Oak Bay reporter goes on ghost hunt

Paranormal Victoria Investigations and Research Society tour renowned haunted buildings at the Victoria Golf Club.

Susanne Gilby and Yvonne Fried set up equipment in the Golf Club’s dining room.

Susanne Gilby and Yvonne Fried set up equipment in the Golf Club’s dining room.

Oak Bay’s Victoria Golf Club wears its history in a mantle of weathered brick, leaded carriage lights and elegant woodwork. It’s quiet, dignified and quite exclusive. The club, after all, used the traditional blackball system to vet new members for more than 100 years and even today its 660 golfing members are a fairly elite group.

However, it’s not the living golfers that concern me tonight. I’ve come to determine if the club has some uninvited, less corporeal guests.

It all began as a bit of a lark, I was asked to set up a feature story wherein a famous haunting is checked out just before Halloween. Do the investigation and write up a fun feature for the holiday. But things took an unexpected turn as I did the background for the story. I talked to staff at the club and while some were dismissive, others grew very sombre, recounting their own strange experiences inside the building.

Then I talked to John Adams, Victoria’s resident expert on ghostly legends. “It’s very haunted there,” he warned me. “You may not believe … I didn’t at first, but over the years … I don’t know. There’s something there.”

It’s dark and a misty rain hangs in the night air as I wait for Susanne Gilby and her crew to arrive at the elegant front entrance to the golf club. Gilby is the head of the Paranormal Victoria Investigations and Research Society (PARAVI) who have kindly agreed to conduct the ghost hunt – in fact they were thrilled with the opportunity.

When they roll up with suitcases of cameras, digital recorders and magnetic field meters, it’s apparent that they’re taking things very seriously. We enter the silent building and immediately I feel a chill. It’s probably the rain, I tell myself.

We’re in an old building, yet not as old as the club that was founded in 1893. The clubhouse was built in 1928 and promptly burned to the ground, only to be rebuilt on the same spot in the same year. An ominous beginning, it seems.

The building has hosted its share of luminaries: Rudyard Kipling, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, the Prince of Wales (later to be King Edward VIII), Ben Hogan and a host of others. They all played the course and relaxed in this very building. In the gloom, I can almost see their shadows moving through the front doors and into the darkened foyer.

Perhaps the best known guest of the club, however, was never famous in life. Doris Gravlin was 30 years old when she went for a walk on the course with her estranged husband Victor on the night of Sept. 22, 1936. Her beaten and strangled body was discovered on the ocean-side seventh fairway five days later. Four weeks later, Victor’s drowned corpse was found floating in an off-shore kelp bed.

The apparent murder-suicide might have been forgotten had Doris not reputedly returned to haunt the golf course in a series of well documented sightings that continue to this day.

A cynic by nature, I still feel an inexplicable sense of apprehension as the team sets up its equipment. They’re bright, enthusiastic and perfectly normal folks – well educated and not at all flighty. Still, they believe in the paranormal and claim to have had real experiences of spiritual contact. What if my cynicism is misplaced, I worry.

As the evening progresses into night, I follow behind the investigators as they slowly walk the halls. The lights have been extinguished and the stately clubhouse has taken on a decidedly eerie feel. The two-storey downstairs locker rooms turn out to be a warren of well appointed hallways and alcoves leading to even more cubbyholes and dead ends. One of the investigators, medium Karen Bellas-de Zwart, stops suddenly. “I don’t like this room,” she whispers. “There’s a lot of sadness here. And I can feel movement.”

Several times team members stop at so-called psychic hot spots to invite contact from whatever entity might be lurking about. I actually find myself listening for responses, increasingly spooked by the experience I feel the hair at the back of my neck rise. I round a corner and come face-to-face with a horrid visage that looks as shocked as I feel, my heart thumps as I realize it’s a floor to ceiling mirror.

Later, I clearly hear footsteps down the hall but discover that no one is there. I put it off to imagination, but it leaves me with chills.

In a most disturbing occurrence, I feel as though I walk through a spider’s web. Investigator Ed Sum sees me repeatedly running my hands over my head and asks if I have “that cobwebby feeling.”

I wonder how he knows. “People get that feeling when there’s paranormal energy in the room,” Sum says. “This place has a lot. Don’t worry, you get used to it.” I opt to leave the basement for a while, but the feeling persists for the rest of the night.

As dawn nears, the group wraps up and we make our way in the cold and moonless night across the wet grass to the seventh fairway in search of Doris’ disembodied spirit, but she fails to appear. We say our goodbyes and I start the drive home only to find myself checking the rearview mirror to ensure that I’ve got no unwanted passengers in the back seat. I notice the feeling of cobwebs across my face is gone.

PARAVI’s report on the night lists a series of subjective occurrences. Jac Andre reports hearing a whispered voice and the discovery of an inexplicable sprinkling of ice on a downstairs carpet hours after the building had been closed and vacated. Bellas-de Zwort reports feeling something touch her hair and the clear presence of an entity with “much sadness.” All the investigator’s reports recount strange sounds and feelings but the final analysis of the film and sound recordings is still underway.

One strange anomaly has surfaced, though. A series of photos, all taken within seconds of each other, has one shot in which a bulletin board appears to have a framed picture mounted in its centre. The picture appears in only one of the series of photos. All the others show the same board empty of any postings. Strange, indeed.

Do I believe in ghosts? No … but then there was that cobwebby feeling, and the question of those photos. And where did that ice come from?

Then I remember what John Adams said about how “we don’t want to believe, but there’s something there.”

Perhaps there is.

Haunted tales from the Victoria Golf Club

Footfalls at night in an empty building? Objects moved in the dead of night? The foyer piano playing notes with no one around? Some of these stories have become a part of the folklore of the staff at the club. Here’s a few more.

Leaving the building one night, the mantle clock near the main entrance began to chime as the last two staff members left for the night. The chimes had never before functioned. Subsequent inspection by a clockmaker showed the sounding mechanism to be fused and incapable of chiming.

A food worker was last in the kitchen, cleaning after an event. The building was locked, suddenly a single cherry tomato rolled out of the darkness to stop at the man’s feet. The worker left the building and never returned.

The last staffer in the building went to the locker areas to ensure that all doors and windows were locked and the lights turned off. He returned upstairs, but a moment later heard a sound from the lower levels. Returning downstairs, he found that every light was back on and all windows and doors were open.

While scanning security tapes for the dining room in the hopes of identifying a dine and dash bar patron, staff were surprised to see a “person-like glow of light” appear on the tape. The apparition came through the bar and seemed to stop for a moment before sweeping from the camera frame and vanishing.

The adding machines on the top floor of the building has on several occasions run through the full roll of paper tape during the night. Machine malfunction? Perhaps. But the spooled out tape isn’t blank. It is filled with full lines of zeroes.

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