Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Ghosts, secret tunnels, time warps: Nexus investigates local legends so you don’t have to

October 18, 2017 by Felicia Santarossa, features writer

Satanic rituals. Secret tunnels. Bells that summon ghosts at midnight. As far as local legends go, Victoria’s got tons of them. But are they real? We figured the only way to find out was to try them ourselves and report our findings back to you.

This feature was a group effort because none of us at Nexus could really resist trying these things out. Time warps? Portals to another dimension? Underground tunnels? We’re busy, but we can make time to give these things a shot.

And with Halloween rolling around, it was only appropriate. A very small number of Victoria’s local legends are in this story; consider it a quick primer on what people say is out there. And whatever your belief in the paranormal or supernatural is, my only hope is that you enjoy these spooky stories. Consider them an escape from the real nightmare: midterms.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

What lurks beneath Camosun?

It’s dimly lit, and there are networks of copper pipes crisscrossing above my head, but I step into the infamous tunnels that run underground between the Young Building and the Ewing Building on Camosun’s Lansdowne campus.

The tunnels are not a well-kept secret—we’ve written about them before—but this is the first time we’ve had the opportunity to explore them. After going through an innocent-looking door deep in the bowels of the Young Building, I descend the dark, stony steps to a concrete corridor with excited caution.

I’m unaware of what could be found down there; perhaps a mouse or two will be seen scurrying out of sight, as a couple of mousetraps lie on the cold ground. Before I start the adventure, I take a quick glance behind me, which leads my tour guide to remark that this is a spot where Hannibal Lecter wouldn’t mind staying for a while. With that sentiment, we start walking into the darkness. My boot heels click along the concrete floor, echoing onward.

The gritty stone all around me perfectly reflects the ancient building I travel beneath. At first, walking is a breeze, and I stroll through as if it were a long hallway, the occasional spider web surprising me as it hits my face. However, as I go further, the ceiling starts to get lower, and then the floor begins to rise ever so slightly upwards; I first duck, then hunch, to walk.

Soon, all light is cut out, and I get to a point where I have to crawl. It’s pitch black, and I’m crawling somewhere between Young and Ewing. My tour guide has left to open the door for me on the other side of the tunnel, in Ewing. I’m happy I’m not claustrophobic, because this is a panic attack waiting to happen.

Further complicating matters, the tunnel isn’t straight: there are jarring 90 degree turns as I zig-zag underground between the two buildings. Ominously, as total darkness envelops the crawlspace-sized path, letters spray-painted in gruesome red inform me to turn “THIS WAY,” even though there’s no other way to go—certainly not back at this point. Or maybe it just means “this way” to my death?

Deep in the tunnels underneath Camosun’s Young and Ewing buildings (photo by Greg Pratt/Nexus).

The floor rises higher and the ceiling stays uncompromisingly low as I inch toward, I can only assume, the exit at Ewing. In total darkness, my phone buzzes, snapping me out of the moment. Several feet underground, I am picking up the school’s wi-fi; I chuckle, considering the troubles everyone has picking it up above ground.

The tunnel was originally used for utilities, such as hot and cold water, for the two buildings; it’s now used for electrical and data services, I’m told. This much I know: there are no demons, no foul water creatures, and no freaky clowns on my mysterious journey. The only nightmares coming from this experience will be the pain my leg muscles feel, I think as I slide on down to the Ewing side and emerge from Camosun’s tunnels.

From Fifth Street to Hell

While researching local legends for this story, we heard hushed whispers that somewhere around Fifth Street there is a portal located in a circle of trees. Where does this portal go? Some say Hell; some say another dimension. With the state of the world right now, sounds like a much-needed escape.

I park nearby and begin my otherworldly journey with a few companions. It’s late at night; as we pass through the Quadra Elementary playground, a group of teenagers stares us down, but they prove to be no trouble.

Traipsing across the streets at this time of night, I ponder what to expect. Even if I am to find some supernatural portal, is it a one-way ticket to somewhere else, or can terms be negotiated on whether I can return? And whom would I negotiate with? (It’s funny how logistics never come up when talking about these sorts of myths.)

We stroll up and down the streets with the night wearing on. I start to feel slightly inept, having not been able to spot anything. My editor received a tip that we should explore the cul-de-sac at Fifth and Summit, so we head in that direction.

Upon arriving, I see that the cul-de-sac frames a perfectly circular mural, surrounded by trees with scarlet leaves. Could this be it? Featuring First Nations art and wholesome images such as dogs and cats, leaves, open hands, and hearts, this mural shatters all my notions. Mysterious glowing lights? Nothing but well-lit street lamps. Ominous chanting? If there is any, I must be in the wrong spot.

I take a spot on the curb to question my decision-making skills. Maybe I should come at a later time? Maybe I need to do this when the moon is full? Peering luminously at me before the clouds, the half-closed eye that is the moon is, unlike the other elements of this hunt, appropriately spooky. Sigh… my editor will be so disappointed that I didn’t go to Hell.

In lieu of a portal to another dimension, my companions fill the area up with interesting anecdotes of their childhoods spent living and working right around here. Much of the landscape changed, they tell me, with new housing developments and closed businesses erasing their realities of this specific part of town. Maybe tonight I travelled to another dimension through my ears rather than my eyes. And maybe that’s enough.

It’s all well and good to hear of the past, but I glance at my watch. Time is too precious to waste. I still have places to explore, and eventually, hopefully, a warm bed to return to.

Prowling on the green, where a ghost may be seen

In life, Doris Gravlin met a lurid end after her estranged alcoholic journalist husband allegedly murdered her and then killed himself. In death, apparently, her ghost haunts the Victoria Golf Club course. Local legend has it that if the bell between the sixth and seventh hole is rung three times at midnight, her ghost will appear. Having left the Fifth Street area portal-less, I move on to ghost-hunting. A gripping adventure waits.

As we arrive, one of my companions jokingly begins to moan like a ghost, inciting some panic in me before I realize it’s not a ghoul. No one is in sight and fears start to run wild as we walk blindly toward the golf course. Seeds of doubt begin to sprout: am I willing to travel across the course to ring the bell?

It’s a small task, I rationalize with bravado, and this entire trip would be a waste if I were stopped by fear. As I firmly pronounce that I won’t leave until I ring the bell, a sprinkler spout suddenly hisses ferociously onto the ground near our feet, and I jump back. Could this be seen as a sign? One of my companions, who runs away screaming, thinks so; she suggests we should leave.

No, time is being wasted. I’m getting impatient, and I point out that it would be extremely inconvenient to return at midnight some other night. After a second, the sprinkler’s stream dies. It’s probably just to keep deer away; it has to be.

The course initially appears to be lit only by a faint backlight from the closed club. As my eyes adjust to the darkness, vague outlines of the green can be seen, even with a flag still on the grounds. Guided by my tactile senses, adrenaline darts through my veins.

The scene ahead of the golf course is pitch black; it’s a prime background for spotting a ghost. Step by step, staring into the void, I begin to feel disappointment—but then something happens. A milky-white mist flickers briefly into my distant vision, hanging near a hill, and vanishes immediately afterwards, almost like a floater in my eye. Doris? Is that you? Have you come for my soul? Before even tolling the bell? Again, the deep background swallows up my vision, before my eyes settle on the supernatural summoning structure. “Found it!” I exclaim to my comrades; I look back and realize they’re waiting near our vehicle, off in the distance. I’m alone.

The bell is large, green, and, I suspect, made of copper. Like a call of death, I toll it three times, and with a bizarre self-consciousness—no one else is here, after all—slowly muffle the vibrations of each ring with my hands. Scanning the distant shadows, all I can see are the red lights of either cell phone towers or aircrafts. After a few more minutes of scanning, there appears to be nothing more.

Doris is also known to walk into cars, so the legend goes. As I enter the vehicle, I search for her presence, but I feel nothing. It’s time to go. As we drive off, there is nothing but the empty, winding roads ahead.

The ghost in the hotel

Legend has it that in 1899, Agnes Bing, a local bakery owner simply trying to get home to Vic West by crossing the railway bridge, was found the next day, her body split apart, just outside of where the Delta Ocean Pointe Resort now stands. Fast forward to the 1990s: when the hotel was being built, power-tool batteries would mysteriously die, and there was a spot in the lobby the guests would not go near during the grand opening, as they’d get feelings of panic and anxiety around it… so the legend goes.

I want to visit this spot in the lobby, but can find no one saying where exactly it is. How convenient. Could it be that Agnes’ improper—to say the least—death keeps her spirit stuck around her old stomping grounds, tormenting those who trespass?

Upon entering the building I am immediately in the well-lit lobby, which has a gorgeous view of the glowing Legislature Building. There have been reports of people seeing a grey lady floating across the harbour, but I see nothing. The hotel staff informs me that they are unaware of this urban legend, and as I wander about the empty entrance, nothing out of the ordinary arises. A dark, empty bar catches my eye. Back in the turn of the century, Victoria was not known for exceptionally moral business, and these two particular thoughts connect. Or maybe at this point I need a drink to deal with all of this (lack of) paranormal activity.

Making my way to the very centre of the lobby, I began to feel a slight throbbing pain branching throughout my head. Walking around the chairs and couches, I feel as if my nerves are beginning to dry up. I move a few paces away and it vanishes. What is it? Heart rate rising, body flooding with cortisol, glancing around with minor panic, I only see the sharp fluorescent lights. My mouth is drying up and dehydration is setting in. That’s a rational explanation, right?

Some claim mysterious draining of cell-phone batteries in the lobby. Glancing at mine, I see its battery charge has not dropped a single percent.

Weariness sets in; my companions and I set off. While this trip is not exactly a waste, I can’t report any success in finding any local legends, be it ghosts or portals to hell. My mind hops over to Satan, and I decide it’s time to call in an expert.

Shout at the devil

There’s a long-standing belief that our picturesque city is the Satanic capital of the world. Turns out, this belief stems from one source, which has been long since debunked. That source is the 1980 novel Michelle Remembers, which centres on a young woman reliving repressed memories of abuse by a satanic cult—in Victoria.

The book’s claims—which include accusations of Satanic ceremonies in Ross Bay Cemetery and other cult activity here in town—had a ripple effect that fed into the 1980s’ “Satanic panic.” Parents here and south of the border began to believe that their children were being abused at the hands of Satanists, most famously seen in California’s McMartin preschool accusations, which started in 1983. Michelle Remembers has been debunked, but its influence still pervades the Garden City.

But even though the book has been proven to be untrue, are there large numbers of satanic cults performing unspeakable acts on innocents in Victoria? Well, as far as I’ve seen, no; I couldn’t find any Satanic cults operating in Victoria while researching this story. Still, while the Satanic-capital claim does not appear to be true, there are people who still make use of it.

“In some circles, like the metal community, it’s considered important, but I don’t think beyond that it has a lot of life,” says University of Victoria director of Religious Studies Shamma Boyarin, who also teaches courses in heavy metal studies.

Boyarin says that he doesn’t believe that bands using Satanic imagery are Satanists themselves. He says bands either use it as a prop or as a way of expressing disassociation from values that mainstream society holds as ideal. Considering metal’s history of using religious (and, particularly, Satanic) imagery, it makes sense that local bands would try to capitalize on the Satanic legends. (Indeed, “Ross Bay” is actually an adjective used in heavy metal worldwide to describe a certain strain of extreme metal that Vancouver’s Blasphemy were pioneers of; the term comes from rumours that Blasphemy desecrated graves in the Ross Bay Cemetery.)

“It lives on in infamy,” says Boyarin, “again, especially in scenes like in the metal scene, who like to use Ross Bay Cemetery as a prop in album covers, but also just as a place to give local pride of, ‘This is where it all took place.’”

Back to the present-day: Walking into the Shelbourne Time Warp
By Adam Marsh, student editor

I idle at the red light where Hillside Avenue and Shelbourne Street meet up. The dash clock reads 1:57 am—three minutes to go. The only cars I saw on the way here were cabs, but, as the light turns, someone in a beat-up sports car tears through the intersection, leaving squeals and the rancid smell of burnt rubber behind.

I’m not usually one for ghost stories or paranormal activity, but I can’t help but wonder if the driver was running from someone—or something.

My pulse picks up as I pull into the vacant Lansdowne Auto Centre. I get out to walk the so-called Shelbourne Time Warp; I shiver and pull my toque tight over my ears, plunging my pale hands into the side pockets of my jacket.

The Shelbourne Time Warp is a local legend: supposedly, if you walk or drive a very specific two-block stretch on Shelbourne between 2 and 3 am on an October night, you are suddenly transported back in time, with the sidewalk changing beneath your feet and the houses transforming before your eyes.

Now is the night for Nexus to try the time warp.

October arrives with the first genuinely cold night in months. The revving of engines in the distance rings through the trees that line either side of Shelbourne, and leaves fly in violent swirls as cars go past. The trees block the stars, sinking the neighbourhood into darkness. I tell myself that I am in little old Victoria; what could possibly happen?

I walk past Myrtle Avenue. The scene changes. Fluorescent lights from Hillside Mall, gas stations, and fast-food chains give way to a bleak, bare nothingness: run-down wooden fences and narrow, moss-ridden drives are all hidden in complete darkness. The houses turn small, many appear to be made of wood, and the sidewalk becomes rigid and uneven. I look over my shoulder periodically, as if to make sure I’m not being followed. I have the penknife on my car keys at the ready. I can see how anyone could interpret this as creepy. It is too quiet. I quicken my pace as I walk by someone in a black hood. They look normal, and they are from the current era.

And then it’s over. I walked the time warp and didn’t get sent back in time.

If I hadn’t walked down this stretch of street with knowledge that I could be walking into a time warp, it wouldn’t have seemed nearly as worthy of anxiety or excitement. It was definitely an experience I’ll remember for its eeriness and adrenaline.

And don’t be misled: I felt on edge. The architecture of the neighbourhood changed; the dark, quiet, banal plainness of the block between Myrtle Avenue and Pearl Street played its tricks; a group of drunken college kids passed me, clearly disappointed they were still in this place and time. I won’t forget the spookiness, or the damp fall air stinging my nostrils, but I can definitely say I didn’t go through a time warp.

A ghost in the infrastructure: Dealing with the haunted Richmond House
By Greg Pratt, managing editor

It’s late at night. I’m working in the Nexus office, finishing up our most recent issue before we go to press. I’m stuck in the real-world dealings of last-minute fact-checking, comma splicing, and making sure nothing in the paper is going to get us sued, and, to be frank, I’m enjoying the profound, intense silence that can only come in a place of work as the witching hour approaches. There’s no one on campus but me.

Then a knock on the door makes my entire body go cold.

You see, the Richmond House—where Nexus HQ is located—is, apparently, haunted. Around other people, of course, I laugh it off, bravado for miles. Now, as I walk toward the door, I think I might have peed myself a little.

I open up the door a bit too quickly, fearing either a ghost or an intruder; instead, predictably, it’s security, the only presence that ever bothers me when I’m working after hours. We have our usual awkward encounter and they leave me to my grave-like silence, just a bit more unnerved than before.

***

There are tons of tales of ghostly hauntings on the Lansdowne campus, but they’ll have to wait for another feature. The Young Building seems to be the most haunted, if you are inclined to believe in that sort of thing, but the Richmond House is always the building that comes up next when people are spinning spectral yarns about the college.

It’s called the Richmond House because it used to be a house. Like all old buildings, it has all the makings of a ghostly hot spot, but, like all old buildings, I usually chalk them up to rodents (check) and random bursts of wind tapping at the windows (check). There are no ghosts here, I tell myself during those late nights alone in the building.

***

I’m back again, working late. It doesn’t happen all that often, maybe a handful of times per semester, but it’s happened again, not too long after my last late-night session here, when the knock on the door from security almost made me have a heart attack.

Sometimes I think about just how loud it would be if the phone suddenly rang at this time of night, and about the terror I would feel as I picked up the receiver; who calls a newspaper office at midnight? Thankfully, it’s never happened.

I’m cold, so I turn on the heat. As the electric baseboards crack and pop to life, burning away the dust and spider webs inside them, I stop to think to myself: that’s all it ever is, the reasons behind these ghost stories. It’s all rats and infrastructure. It’s all it ever…

A knock on the door. Just security, I tell myself, as my suddenly freezing-cold body moves toward the entrance, my legs moving of their own volition. There’s no such thing as ghosts, I tell myself.

I can’t do this anymore, I tell myself.

I open up the door, but this time, it’s a bit too slowly.

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