Community Classroom

Three real Vancouver Island ghost stories to get you in the Halloween spirit

Shanon Sinn leans on a balcony railing and gazes at a night city scape
Author: Shanon Sinn

Alum Shanon Sinn shares his research

Shanon Sinn was still a creative writing student at Vancouver Island University (VIU) when he published The Haunting of Vancouver Island, a non-fiction book that explores local ghost stories. 

From a headless ghost, to a lady who walks on water, to sea serpents, Sinn researched 25 haunting tales and sightings from a journalistic perspective, interviewing people with experiences where possible, reading accounts in various primary sources and going to the sites in person. Several of the stories were workshopped in classes taught by VIU creative writing professors.

Sinn is currently working on a sequel about BC sea lore and coastal ghost stories, for which he travelled to Haida Gwaii and Prince Rupert last fall to do some of the research. He has also started his own publishing company, is planning to release an anthology in the next year – more details to come soon – and is back at school in Camosun College’s Comics and Graphic Novels program.

To help get everyone in the Halloween spirit, he kindly agreed to share abbreviated versions of three of the ghost stories in his book with Community Classroom readers:

Book cover for The Haunting of Vancouver Island with a picture of a foggy forest

Choosing the stories

The Haunting of Vancouver Island was published five years ago in October. It has gone to print five times since and continues to remain a popular Halloween read.

People sometimes ask me which story is my favourite. It’s a difficult question to answer, as each tale represents a specific geographical area and was chosen for its uniqueness compared to all the others.

The Beban House Ghost

Beban House in Nanaimo is certainly fascinating. The rustic, cabin-style home was built in the 1930s by the Beban family. The city purchased the house and property in 1956 and by the mid 1990s had divided it into multiple business spaces to rent. Tenants have claimed it is haunted ever since. Multiple witnesses have come forward and were interviewed by newspapers and television shows over the years. One of them was an RCMP officer, as the Nanaimo detachment had a community office in the building. The police officer claimed to have seen an apparition of a woman. 

Part of the old home was converted into a preschool. Sometime before 1997, two children – years apart – claimed to have played with a Chinese boy wearing a white gown who also had a long braid. One of them – possibly both – mentioned he had been playing with a red ball. This detail became iconic, as the account was retold on the TV show Creepy Canada. I found another witness who had never been interviewed. She claimed to also have seen the boy as a child at the daycare. She no longer remembers what he looked like, or if he had a red ball, but the little girl told her father when he picked her up that she had seen a ghost. I spoke with him and he corroborated. He told me his daughter’s words had always stuck with him. He was surprised to learn, much later, that the house is reputed to be haunted.

Tourism Nanaimo once had their head office in Beban House. Six officials made public statements over the years to various news outlets in regards to what they had experienced. In 2011, an executive director told CTV News everyone had a story and that people were terrified.

Local teenagers sometimes sit in their cars at night watching the house’s windows, hoping to witness something unexplained. Beban House is at the edge of Beban Park alongside Bowen Road, so it’s a harmless way to spend time around Halloween.

The Lady Who Walks on Water

The Lady Who Walks on Water might very well be my favourite Vancouver Island ghost story. This Port Alberni tale is at least 80 years old. The haunting sounds like an urban legend, at first, but witnesses have regularly come forward. 

The Paper Mill Dam Park is a three-minute drive from the Orange Bridge (the one everyone needs to cross en route to Tofino). It’s a forested park along the Somass River – one of the most beautiful and important river systems on the Island.

The phantom is said to be an attractive Indigenous woman wearing old-fashioned colonial clothing. This is interesting, as many stories about Indigenous ghosts describe their spirits as wearing traditional regalia, which can be problematic when examined critically, as the stories support the “vanished Native American” narrative.

People claim to have seen her apparition on the path between the parking lot and the river, along the shore, or walking on top of the water itself. One witness claimed she saw her emerging out of the water with dry hair moments before she vanished. The Lady Who Walks on Water is said to ask people, “Have you seen my baby?” The question hints at a tragic backstory. Apparitions who speak in BC ghost lore are rare.

The tale is well known amongst both Indigenous and non-Indigenous residents of Port Alberni. But it was relatively unheard of outside of the region until recently. This makes it less likely the tale was concocted to attract tourism.

The drive past Cameron Lake towards Paper Mill Dam Park is stunning in the fall, when the leaves are changing colour. There’s an old post-Halloween tradition amongst locals to place their jack-o’-lanterns along the highway beneath the monster trees of Cathedral Grove, as well. They are usually left for several weeks. It’s another reason to take a road trip in autumn to the Paper Mill Dam Park.

The Wild People of the Woods

The Haunting of Vancouver Island is not just about ghost stories. Besides there being a chapter on lake and sea serpents (did I just mention Cameron Lake?) there’s also a chapter called “Wild People of the Woods.”

Traditional Indigenous stories speak of a cannibal spirit, sometimes described as an ogress, who haunts BC’s coastal forests. This story is well known all over the Pacific Northwest, including the Duncan and Powell River areas VIU campuses are also at. The Kwakwaka’wakw people call her Dzunukwa, but she is also known by other names. She carries a basket on her back to abduct people – mostly children – who are either found in the forest alone, or even in groups once night has fallen.

Non-Indigenous people are sometimes quick to dismiss traditional Indigenous stories as “legends,” but hundreds of people have reported seeing a similarly described being in the same areas. This, of course, is the creature that cryptozoologists call Sasquatch. They believe this is the same being. There are holes in contemporary Sasquatch theories, however. At Alert Bay on Cormorant Island, for example, one of these beings was seen repeatedly in their graveyard. Vocalizations were recorded and played on the news. People began to ask why an elusive humanoid would swim to a heavily populated island (void of wildlife) and stay there ­– somehow out of sight during the day ­– for several weeks. Strangely, there have been other sightings around cemeteries in North America, as well. Isn’t Sasquatch supposed to live deep in the wilderness?

If the Pacific Northwest does have an undiscovered giant humanoid, why hasn’t a specimen ever been recovered? There have been so many sightings on Vancouver Island, however, that Monster Quest in 2009 dubbed it “Ape Island.” While testimonies have often been convincing, it’s the anatomically correct and remotely found massive footprints that have stumped hardcore sceptics for decades.

Maybe the most unsettling detail of all, is the belief that Dzunukwa is not the only otherworldly being wandering our woods at night. There are the smaller ones, the reanimated drowned dead, and beings people once sought in search of power – and many more. The forest is a realm where caution is needed after dark.

Shanon Sinn on a city street

Halloween on Vancouver Island

Vancouver Island is uniquely haunted like nowhere else on Earth. For people who believe in the Celtic roots of Halloween, the veil between our world and the spirit world is thought to be thinnest on this one night of the year. Somewhere beyond the festivities and fun that make up our modern celebrations awaits supernatural creatures and spirit beings impossible to categorize or comprehend. Whether a person believes in the Otherworld or not, Halloween has become a favourite night of the year for many people – myself included – to see death and all things unexplained through a more carefree and mischievous lens.

However you mark this night of the year, I wish you a safe and happy Hallowe’en.


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