Would you be less frightened of a ghost if you were able to greet it by name?
The Comox Valley contains many “haunted” locations, from commercial buildings and trails to private homes and gardens. The earliest printed reference to ghosts was in 1893, when the Courtenay Weekly News wrote, “It is said this section [of Cumberland’s Union Road] is visited by ghosts, who always appear in long white arctic mantles, and when approached by the more daring, disappear behind some trees.”
Most of these places aren’t on a first-name basis with their resident phantoms, but for some lucky inhabitants, their ghosts have made their identities known through curious habits and history.
For example, the ghost of the Cumberland Museum goes by the name of Wilt, and is thought to be a young man who turns the power off at random. He supposedly rings the unconnected bell of the phone at the customs counter, and is especially active when items are being rearranged. Before the museum was built in 1981, this lot had previously held the house of George Clinton Sr., the paymaster of the Canadian Collieries. The Clinton family suffered through a number of tragedies, one of which was the 1913 automobile death of their son, George “Wilt” Clinton Jr. Described as “one of the most energetic supporters of the manly arts”, Wilt lost control of his car while driving home from Union Bay. After his unfortunate death, he is said to have returned to haunt the family house, turning off lights and making a nuisance of himself for his father and stepmother. Even after the Clinton’s house was torn down and the museum built in its place, the ghost of Wilt remains.
Stately Sandwick Manor is the oldest residential structure east of the Courtenay River. The Edwardian home was built in 1911 by Eric Duncan, a respected farmer, post master, author, and store owner, and he lived there with his first wife, Anna, and their adopted son, Charles. Today, Sandwick Manor still boasts beautiful gardens, a gazebo, and elaborate gingerbread scrollwork, but it also holds another unique feature that sets it apart from its neighbours: the warm and welcoming spirit of “Aunt Anna”. After Anna Duncan died in 1927, the apparition of a woman began to appear. She was first seen by a 12-year-old girl in 1938, and she comforted the frightened child by assuring her that her absent family was safe. Aunt Anna also appeared to another 12-year-old girl in 1998. The ghost has been seen as a hazy glow by adults, and reputedly unscrews light bulbs.
An apparition known as “Dancing Mary” is said to appear on Comox Hill. Legend tells us a beautiful woman was murdered by her husband, and that her ghost dances within a glowing blue mist. The last recorded sighting of Dancing Mary was during World War II, when a soldier biking up the hill spotted her in his path. Possibly in a moment of befuddled terror, he peddled his bike as fast as he could through the swirling fog, and afterwards reported that it had felt freezing cold. In the 70s, another specter was spotted on the same hill, but this time it took the form of a woman with long, lank hair and a strange face. Perhaps it was Mary again, but this time—maybe angry at being run over previously by a guy on a bike—she didn’t bother dancing.
Also in Comox sits what is now known as “The Manor”. This lavish home was built in 1938 by Sir Ernest Petter, who first dubbed it “The Fort” after the original earthworks constructed by the K’omox First Nation. During World War II, the house became a haven for English children escaping the Blitz, but when Petter sold The Fort after the war, the building became an extended care facility, a medical clinic, and then administrative offices for North Island College. Throughout the building’s many functions, staff reported hearing moans and footsteps, or doors slamming. During a college staff party, a Ouija board was used to contact the spirit, which revealed its name to be Ian. Today, the Manor contains a variety of offices, and one of the empty rooms is known as Ian’s Room. No one knows precisely who Ian used to be: a child evacuated from England, a disgruntled patient, or a restless member of the Petter family’s staff? Whoever he was, Ian has become a harmless, playful, and noisy presence haunting The Manor.
The spookiest time of year provides a good opportunity to recognize a few of our more transparent citizens. If you spot a ghostly figure on your travels this Halloween, don’t forget to say hello.