Ghost Stories Gulf Islands

The Haunting at Heriot Bay

The Haunting at Heriot Bay by Sean Enns

 
There’s a dog playing in the yard of the residence at Cape Mudge Lighthouse—one of the few staffed lighthouses remaining in Canada. The water is calm, the air is unseasonably warm for February. For a moment, I imagine a life as a lighthouse keeper, keeping a watchful eye over the ships passing through. It speaks to the writer in me, I suppose; a life of solitude and purpose.

For all its natural beauty, there's a dark history to Discovery Pass. Hundreds of ships have been smashed against nearby Ripple Rock over the years; so many that it's called the Graveyard of the Pacific.
 
 
But I didn't come here for shipwrecks. I came to Quadra Island two days ago because there’s someone, or something, wandering the halls of the hundred-year-old Heriot Bay Inn. It’s nothing insidious or ominous, but it’s undeniably something. A presence, a shadow, a noise in the night, sometimes seen—often felt—in the rooms and hallways of the historic landmark.
 
 
Watch: CTV News Piece on the Heriot Bay Inn
 
 
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Look: the road to the Heriot Bay Inn - via Google Maps
The Heriot Bay Inn is located on the east side of Quadra Island, about 150km north of Nanaimo and a 10-minute ferry ride from downtown Campbell River. We leave Nanaimo early Thursday afternoon. During our drive, the skies open up and we're buffeted by heavy rain. Dark storm clouds loom on the horizon.

It’s late when we finally arrive at the Inn, nearly dark. We’re met by Lois Taylor, one of the Inn’s owners. On our first meeting, and for the remainder of our stay, I’m enamored by Lois’ hospitality and warm, welcoming spirit—a spirit shared by everyone we meet at the Inn.
 
 
I’m here with my good friend and fellow writer Shanon Sinn. Shanon is an expert in mythology and folklore here on Vancouver Island[1] and a card-carrying member of the BC Ghosts & Hauntings Research Society. For the next two nights we’ll be exploring the hotel and its history, hoping to catch some evidence of the ghosts inhabiting the Inn.
[1]Read all about Vancouver Island folklore and mythology on Shanon's website, The Living Library Blog.
 
 
Lois takes us on a tour of the rooms before we settle in. We’ll be staying in rooms 9 and 14—both rooms where guests have experienced phenomena they can’t explain. There’s also been activity in room 5, in the attic, the halls, pub, and restaurant.

I’m excited, hungry to start the search for spirits, but I’m also hungry for food. The pub menu is loaded with my favourite fare, traditional comfort food with a twist. I order the HBI Deluxe Burger: Canadian Angus beef stacked with an onion ring, bacon, cheddar cheese, tomato, crunchy lettuce, pickle and red onion on a toasted brioche bun with house awesomesauce. It's delicious and saucy and crunchy and juicy, and I practically inhale it.

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The scariest hallway since The Shining
 
 
With dinner out of the way, we’re ready to start the investigation. Lois has agreed to meet with us for an interview and take us on a tour of the Inn to show us some of the haunted hotspots while sharing some of her favourite ghost stories. She takes us through all the haunted rooms, through the pub and restaurant, into the attic and the basement, even in through one of the change rooms to show us a millennia-old midden[2] that sits underneath the Inn.
[2]A midden is an old dump for domestic waste which may consist of animal bone, human excrement, botanical material, vermin, shells, sherds, lithics (especially debitage), and other artifacts and ecofacts associated with past human occupation: via Wikipedia
 
 
 
 
Lois' own history at the Heriot Bay Inn dates back more than 40 years, when she first worked there at the age of 19. Now she’s back, part of the co-operative that owns the Inn. For as long as Lois can recall, there have been stories of spirits at the Inn.
 
The Haunted Heriot Bay Inn
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Photo by Shanon Sinn - livinglibraryblog.com
 
Lois recalls one particularly harrowing tale from several years ago. It was evening, and a woman came rushing in to the front desk. “You’ve got to get out there and help that lady, she’s screaming out the window, she’s going to fall!”
 
 

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Look: the window of room 14

Photo by: Shanon Sinn - livinglibraryblog.com

They ran outside to look, but by the time they arrived—just seconds later—there was nobody there. There was no guest registered to the room, nobody in the room at all.

When asked to describe what she’d seen, the guest described a woman with white-hair, the same woman guests had been seeing for years. The room—the infamous room 14.
 
 
“It’s a real ghost story,” says Lois—though it’s not her favourite. That honour belongs to a story from a year earlier, one that took place in the pub that involves an old Bob Dylan song and a bottle of amaretto.
 
 
"…it was an absurd happening. We have an open mic every Saturday night, and I was singing that night and my daughter was working that night behind the bar. As I was singing, I noticed that she'd stopped serving customers and she was looking down, at the end of the song I said "what's the matter" and she said "the amaretto bottle broke" and she was slipping and sliding all over because it broke and fell everywhere. We looked up at the bottle, and it's a square bottle, and the front of it, just the front, had popped out. The bottle didn't fall off the shelf, and none of the bottles beside it were broken, and it wasn't hot in the room or there wasn't an earthquake or anything.
Watch: You Ain't Going Nowhere by Bob Dylan
 
 
So somebody said "it's the ghost. She was in there and she was trying to get out, to bust out." So then we started thinking about it, and it felt (like) when the bottle broke, I was singing that song "whoo-ee, ride me high, tomorrow's the day my bride's gonna come." And it happened right when I was singing that chorus. I know that because I was singing backup and I was singing that part when the bottle broke. And this ghost, the woman ghost, the story goes that she's waiting for her husband. So we were thinking maybe the song made her sad. Anyway, we decided to toast the ghost, and we bought a round of amaretto for the house. I still have the bottle too."
 
 
As we're talking with Lois, I can't help my mind from wandering. Every shadow, every creak and groan from the old building, every footstep echoing through the halls is a sign of something supernatural to me. I'm feeling nervous, and pretty excited to start our investigation; it's only been three hours and we’ve already experienced something we can’t explain.
 
 
When we toured the rooms earlier with Lois, the window in Shanon’s room—room 14, where the white-haired lady has been seen—was open. It didn't seem like anything at the time, until we came back after dinner and found the window closed. Now, we can't say it wasn't because of the weather or a change in temperature, but it wasn’t particularly windy, and the temperature wasn't any different than it had been an hour ago. We didn't close it, and neither of the Innkeepers had been to our rooms since we'd arrived.
 
 
I open it again and try to shimmy it closed—it doesn't go. It's not proof, but it's definitely suspicious. It's interesting, because Shanon has been feeling under the weather since we've arrived, and he mentioned earlier that he'd sensed a warm, almost grandmotherly presence in the room. It almost seemed like the spirit was trying to help him feel better by closing the window.
 
 

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Scary rocking chairs are my favourite horror movie trope
Lois talks about room 5, how guests have reported sensing something in the room with them. She recounts a story where she was downstairs with the night manager, when they heard the sound of a chair being dragged across the floor of room 5. They started out to investigate, then thought better of it. I, for one, can’t take my eyes off the rocking chair in the corner. Maybe I’ve seen too many horror films but I really expect it to start moving on its own.
 
 
 
Before we jump into the investigation, Shanon lays out some ground rules. As a member of the B.C.G.H.R.S., he's committed to following the PSICAN guidelines for conducting an investigation, to investigate, collect, and present data within a neutral standpoint without prejudice to possible hypothetical causations, beliefs, or faiths. Simply put, there will be no Scooby Snacks, and we’re not Ghostbusters™. We're there to experience, to document, to record, and report.
 
 
There's a fair amount of equipment involved in an investigation: cameras of all shapes and sizes, audio equipment, an EMF detector, and full-spectrum light arrays. We're trying to detect anything unusual. A sound, something moving on its own, an unusual spike in electro-magnetic activity—though Shanon admits that his opinion of the EMF detector is less than stellar. A lot of the investigation can be conducted while we're not in the room, by leaving the cameras and recording equipment running on a fixed location. As to what we can do, Shanon suggests that we start with an EVP[3]. We ask a variety of questions. “Can you speak with me?” to “Can you make a noise to let us know you’re here?” or “Are you afraid? Sad? Scared?” After every question, we pause to wait for a response.
[3]EVP is electric voice phenomena: communication by spirits recorded on tape or other digital recording devices. Our EVP tests were conducted by asking a series of 15-20 questions.
 
 
For the most part, the recording is pretty innocuous—typical creaks and groans and ambient sounds—until the end. Shanon scans back through the audio, it’s after he’s asked a question about Lois. There’s something, a distinct sound not caused by either of us. He replays it, again and again. Neither of us can identify it, but it’s definitely something.
 
 
Subscribe to Shanon's YouTube Channel and his website, The Living Library Blog and get access to exclusive audio and video clips, commentary, and more information on Vancouver Island Folklore and Mythology.
 
 
We leave the room, but before we do, Shanon suggests setting up some “toys” for the spirits to play with, in this case it's cards arranged in a certain way. The idea is to set things up where it will be easy to tell if they'd been moved.
 
 

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It's not an elaborate game of solitaire

Photo by: Shanon Sinn - livinglibraryblog.com

 
 
The attic of the Heriot Bay Inn manages to be both fun and creepy at the same time. We quickly look around, but there's too much ambient noise to check for EVP. We commit to coming back later. Downstairs, Lois lets us know that she’s been contacted by Gord Kurbis of CTV news. He’d like to do an interview with us as a follow-up to his last piece. We speak briefly on the phone and confirm for the following morning.
 
 

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Look: Shanon prepares for his interview with CTV Vancouver Island
Watch: the full piece on CTV Vancouver Island
 
 
In the restaurant, it’s eerily quiet and empty. Shanon does some EVP recordings while I prepare for our interview the next morning. Since we arrived on the Island earlier, we've both had some challenges getting a decent data signal—Quadra Island has some issues when it comes to cell reception. It's good, in a lot of ways, the forced disconnect from the digital world is exactly what I want out of a vacation. It's also the beginning to every good horror movie, the protagonist is in jeopardy and can't get a signal to call for help. That said, I'm able to get a decent WiFi signal, so I've been live-tweeting the entire experience. First it's with #GhostAdventures, and then #VIGhostStories once I learned that Ghost Adventures is a show on The Travel Channel.
 
 

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Live tweeting #VIGhostStories

Photo by: Shanon Sinn - livinglibraryblog.com

 
 
Shanon finishes checking for EVP in the restaurant. I check the clock—it's nearly 2am—I'm tired, but nervous about spending the night alone in my room. There’s a story that involves a psychic who'd been having lunch at the Inn. He'd been drawn to room 9, the same room I’m staying in, and after some time in the room he came to the front desk saying he'd felt a female presence in the room, one that really wanted him to leave.

I haven’t felt anything like that, but the moment I stepped foot in my room I sensed something odd, possibly nerves, but maybe something more. We take a few minutes before bed and set up cameras in room 5 and room 14, and I'm recording audio overnight in my room. If anything happens while we're sleeping, we'll be sure to catch it.
 
 
The next morning, I wake up early, pick up the camera from room 5, and sit in my room while playing back the recordings. There’s about 6 hours’ worth of audio footage to sift through and just like the sounds in room 5, there are definitely some noises I'm not sure about.

I think because I've never experienced something I couldn't explain away easily, I really want to find something on this trip, to have an experience that's all mine. The sounds on the recorder, the window, they're all good ghost stories—but they're not nearly as good as what happened to me that Friday night in the attic of the Inn.
 
 
Shanon is hanging out in my room, sifting through audio and video footage. There's a band playing downstairs in the pub, we can hear them playing covers of various classic and modern rock tunes. It's after midnight, and I decide to go—alone—to try and catch some EVP in the attic. This is a direct affront to every spooky movie I've ever seen, you never go into a dark attic alone. I ignore my inner voice, strap on my digital recorder and headphones and head in. I contemplate turning the light on, but am concerned I'll disturb the guests staying in room 5. Slowly, I walk up the stairs, every footfall on the creaky steps feels amplified by 100 because I'm trying to be quiet. After a few terrifying minutes, something happens.
 
 
Sitting in that attic, in the dark, hearing what I heard, there's something real and terrifying about looking for signs of spiritual activity, and it's hard to imagine that alll these stories could be an urban legend. There's the bearded man in suspenders who's been seen wandering the halls and the white-haired woman. She's been seen upstairs in room 14, sitting by the window staring out over the sea. Other times she’s down in the restaurant sitting by the fire. One surprised staff member saw her during her morning rounds sitting in the pub in a rocking chair. Some staff recount tales of furniture being moved, others admit to feeling a presence—like they're being watched. Lois believes that the man may have been a murderer, or mudered, that the woman is a widow waiting for her husband to come home. Between the stories I've heard from Lois, the audio and video recordings, I have more questions than answers. Is there something here at the Heriot Bay Inn? What happened here all those years ago? Is the white-haired woman a remnant of the past, or something more recent?
 
History of the Heriot Bay Inn
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Image 7676 courtesy of the Museum of Campbell River
 
For a history lesson on the Heriot Bay Inn, Lois has directed me to Jeanette Taylor. Jeanette is a historian and the author of several books including The Quadra Story: A History of Quadra Island.

I speak to Jeanette and tell her about our investigation into the haunted happenings. Jeanette is skeptical, though she’s heard the stories. She believes the ghosts might be some of the notorious characters who used to haunt the place in the early 20th century.

One likely suspect is Hosea Arminius Bull, the founder of the Heriot Bay Inn. Hosea, a bookkeeper, night watchman, and (reportedly) “licentious preacher,” came to the Island in the late 1800’s with his wife Cordelia and son of unknown parentage Cecil. Cordelia passed away in 1905, and Hosea married a New Zealander named Helen, who'd come to BC after being shot point-blank by a former business partner.
 
 

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Hosea, Cordelia and Cecil Bull

Image 20392-13 courtesy of the Museum of Campbell River

Other characters who frequented the Inn include “Skookum” Tom Leask, a scrappy fellow (with two rows of teeth) who’d fight you as soon as look at you. There’s also Lord Huey Horatious Nelson Baron Bacon—guide extraordinaire—who quite famously showed up at the Inn one day to have a shootout with his mortal enemy and ended up passed out, tied up in bed next to him.

The Inn has burned down—twice. It’s been torn apart and pushed back together, rebuilt and remodeled and bought and sold more than once.
 
 
After my two-night stay, one thing is clear to me. The Inn is much more than an old, haunted hotel; it’s an integral part of the area’s history. As to whether it's haunted, I can't say. The closing window, the sounds in the attic, to the skeptical mind they be easily explained away as night noises, an old building, or changes in the weather. Skepticism aside, for me, exploring a haunted destination is about much more than ghost hunting. It's an opportunity to learn about the culture and history of a place and its people from a unique perspective. This place, these people, it's hard to imagine that anything ominous is happening. Their warmth, their willingness to meet and share stories, it leaves me to believe that whatever energy remains, whether it's Helen or Hosea Bull or someone else, it's no threat. It's the residual energy from hundreds of lives lived earnestly, sometimes honestly, always intensely.

Our bags are packed now. It's nearly time to go, so there's only one thing left for us to do, and that’s to carry on a tradition that started a year ago with the Amaretto bottle.
 
 

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Next time you're at the Heriot Bay Inn, stop by the pub to toast the ghost with a shot of Amaretto

Photo by: Shanon Sinn - livinglibraryblog.com

 

Story written by Sean Enns

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