FORT LANGLEY — Aman Johal has some stories to tell about the popular Grave Tales tours he runs at Fort Langley National Historic Site.
“There is always the tale of the boy who inhabits the big house and other areas inside the fort walls – so much to the point that guests have left comments on what a wonderful idea it is that we have a small boy in period clothing to play with visiting toddlers. We don’t.”
Johal’s personal favourite is the story of William Henry Emptage and a gold-mining expedition gone wrong.
“He had to have his hand amputated without the use of chloroform.… (He) now strolls the Fort Langley cemetery in hopes of finding his wife, Louisa.
“We happen to tell the amputation story so well that sometimes we manage to make people faint. Hooray!”
Johal is among storytellers during the walking tours, which he helped launch as “Ghost Walks” in the mid-2000s, four years into his job as an interpreter at the former fur-trading fort.
“This will be the ninth year of doing these,” said Johal, who grew up in Guildford and now lives in the Sullivan area of Surrey. “I still call it my baby.”
The Grave Tales Historic Walking Tours, as they are now known, are a mix of history and Halloween, starting Oct. 15 and continuing until Oct. 30. Costumed interpreters lead visitors along the streets of Fort Langley, through cemeteries and on to the 1850s fort itself.
“We’ve sold out the last seven years,” boasted Johal, who today supervises heritage interpreters at the fort.
“Half of (the tour) is guaranteed truth and the other half about taking it for what you will, based on eyewitness accounts.”
In 2001, a background in theatre helped Johal land a job at the fort, which he’d never visited as a kid (a power outage once scuttled a school field trip).
“This can be a scary place because there are things that happen here that people just can’t explain,” he said. “That’s actually how (the tours) started. When I started working here, I noticed some things that, as the new guy, I just kept to myself. A couple years later, we all eventually fessed up, and more and more (staff) opened up and told their stories.”
By 2005, a Halloween-month walking tour was launched based partially on stories told to guides by people who live in the area. “We figured we’d get maybe two or three dozen (stories) about ghostly occurrences but to our shock, we got over a thousand,” recalled Johal.
For Grave Tales, he leads a family-friendly tour that sets off at 6 p.m., and is also the guide for a new adults-only, three-hour session that starts at 9 p.m. Other tours start at 7 and 8 p.m.
“The walks don’t have any people hiding in the bushes waiting to jump out, no boobie traps – this isn’t that kind of Halloween event,” Johal noted. “It’s telling stories and we let people take from it what they will. It’s less ‘Friday the 13th’ and more ‘Blair Witch.’”
Look for Grave Tales tour details, including information about tickets, at ParksCanada.gc.ca/fortlangley, or call 604-513-4799.