We are approaching the best time of the year, in my opinion.
Most people love the fall for its colourful leaves, sweater weather, or delicious pumpkin-flavoured treats and drinks.
For me, I love the lead-up to Halloween and anything spooky I can get my hands on. So naturally, my sometimes regular newspaper column will reflect my interests.
It may seem early to some to be getting into the frightening festivities, as it is only September. Unfortunately for me, I will not have the luxury of sharing spooky tales during the month of October as one would normally do, as I will commence a maternity leave from the newspaper as I await the arrival of my second child.
With this in mind, I ask that my readers join in my early Halloween celebrations.
The idea of early celebrations actually began while I was perusing the newspaper archives several months ago when I came across a 70-year-old clipping with the headline, “Former Wingham Girl Lives in Haunted House” published on the front page of the May 28, 1952 Wingham Advance Times.
I set this clipping aside, with plans to come back to it, for a couple of reasons:
my love for the paranormal; and
my connection to Vancouver Island, as a portion of my mother’s family lives on the island and I have visited several times.
The story, which was originally published by the Canadian Press, shared the strange accounts Col. T.C. Evans and his wife May Evans witnessed in their then-century old home in the suburb of Oak Bay, Victoria, B.C. May Evans’ maiden name was Smith and she hailed from Wingham originally.
According to the archived article, “the house was built by John Tod, a colorful figure of the Hudson’s Bay Co. fur trade days.”
The couple shared in the article that a ghost would visit frequently, and from time to time would open doors, sit in rocking chairs, but most oddly leave the door to a dark-unfinished cellar open.
Intrigued by this story, when I returned to it as a good lead-up to the spooky season, I found that a book was published in 2017 titled The Haunting of Vancouver Island by Shanon Sinn, which shared more information about the paranormal activity, as well as other stories from the island.
The chapter about Evans’ home was titled “The Woman in Chains.”
As I mentioned before, John Tod was a fur trader with the Hudson Bay Company (HBC). Born in Scotland, Todd immigrated to Canada in 1811 while employed by the HBC. It wasn’t until he was in his late 50s that he settled on Vancouver Island. It was said that most of the early settlers on the island were employed by the HBC, and were rewarded with land for their services.
How generous the HBC was to reward Indigenious lands to their employees – but that is beside the point.
Apparently, Tod had been married several times, with several children, before settling in Victoria. Sinn wrote that Tod “arrived at Fort Victoria with Sophia Lolo — a woman of mixed First Nations ancestry — who is believed to have given him seven more children. They were not formally married until 1863 after one of Tod’s former wives passed away.”
Tod was a council member for many years, and was described as well-read, and musical, but also considered vulgar and not generally liked by the public.
“During the period before his death in 1882, Tod was openly involved with the spiritualist movement — a practice that allowed communion with the dead,” Sinn wrote. “He was known to have participated in séances.”
Odd how those who believe in the paranormal are usually those who do the haunting. If this is truly the case, I will most definitely spend some time haunting after my inevitable passing. Consider that a warning.
Sinn’s chapter on the Tod house shared that accounts detailing paranormal activity date back to the 1920s.
“By the late 1940s, so many people had witnessed activity in the building that several newspapers reported it, and the CBC aired a story,” Sinn wrote.
When the Evans family purchased the home in the 1940s, Mr. Evans told The Daily Colonist that he was “never much disturbed by the manifestations.”
Sinn’s book recalled a specifically odd story from a pair of Evans’ guests who stayed in the former master bedroom.
“During the war, the couple had gotten into the habit of inviting serving military personnel to stay during their weekend leaves,” Sinn wrote.
“Mrs. Evans put two of the men into the old master bedroom for the night. In the morning, the room was empty. The men had fled.
“When the servicemen returned, they spoke of a horrific night. Most startling of all, one of the men claimed to have seen an apparition in detail.
“The man awoke with an ominous feeling. There was a sense that he was not alone. He remembered having heard the sound of rattling chains. Half asleep, the guest peered into the darkness of the master bedchamber.
“Hard eyes glared from out of the inky blackness. Accusing. Unblinking. A bedraggled woman stood in the shadows. Tangled hair twisted across her face and down her shoulders. Her arms slowly stretched toward him with curling grasping fingers that danced in unison. There were iron bands around her wrists and ankles.
“He watched wide-eyed from his bed, completely paralyzed and unable to move.
“The figure appeared to be First Nations. Her eyes were sad and pleading. Long black hair framed her face like a cape of darkness. She reached for him. Closer. Her mouth formed words he could not hear.
“Then, she was gone.
“When the guest grabbed his belongings and fled, the other man, just as terrified, followed behind. It is not known if he saw the apparition, as well.
Supposedly Evans hired contractors in 1947 to renovate the historic home, including the addition of an oil-burning furnace.
“While digging a deep pit for the equipment, the contractors came across the corpse of a woman in chains,” Sinn wrote. “She was believed to have been one of John Tod’s wives.”
It was reported by local newspapers that the anatomist claimed the body had been soaked in lime, with the head removed, and they found it difficult to determine the body’s origins as the “bones were so badly decomposed that they crumbled when they were touched.”
In 1949, Mr. and Mrs. Evans told the Daily Colonist that the activity ceased when the body was taken away. The reporter said he had the impression they missed the ghost. When asked if she had ever been afraid, Mrs. Evans told him that she was “always more frightened of newspapermen and researchers than of manifestations from the spirit world.”
Kelsey Bent is a reporter with Midwestern Newspapers. She can be reached for comment by emailing email@example.com.