When visitors to the Fireside Grill meet for a meal, they might be meeting with more than they bargained for.
The West Saanich Road restaurant is said to be haunted by its previous owner, Katharine Maltwood, an artist fascinated by the occult.
Katharine, a sculptor, and her husband John, immigrated to Victoria in the 1930s and moved into a converted the tea house they dubbed “The Thatch.”
“The house itself was a very intriguing one,” says historian and local ghost expert John Adams, the man behind the city’s year-round ghost tours. “It looked like an old, English cottage, surrounded by a Garry oak forest. It would very much have been like an old English cottage in a sacred Druidic grove.”
Katharine had already gained notoriety in England for having written a book titled The Temple of the Stars, which documented her theory of a 16-kilometre-wide Zodiac carved into the countryside in Glastonbury.
She continued to create her own art in the home and when she and John died in the 1960s, Adams explains, they bequeathed the house and their large art collection to the University of Victoria on the understanding that their home would become a museum featuring their art.
“The people who ran the museum discovered right away that there were unusual things going on … feelings, presences, noises,” Adams says. “Unmistakably, the things that you would expect to be associated with hauntings.”
By 1978, the university decided that the building wasn’t the right fit, moved the art collection to UVic’s Gordon Head campus and sold the house. While the process was legal, it was clearly out of step with the wishes of its donors, Adams says.
The house then became the Chantecler restaurant, where small happenings at first – some that could be chalked up to faulty wiring, such as the recurring sounding of the fire alarm – became commonplace.
“One night (the owner) was answering an alarm and he had with him a Doberman pinscher, a dog who was normally quite fearless, but who got his hackles up and refused to put even one paw into the house.”
Perhaps the doberman had seen the ghost of a pug dog, which notoriously roams the site to this day – a rather unusual spirit given that the Maltwoods didn’t own such a pet, Adams says.
Cold spots – unexplained icy, cool air – on the stairway to the second floor, and sightings of Katharine as a shimmering, white silhouette inside what was once her studio, are among the most reported experiences that Adams attributes to paranormal activity in the home.
Tim Petropolous, managing partner of Fireside Grill, is a skeptic.
Petropolous has been at the location for 13 years and has yet to encounter the spirit of Katharine Maltwood or that of the ghost pug. Though he might not believe them, he’s heard all the stories.
Some staff members, chiefly those who worked in the Chantecler, believe the building to be haunted, yet the alleged activity never deterred them from working in the location, Petropolous says.
“It was more a happy ghost or a pleasant ghost, not a scary ghost,” Petropolous said. “She was like a caretaker – just overseeing what was happening.”
For the last three years, clairvoyant medium Dawn Kirkham has led private paranormal investigations around the region.
Other times, Kirkham claims spirits are indeed detected – through the use of equipment such as electromagnetic field meters, audio recording and infrared cameras, or via spiritual activities such as a pendulums or planchettes.
She connects with spirits clairvoyantly, builds relationships and helps them to cross over – a concept she acknowledges “sounds really mad,” with a smile. If a spirit refuses to leave a space, she adds, she works with the client to empower them to reclaim their space.
“I’m trying to normalize and bring out the paranormal so that it’s not somebody’s dirty little secret,” she says. “People will seek me out and whisper that they’re having these experiences and they don’t want to be open about it, because they’re fearful of the ridicule.”
Kirkham, a Highlands resident, moved to Greater Victoria without any prior knowledge of the city’s paranormal activity. She was pleased at the discovery.
“Delightedly, this is a very haunted city,” she says.
“Communication with spirits is something that anyone has the ability to tap into … We’re all prone to that,” she says. “Some people will dream of things, then see them unfold and come true. … Some people will get visions, visualizations and there’s no rhyme or reason as to why they’re thinking that.”
Adams is clear he doesn’t possess any special clairvoyant powers, but claims to have experienced the presence of ghosts several times, from an initial experience as a student when he smelled what he believes to be the perfume of a murder victim from the 1800s, to sights, sounds or feelings that occur throughout his ghost tours.
“People experience ghosts all the time. It’s quite commonplace. It’s said about 20 per cent of the population has had some sort of documented experience with a ghost. In some cases they don’t worry about it, in other cases, it’s more alarming.”
Even after 25 years of telling hundreds of ghost stories, Adams still experiences the occasional tingle up his spine.
“Sometimes something happens and we think: ‘What is that?’ even though we’re used to it.”
For more on Adams’ ghost tours, visit discoverthepast.com. Information on paranormal investigations can be found at beyondbeliefparanormalevents.com.