Victoria is often semi-jokingly referred to as a city of the newly wed and nearly dead. But as Ian Gibbs shows in Victoria’s Most Haunted, this Canadian coastal city is not just full of students and retirees – but also the not-so-recently departed.
Gibbs, a tour guide for Victoria’s popular Ghostly Walks, reproduces the experience of these nocturnal jaunts into the city in this attractive book from Touchwood Editions. Each section begins with an artful black and white photo of the building (many taken by Ray Shipka), and you get the feeling of pausing before each one, gathering around the site, while your tour guide spins tales of heartbreak, murder, madness, suicide, and accidental death.
Like the ghost tour leaders I’ve listened to in Edinburgh, New Orleans and Vancouver, the author shares his own encounters with the paranormal as well – often with a healthy dose of self-deprecating humour and snark. But, he assures his reader, he’s not out to convince you that ghosts exist. If you’re not in the believer camp, there is still plenty of local history here to tempt you (not to mention it’s a terrific tourism brochure, featuring several great-sounding hotels, pubs and chocolate shops. Although there are a few rooms and floors at the Empress I’ll avoid, thank you very much).
There were a couple of sections – “Cathedral Hall” and “The Deanery” – where I would have liked a little more research and background detail to go along with Gibbs’ personal experiences, but the author more than makes up for this in “Bishop’s Chapel” and (my favourite) “The Home on Fort Street.” I also noticed that Gibbs refers to “First Nations” in different tales, and I wanted him to dig further to find out specifically which First Nations group, village or settlement was involved – the same way he found out about the German family who lost a son to drowning, or the Second World War soldier who liked old hymns.
Despite these small missteps, Victoria’s Most Haunted will take you on a thoughtful walk around colleges, jails, brothels, saloons, alleyways and biker bars – and you’ll come away thinking maybe Victoria isn’t so staid and sleepy after all.
Full disclosure: my last book was published by Brindle & Glass, part of the Touchwood publishing family, and they provided me with review copies of this book as well as copies to give away to readers of my e-newsletter. All I promised was an honest review of the book in return!