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Ghostly encounters

one reporter’s late-night brush with the unknown at the Maritime Museum of B.C.
Arts reporter Mary Ellen Green isn't afraid of the dark.

As I close the heavy wooden door to the janitor’s closet, panic starts to set in. It’s pitch black and I’m completely alone — or so I hope. I push my back against the door. My heart races, adrenaline is coursing through my veins.

It’s after midnight and I’m in isolation on the second floor of the Maritime Museum of B.C. in Bastion Square. It’s reportedly one of, if not the most, haunted buildings in Victoria. I’m with about 70 aspiring ghost hunters who’ve locked themselves in the museum late Saturday night — not to take a look at the exhibits, but to see, or feel what’s not on display.

The spirits that reportedly haunt the historic building have been around since it was first built as the Supreme Court of B.C. in 1889 by H.O. Tiedemann, and later renovated by Francis Rattenbury.

Before the courthouse, the land housed a police station and barracks in the mid-19th Century. Many public hangings took place there. In fact, the gallows was in the same spot that is now the museum’s ship-building display room. The bodies of at least a dozen people were buried in the courtyard, nine of which were later exhumed and re-buried at Ross Bay Cemetery. The other three have never been found, or so the legend goes.

My hands tremble as I reach for a flashlight. The dim beam illuminates the back wall of the closet. I grab my video camera and switch on its nightvision setting. The long narrow room comes into focus. There is a bathroom stall with no door, a pile of old halogen light bulbs and some scrap pieces of wood. Shelving covers the left wall, while an old fan, a vacuum and a urinal line the other.

“Hello?” I say hesitantly as I pan from side to side with the camera. “If there are any spirits here who want to communicate with me, can you please make a sound?”

I wait for a response. For once, I’m not sure this is a question I want answered.

And then I hear the sound of fabric rubbing together, like a person’s pant legs scraping as they walk. “If that was you, can you do it again?” I ask. Nothing but silence.

The sense of panic strengthens as tension grows in my chest. It’s getting harder to breathe.

I ask again, “If there’s someone here, can you move something? Or touch me?”

With my back still up against the door, I sense something over my right shoulder. I feel what could be fingers wrapping around my shoulder. I don’t know if it’s a ghost or my imagination. I immediately turn around and sit on the chair in the middle of the floor, facing the door. I fumble around for my camera to take a few photos, and with each click of the shutter, the flash lights up the room. There’s nothing there. At least, nothing I can see, but I feel an overwhelming female presence.

My imagination goes crazy thinking about who she could be . . . my skepticism begins to fade and I wonder if I could believe in ghosts.

I decide this isn’t a place I want to spend another minute, but it would be at least another five before my 15 minutes in isolation would end. I focus on my breathing and try to remain calm. Finally, a knock on the door.

I’m relieved to rejoin the group in the engine room. They have just finished a seance and are about to start a glass-moving session. There’s an open seat, so I sit down and place my right index finger on the glass alongside four others. We take turns asking if any spirits would like to communicate with us.

After establishing where the glass should move for both ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers, we ask the spirits to use our energy to move the glass. It begins to move. I feel my heart’s beat pulsing in my fingertip. The vibrations move up my arm and into my body. My heart starts to race again. My cheeks turn red and my temperature rises. Beads of sweat form on my upper lip.

“Is there anyone here who would like to communicate with us?” asks the person sitting next to me. The glass moves to yes. “Are you a sailor?” The glass moves to no.

We continue asking questions, but no conclusive answers are given. We close down the session and thank the spirits for their time.

We are gathered here with clairvoyant medium Dawn Kirkham for her third ghost hunting adventure at the Maritime Museum. Kirkham moved to Victoria two years ago from Liverpool, U.K., where these types of events are quite popular. When she arrived in Victoria and noticed there wasn’t anything like this going on, she decided to give it a go.

“I put my ear to the ground and looked for places that had a lot of spirit activity,” she says.

It wasn’t long before she heard about the museum and the characters who were associated with its history, including the famous “Hanging Judge,” Chief Justice Matthew Baille Begbie.

“The energy is just mega there,” she says.

The museum has three floors of exhibits relating the rich maritime history of our province, with thousands of artifacts, ranging from the famous exploring ship, Tilikum, to the stories of wartime mariners, the great ocean liners and BC Ferries among others. The grand old building is a labyrinth of displays and back hallways, fire escapes and offices. Its two gems, the luxurious Vice-Admiralty Courthouse and the intricate bird cage elevator — the oldest of its kind in North America and rated No. 2 best elevator ride in the world by National Geographic (No. 1 is the CN Tower).

Kirkham uses her spirit guides to communicate with the paranormal and the spirit world. They came to her after she had an event that opened her up to the spirit realm.

“I had a visitation in the middle of the night,  and it terrified the living daylights out of me,” she says. Kirkham worked with another medium to hone her skills. “They were able to help me work through what that was and what it meant and it all snowballed from there. My strength in mediumship is around clairvoyance, and that’s clairseeing, so I see spirit. I am also clairsentient, so I feel spirit, but primarily I use clairvoyance,” she says.

She also teaches Reiki and healing through energy, and hosts a monthly meet-up of the Victoria Metaphysical and Intuitive Arts group on the last Friday of every month at the Orange Hall in Fernwood.

Kirkham joined forces with a team from PARAVI, southern Vancouver Island’s paranormal research society, to offer this ghostly tour. Members of PARAVI brought along ghost-hunting equipment, including video cameras, audio recorders, K2 meters (which gauge electromagnetic fields), and the ghost box, a device that apparently scans through radio frequencies, picks up communications from the other side and broadcasts them through a speaker. They teach us techniques like glass moving and table tipping to communicate with the spirits directly.

Our time on the second floor comes to an end and we rotate with the other groups to the third floor where we enter the historic courtroom. Many people were sentenced to death in this very room.

We hold another seance, detecting the spirit of a judge, but it is unclear which one. We decide to hold a table-tipping session to find out more. Five people sit down around a small folding table. Each person places their fingertips on the table, as to not have enough power to move it themselves, while touching the pinkie fingers of the person next to them, forming a circuit.

Again, we take turns calling out to the spirits in the courtroom, asking if they have a message they’d like to convey. The table begins to undulate. Hands quiver and the table twists ever-so-slightly  to the right.

It’s almost 4 a.m., our time at the museum is quickly coming to an end. Kirkham invites the rest of the attendees to observe our table-tipping session because she thinks we are connecting to an energy.

When the courtroom fills, we feel it slipping away. The spirit is apparently gone, leaving a mystery to uncover during the next ghostly investigation, which is being planned for sometime around Halloween.

Kirkham closes the investigation and museum volunteer Lori Prophet fills us in on some of the legends of the building. She tells us apparitions have been sighted walking through walls, about the history of the ship-building room, and about a young man who was scared out of sleeping in the courtroom by an unsettling energy he couldn’t explain.

We looked back on our evening, reflecting on every feeling, every headache, every temperature change, and wondered what it could all mean before heading out into the empty, rain-soaked streets to venture home.

Kirkham says she hopes other venues in Victoria will open themselves up to a ghostly investigation in the future.

“I’d love to do the McPherson Theatre,” she says. “I’ve heard stories of apparitions there, and theatres in the U.K. have always been great to investigate. I’d also love to do the Empress.”

Krikham hopes the attendees went away with a deeper appreciation of their personal abilities to connect with the spirit realm.

“I hope they come away with some evidence for themselves that helps prove to them that there’s potentially more going on than you’re born, you live and then you die, and that’s that. I want to help normalize these types of experiences because people who experience this type of thing are a little weary to share it because they don’t know how they’re going to be viewed, so they keep it to themselves.

“The more it’s talked about, the more people have a chance to network and the more normal it becomes. Everybody has access to this. You’re born knowing and sometimes life experience takes that away from you.”

As for me, the experience in the closet was almost enough to make me pee my pants, but it wasn’t enough to convince me ghosts exist. I think I’ll keep investigating. M


To contact Dawn Kirkham, email her at  To find out more about PARAVI, go to