At 9:30 p.m., even the entrance to Market Square on Johnson Street has an eerie feel.
It’s dark and the only sounds come from the slight rustle of leaves and light footsteps that seem to echo throughout the courtyard.
This is where the Ghostly Walks begin. Our guide Chris Adams, appropriately dressed in black with a black hat and a cane with a skull on the handle, leads a group of roughly a dozen people through downtown Victoria’s most haunted hotels, streets and alleyways.
One of the most haunting and spine-chilling true stories begins just a stones throw down the road on Store Street.
In the 1890s, Johnson Street was known as the red light district of Victoria. A 44-year-old woman named Agnes Bing worked at Pilgrim Bakery (where Paboom Home Imports currently sits). To get to her home on Russell Street in Vic West, Agnes normally hopped on a street car that travelled over the Point Ellice Bridge. While it was a long way to get home, it was safe.
But on the night of Sept. 22, 1899, she decided to take a shortcut across the railway tracks where the Johnson Street Bridge now exists.
But as Chris tells, she didn’t return home that night.
Her husband called the police and at first light they found her body along the tracks.
“The police in Victoria here were seasoned crime scene investigators. They’d seen many things before, but nothing could prepare them for what they found when they found Agnes,” Chris explained.
She had been strangled, her clothes ripped off, and she had been cut open and disemboweled. Her heart, kidney, liver, spleen had been ripped out and placed beside her body.
The murder was reminiscent of London’s serial killer Jack the Ripper, which sent locals into a panic, leaving them to believe the infamous killer had come to the Island.
However, there was no other killing like that locally and the murder of Bing remains the most gruesome unsolved murders in Victoria.
“We may never know if it was Jack the Ripper or not. But what we do know is that Agnes Bing’s ghost has come back to haunt the place where her body was found, which is now the Delta Ocean Pointe,” Chris said.
Now, people in the lower hotel restaurant by the water can see a shadowy woman drifting along, pacing back and forth. Some people can even hear her screams.
This is just one of more than 500 local ghost stories, involving the Empress and Bedford Regency hotels, Fan Tan and Helmcken alleys, and Bastion and Market squares along with countless others, that Chris and his father and local historian John Adams have collected in the 16 years they’ve been doing the family-run tours.
Each tour includes a range of stories from well-known events such as the death of 55 people after a street car crashed through the Point Ellice Bridge in 1896, to lesser-known ones such as the death of a caretaker in the basement of the Strand Hotel (now the Green Cuisine), in which the caretaker’s body can still be seen floating and yelling at people.
The events have been confirmed by research, and of the roughly 10,000 people who participate in the tours annually, a number of skeptics and psychics said they’ve had ghostly encounters of their own on the tours.
“The idea of telling ghost stories, especially recently, has increased in popularity,” said John. “I’m not exactly sure why, although I think the adrenaline rush, the excitement and the mystery of the unknown, I think all of these things combined help make people really fascinated by ghost stories.”
In the end, it’s up to participants to decide if they believe in ghosts. But it’s hard not to when you’re standing in the spot where people died and chills creep up your spine in the most haunted city in B.C.
The Ghostly Walks run nightly until Nov. 1 at 6:30, 7:30, 8:30 and 9:30 p.m. The walks also continue after Halloween on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 7:30 p.m.