I was in Victoria recently and spent some time wandering around James Bay. A century and a half ago the area housed huge mansions with large tracts of land owned by people like James Douglas, J.S. Helmcken, Richard Carr and Robert Dunsmuir. Their names continue to live on in place and street names in Victoria and Vancouver. And, even though a lot of gorgeous heritage houses became bulldozer bait, particularly in the 1960s and ‘70s, the Victoria Heritage Foundation still lists over 150 buildings on its heritage inventory, some dating back to the 1850s.
Quite a few of these old houses operate as restaurants, pubs or bed and breakfasts and they are worth a look for both their architectural merit, their social histories, or just because it’s almost Halloween.
From my ghost chapter in Sensational Victoria:
The Bent Mast: 512 Simcoe Street
The Bent Mast is a restaurant in an 1884 house in the James Bay Village. According to the menu I swiped, the house was once a rooming home, a brothel, four different restaurants and an erotic art gallery. Apparently a number of ghosts still haunt the house. There’s the happy child, a cranky old man who likes to hide things in the kitchen, and an older, “motherly-looking” woman who has been sighted on the main floor. The second floor, where the washrooms are, is definitely creepy. There’s a staircase that goes down to the back of the house and a bunch of locked rooms that I wouldn’t want to explore by myself after dark.
According to John Adams, a local author and historian, Victoria has the distinction of being the most haunted city in British Columbia, and one of the most pervasive ghosts is Emily Carr.
Emily Carr House: 207 Government Street
It’s only natural that Emily would return to the house where she was born. Now a museum, she has been seen there over the years. John says that before the provincial government bought the house it was used as an arts centre. A volunteer told him that every time they tried to hang a new show in the exhibit room, things would fly off the walls and move around. The volunteer blames Emily.
James Bay Inn: 270 Government Street
This hotel was designed by architect Charles Elwood Watkins in 1911 as the James Bay Hotel, and it’s the third oldest in Victoria. The building sold to Mother Cecilia’s religious order during the Second World War, and its claim to fame is that Emily Carr died there in 1945, a block from where she was born. The artist has been seen floating around the men’s room in the pub and in some of the first floor bedrooms.
Eve Lazarus is a writer with a passion for history and heritage houses. She is the author of At Home with History: the secrets of Greater Vancouver’s Heritage Houses, a member of the North Vancouver District Heritage Commission, and blogs obsessively about buildings and their genealogies at www.blog.evelazarus.com. Her next book “Sensational Victoria” with house stories of Victoria’s murders, ghosts, brothels, artists and sea captains (not necessarily in that order) will be published in November.