If any building were to have a ghost of a chance of being home to paranormal activity, this would be the place.
It was a venue of the dead after all, where more than 20,000 autopsies took place between 1932 and 1980.
The Vancouver Police Museum, a designated heritage building in Gastown, was once home to both the coroner’s court and autopsy facilities, then the city analyst’s laboratory until 1996.
The victim of every murder, suicide and accident in Vancouver for decades passed through the same doors where, on Aug. 13, 2010 (fittingly, a Friday), a team of nine specialists arrived carrying a dozen aluminum cases.
The Surrey-based Canadian Paranormal Society (TCPS) arrived for an eight-hour night of apparition analysis.
Invited by the staff following a positive recommendation by the Port Moody Station Museum, the visitors unloaded and set up infrared video cameras, digital voice recorders, full-spectrum cameras (picking up infrared, ultraviolet and visible light range images), Mel Meter and Tri-Field electromagnetic field gauges, Sony Handicams with infrared lights (for night shots), digital thermometers, and just to be thorough, regular digital cameras.
Their objective: to record any events that couldn’t be explained as outside noises or defects in the building or equipment.
Manager Chris Mathieson stayed until midnight, watching the team spend up to 30 minutes in each room, calling into the shadows while making recordings. They would work until daybreak.
The investigators were meticulous and respectful of their surroundings, he recalls.
“Being the old city morgue, it’s kind of perfect for this kind of investigation.”
A month later, he got a DVD with the results.
Although there was nothing unusual on video, the audio recordings showed EVPs – electronic voice phenomena – that were worthy of scrutiny.
They included tapping, a sigh, a faint hoot and an eerie response to a question. The sounds were posted online at the museum’s website at www.vancouverpolicemuseum.ca
There was also a conclusion from the group’s sensitive, Stella Hubert, who says she has been aware of the dead since the age of four, and can see and talk to them.
“Their sensitive found numerous spirit personalities in our building,” blogged Mathieson after the event. “One of the spirits, discovered in the morgue, had a significant affinity for one of our staff members who resembled his wife. Meanwhile, a different (balding) gentleman apparently followed the sensitive around our top floor, annoyed that the investigators were there.”
Mathieson, not a believer before the investigation, said he kept an open mind during the experience.
“Fortunately for us, whatever spirits inhabit this space seem to leave us alone as we do our work at the museum. Maybe they understand that this is now a place full of life and activity instead of trauma, illness and sadness.
“Let’s just hope they never get annoyed with us,” he added.
Surrounded by tripods, specialized lights, shelves and crates full of electronic equipment, a series of desktop computers hum in the Newton basement of Glen and Janessa Ferguson. With them is tech specialist John Drescher.
This is the home base of the TCPS, where the evidence is analyzed.
There can be 150-200 hours of recordings to pore through after an eight-hour investigation. That’s why it took a month for them to produce the evidence DVD for the Vancouver Police Museum.
Janessa – like her husband, a Coast Mountain Bus Company driver by day – says analysts will spend hours concentrating on silent audio, to be suddenly surprised by a sound.
Sometimes, their evidence is uncovered during the analysis. At other times, they get the heebie-jeebies on-site.
One of the two dozen investigations since they started in 2010 took place at The Met Hotel in New Westminster.
“George definitely talked to us when we were downstairs,” says Janessa, referring to George William Grant, the architect of the 27-room heritage building that was built in 1892.
“He’s doing his job,” adds Glen. “He’s (been) checking the structure downstairs every day for the last 30 years.”
Manager John Fialkowski says he’d heard rumours for years that the place was haunted, and welcomed the investigators.
“I thought it would add to the folklore.”
Kat Kothlow-Fleck, general manager of South Surrey’s Chateau Cargill, describes the TCPS team as very professional.
She recalls that once in the past during a function, the staff were shaken up as a pile of silver trays flew clear of the closet they were stored in, landing hard on the floor. At other times, staff and guests talked about sensing paranormal activities in the form of nudging, sensations of heaviness or strange sounds.
Last year, Kothlow-Fleck set whatever skepticism she had aside and stayed overnight as TCPS investigators probed the building, which specializes in weddings and parties.
The DVD contained an unusual event, explains Janessa.
One of the investigators was humming a tune from Les Miserables at 2 a.m. About 10 seconds after she stopped humming, she heard “chanson” – a male French voice prodding her to continue singing. It was picked up by a digital voice recorder.
“Even if you don’t believe (in ghosts), it leaves you with questions,” says Kothlow-Fleck.
She adds that regardless of the evidence, Chateau Cargill’s paranormal activity is not malevolent.
“It’s not a haunting. It’s all very warm – the spirits are not negative.”
Noises and visual disturbances in the form of orbs in photos or video are often difficult for the investigators to interpret.
“Sometimes, if we can’t explain it, we ask the client if we can come back because we don’t want to present the evidence unless we’re absolutely sure,” explains Janessa.
Last year, they stayed for two nights at The Keg restaurant in New Westminster.
“It was fun for the staff,” says manager James Crape.
He says the former CP Rail station, build in the mid-1860s, has been saturated with rumours about paranormal activity for years – some of it related to the great fire of 1898.
Crape adds that while he’s had requests for years from different parties wanting to snoop around at night, he only let two in (one was a solo psychic). The TCPS group met his scientific standards as they explained what they wanted to do – and did it professionally.
They’re not, he says, hokey people walking around with new-age crystals.
The DVD he got weeks later, he says, contained “really neat stuff,” including a photo with “something interesting in it” and audio with voices that were clearly not those of the investigators.
The hardest guy to convince
Glen Ferguson, the founder of TCPS, says when it comes to proving the paranormal, he’s the hardest guy to convince.
“I’m probably the most skeptical person in the group. You’ve got to slap me around to get my attention. I don’t get spine-tingling feelings or anything like that. If I catch it on camera or digital tape recorder, great. Then I have some proof.”
(He does admit to once being scratched during an interview with a potential client: “I got a little bit too personal with whoever was in the building with this client”).
He says the group takes invitations seriously, and vets for issues that could be abnormal rather than paranormal.
“Sometimes you’re looking at an active imagination or they have some sort of mental disorder. I can’t go into any place assuming the place is haunted.”
How their evidence is perceived depends on the individual.
“On (the) record, we do not fudge evidence whatsoever,” Janessa Ferguson declares. “We do not enhance it unless the client asks afterwards. What is shown is what we’ve found.”
If they find nothing, the client is told that.
And it’s all done for clients at no cost – just don’t call these paranormal investigators “ghost busters.”
“We don’t bust ghosts,” states Janessa. “We investigate, record and document. That’s it.”
For more information, call 604-597-9005 or visit www.canadianparanormalsociety.com
Canadian Paranormal Society founder and team leader Glen Ferguson describes some local anomalies
• Chateau Cargill: “A couple who had their wedding here noticed many orbs in photos, accompanied by faces. It was a middle-aged woman with long hair, dressed in a suit of some sort, smiling. Another picture showed an image of a small child standing with them. There were three small images on another photo and an image of a man with a bald head. There was another picture background of another photo it appeared as though a young woman was standing in a reflection smiling, but half of her face was missing.”
• Fleetwood Elementary School: “Doors swing shut and orbs can be seen in the basement’s shower room. The janitor has seen ghost in the boiler rooms. There are cold spots and also some touching – a possible explanation could be that it was a teacher who was murdered on his way home many years back.”
• CDI College: “There’s a report of two separate events of female apparitions seen in the college area.”
• Grosvenor Road: “Every so often, late at night, some have seen a mysterious young boy dressed in white, jumping around on the side of the road. A couple of years ago a grocery store (Fung’s Market) was burned down, killing a young boy. Is this the same boy killed in the fire?”
He adds: “Personally I’m sceptical when it comes to orbs. I can normally write them off as dust, moisture or particulate matter caught in the IR spectrum. However there have been many I can’t disprove, either.