From the outside, the mountainous walls of Hatley Castle loom tall, but deep in the depths of the castle lurk supernatural figures.
One such ghost who can be seen wandering the halls of the Colwood castle is that of a famous Victoria family.
The castle was originally built by James Dunsmuir, who served as premier of B.C. and lieutenant governor, and his wife, Laura in 1909. The couple had a number of children, including the youngest son, Jim, who was nicknamed Boy Dunsmuir. Jim was just 21 years old when World War One broke out.
Fed up with waiting and eager to fight for his country, Jim quit his local regiment, got on a train to New York City, and boarded the RMS Lusitania bound for France. But just off the south coast of Ireland, the vessel was torpedoed by a German submarine. Thousands of men lost their lives, including Jim, though his body was never found.
Back at Hatley Castle, James was heartbroken by the loss of his son. He would spend the nights pining away in his study, located on the ground floor of the castle, endlessly playing a record called Where is My Wandering Boy Tonight. Equally upset about her son’s death but fed up with the music, Laura stormed into his study one night and broke the record.
James passed away shortly after. It is said he may have died of a broken heart from losing his favourite son.
To this day, workers have seen or heard strange noises coming from the castle, and in particular what used to be James’ study.
Some say they’ve heard music playing, shuffling footsteps and the sound of cupboards being opened and closed, as if someone was pacing back and forth looking for something.
The ghost story is one of many on the West Shore and across the region that historian John Adams has collected over the past three decades.
Adams runs Ghostly Walks, a walking tour that explores Victoria’s haunted alleyways and gruesome past. While the tours run year-round, Adams normally sees an uptick in people around Halloween.
“Some people really do like the adrenaline rush of being frightened, that’s why horror movies are quite popular. The mystery is very much a part of it,” Adams said. “People like the idea of a good story, especially if it relates to someone they know, it becomes more compelling. People like the thrill, the drama, they like to get spooked.”
During the tours, Adams also tells the story of a number places in the West Shore that are supposedly haunted, including Fort Rodd Hill and the neighbouring lighthouse.
When it comes to the Dunsmuirs, the story doesn’t end with the death of James and Jim.
Jim’s mother, Laura was always convinced her boy wasn’t dead and that he would one day return to the castle. After her death in 1937, the family dispersed and the Canadian government acquired the castle, turning it into Royal Roads University.
When the college first opened, Jim’s room and surrounding areas were turned into dormitories for young cadets. But according to Adams, many cadets were too afraid to venture up there and go to sleep. Many reported seeing the ghost of an old woman, presumably Laura, who would stalk the dormitory and stand at the foot of every bed to see if one of the cadets was Jim.
When the cadets were sleeping, if Laura’s ghost couldn’t see their faces, she would slowly pull back the sheets.
“Workers have seen ghostly presences, especially in the lower level which used to be the kitchen,” Adams said. “Certainly there are lots of presences there.”
While Adams said many ghost stories have been well documented, some blur the line into urban legend, and it’s up to participants to decide what’s fact or fiction.
Ghostly Walks Halloween Tours run at 6:30, 7:30, 8:30 and 9:30 p.m. starting from the gate at Market Square (560 Johnson St.) For more information visit ghostlywalks.com or call 250-384-6698.