who stayed in their own small room. The story goes that there was a photo taken in the boiler room and the mother and two children were extremely visible in it, but we can’t track that photo down! So, if you do… post it here!

      And another thing is that the castle was also a hospital for soldiers during/after WWI. This reminds me to bring up another major warning: stay away from any site that used to be a mental hospital or any hospital for that matter. There’s far too much pain in those areas.

  3. Don’t forget that it was also the Victoria College from 1921 until 1946? This can also attract residual energy.

    I wasn’t aware of that photo taken in the boiler room. It would be fascinating to see!

    Also, this is an amazing article and a great starting point for anyone interested in the phenomena of spirit photography!

  4. I’ve heard that Victoria is full of ghosts and witches, which makes it high on my list of travel destinations (I’m from Columbus, Ohio, not a Canadian). As an atheist, I’m very intrigued by paranormal phenomena.

    • And satanic cults. Rumors of people going missing every year being brought down into the tunnels below Victorias down town core for satanic rituals. We have a lot of creepy things that go bump in the night here. Ive been a ghost hunter by hobby for over eight years now and love it. Wed be happy to have you. Happy ghost hunting!

  5. James Roxby Stewart

    Thanks Matt! For those who don’t know, Matt is a founding member of Ghoul Inc. and gives talks at schools on the subject. Go team!

    Carl… yeah, all kinds of reasons to visit Victoria. Growing up there, it was common knowledge that the city has the biggest population of witches in North America. Not sure if that’s still true or not. I’ve known wikkans, but never happened upon a witch congregation or a pagan sacrifice ritual (which cops have discovered a few times apparently.)

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  7. I was just at the Castle today, and I can almost guaranteee it’s somebody else, in the same room looking out the window on the opposite side of the room..Sorry.

    • I toured this castle in June, 2005. When I ascended, if my memory is serving me correctly, to the 4th floor, I struck up a conversation with a spokesperson, I believe of the castle,…I respect the claims that the castle is not haunted, however,… I looked straight up at him and asked, “who is in the billiards room and who is in Jenny’s room?!” He chuckled and we dove right in what seemed for an hour describing the energy in that castle. I definitely felt energy in those two rooms. But that’s not the scary part: I walked around the front lawn taking pictures of the castle. Recalling calmly of the location of Jenny’s room, I witnessed for several minutes the curtains of one of the windows thrashing wildly about. The curtains would lift, toss right and left and away from the window. I repeat, I stood there on the grounds for several minutes and watched this. I beg an explanation,… I’m hard pressed to think it a prank of an employee at the expense of holiday travelers to the beautiful city of Victoria,… Best regards.

  8. We just spent the weekend in Victoria, my wife and I stayed at a hotel across from St Annes Acadamy. Ironically, when leaving the hotel to goto the castle we seen a women standing in the middle of the acadamy grounds in a dress, in misty weather just standing absulotely still. It caught mine and my wifes attention making us both feel like something wasn’t normal about the situation. When we returned home we seen a picture of Emily Carr and learned that people have witnessed her doing the same. I can’t say with out reason it just wasn’t a women standing out in the middle of the yards wearing a dress in the misty rain, but it is enough to make the hairs stand up on the back of my neck stand up and turn a skeptic into a believer.

    • Davina Choy

      Wow! What a screech-worthy story. It seems like Victoria is just teeming with ghosts. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Hello everyone…we went to visit the Craigdorrach Castle iMarch 30, 2013 and guess what we saw when we downloaded our pictures.
    A ghostly shot of a woman behind the manikin…I wonder if she owned this black dress but this is surely amazing!!!!

  10. Alexanders. United Kingdom

    My wife,9yr old daughter and i checked into the Empress Hotel on the 8th August 2014 for a 3 night stay. Went to bed about 2200hrs.All 3 of us were woken at 0305hrs by a loud cackling laughter from a corner of our room.We stayed in room 407.My daughter asked if there was a witch in the room.She was right cos it very much sounded like a witch.The cackle lasted for about 15 seconds and went like heh,heh,heh.heh,heh,heh.Aithough my daughter went back to sleep,my wife and i could not.It was so spooky.I went to reception to ask for a change of room.I had no previous knowledge of the Empress and its past.I did not think anyone would would believe us.When i mentioned it to the receptionist she added that it was well known that the Empress was a haunted hotel and some guest have reported strange noises but never about a witch cackling.We did get a change of room but i doubt we would be staying there again.


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About James Roxby Stewart

James Roxby is a freelance writer based in Vancouver, B.C. A Writing grad from the University of Victoria, James is currently an editorial intern at CONDO and Western Living magazine, and writes for his blog, Rock the Seesaw, when possible. James is a mental health advocate and champion for the 'rejeuvenile' lifestyle, injecting adult life with a healthy dose of the inner child. Among the many forms of media he dabbles in, James has written for the Times Colonist, story-edited for the Leo award winning webseries Freshman's Wharf, was editor-in-chief of UVic' s literary journal, This Side of West, shot hip hop music videos and pursues ghosts with Ghoul Inc. Contact him at and find him on Twitter @JamesRoxby.




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