Ghost stories for Halloween

Jenny Seeman
A bedroom at Hatley Castle during the Dunsmuir era

Besides the tangible connections we have with the past in our archives and museum, there is a lot of interest in the undocumented and unexpected spooky encounters at historic places such as Hatley Park. On more than one occasion, when I have told people I am working in the archives here, I have been asked if there are any ghosts.

One story that I have come across is related to the reaction of James Dunsmuir when he heard of his son’s untimely death in the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915. “Boy” Dunsmuir was James’ planned heir to the estate and family fortune and it is said that he was so distraught on hearing of his death, he played the tune ‘Where, Oh Where is My Wandering Boy Tonight?’ over and over until his wife, Laura, had to hide the record from him to get him to stop. Many years later, when James’ private study had long been converted to the Commandant’s office, the mournful tune was heard echoing through the castle one night. You can hear a version of the song, sung by Henry Burr, on YouTube

A story from the Dunsmuir era is reported in the book Ghosts: True Stories from British Columbia by Robert C. Belyk. The wife of James’ brother, Alexander, stayed briefly at the Dunsmuir home, Burleith, after Alex’s funeral in San Francisco in 1899. Unwell herself, Josephine had been delaying a necessary surgery to treat her cancer. Standing at a window late one night, she was shocked to see an image of her husband, who said, “Josephine, pet, you’d better not stay too long or you’ll be late for your operation”. She apparently packed up and left the very next day!

When cadets still had dorm rooms in the castle in the 1940s, one cadet reported that he had awoken one night to find a little old woman grasping his foot. He had a hard time shaking himself free, and when he did, the woman disappeared. There were also reports from cadets who claimed to have seen a crying girl in one particular dorm room. After a few moments, she would appear to float out towards the sea through the window. It is supposed that this is the ghost of a young maid, Anabelle, who died while in the Dunsmuirs’ employment.

Visitors on a tour of the castle in the late 1990s reported hearing the chiming of a small bell up in the tower, followed by the opening of a small doorway that had not been visible before. Custodial staff working late in the castle have also noted doors and windows appearing to open and close of their own volition.

A newspaper article from the Times Colonist in February 2007 reports that ghost specialists spent a night at the castle collecting data from video cameras and sound and temperature recorders. The specialists reported seeing “various male and female spirits, felt areas of strong energy in some rooms, and heard knocking from other areas.” The third-floor boardroom was said to be a place of “very strong energy”.

An episode of Creepy Canada was filmed here in 2003 and tells a story of the youngest Dunsmuir daughter, Dola, seeing visions of her brother James (Boy) around the grounds after he had been lost at sea.

Are there really ghosts at Hatley Park? Who might they be, and what are their stories? Have you had a ghostly encounter? If you have stories to share, know someone who does, or would like to know more about the archives, please contact me at extension 4122, or by email.

Photo of Boy Dunsmuir

Boy Dunsmuir

Happy Halloween!

Jenny Seeman