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They tend to publish a lot of stories about paranormal phenomena and ghosts around Halloween, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy them well into the dark and creepy month that is November. I found The Tyee’s story on Vancouver Paranormal’s ghost hunt at Century House Restaurant the perfect antidote to the Christmas retail push that starts as soon as the clock turns over on October 31. I am too afraid of ghosts to ever do such a thing as go hang out in a basement washroom in order to record ghostly crying, but I am fascinated by ghost stories and by the people who curious and fearless enough to go out and do that.
Vancouver Paranormal is one of many groups that go out and do ghost hunts at supposedly haunted sites. Unlike urban explorers, they only go by invitation of the residents or business owners, and they don’t charge for their services. Their site isn’t the most organized or easy to read thing on the web (my editing teacher would go into convulsions), but it’s jam packed with fascinating stories, photographs, recordings (I can’t listen), and videos of their work. Yes, yes, ghosts don’t exist, do they? Well, the information is there so you can decide for yourself. Vancouver Paranormal also holds public nights when people can come out on a graveyard expedition. The next one is on November 26 at Mountainview cemetery. Sounds spine tingly-dingling.
Maktaaq had Vancouver Paranormal in when she worked at the Port Moody Station Museum, which was originally the Canadian Pacific Railway’s Western terminus (have I got that right?). There had been several strange happenings inside the old station and in the restored Venosta rail car that sits on the site. The ghosts hunters took a lot of readings and photographs, and apparently did find some anomalies which pointed to spiritual presence.
As you may have guessed by now, I believe in ghosts. There are too many indications that there is more to our cities and and homes and buildings than what we see to think “what we see is all there is.” And to those who think I’m crazy to live on the grounds of a former mental hospital, well, I haven’t seen anything here yet to think those poor kids are still hanging around.


The pace of construction is pretty rapid around here. From the balcony, we watch every day as a little more highrise gets built in front of us. It’s actually pretty cool to watch a building being built. There is also a lot of progress being made on the grounds – a new sign just went in at the entrance, and they have planted all sorts of shrubbery that I have to be vigilant about keeping Levi out of.
As I wrote before, the place where we live has a lot of history – the building next door was built as the province’s first Insane Asylum. Even though that building and the Nurse’s Lodge, as well as a couple of others on the site have to be preserved in some fashion, they are nonetheless being altered as the new community is being redeveloped.
Because we have the dog, we walk around the grounds at least a couple times a day. So, I bring you the photo tour of the current state of the former Woodlands grounds.
Centre Building of Woodlands
This is the wall of the Centre Building that is closest to my building, right there as you go down the stairs to the paths. Workers are already clearing out the inside, so some windows have been broken and/or boarded up. Graffiti from people breaking in and exploring the interior is visible. At night, I can’t help but look for ghosts within.
Centre Building, Woodlands
If you walk right around to the front of the old building, you can see the original part of the Centre Building from Woodlands. They are keeping a lot of construction and landscaping equipment there too. Workers, for whatever reason, have begun to remove the stucco exterior, revealing the solid brick walls beneath.
Trees and pathways at Victoria Hill
Even the trees – gorgeous old chestnuts and various conifers – are protected by heritage preservation laws. Cut one of these babies down and the developer would be facing some hefty fines. Woodlands was named for its stately grounds with lots of lawns and trees. Behind our building at least, that character remains. Here you can see the lacy pattern the bare tree branches make. We can’t wait to see these trees in bloom.
Old and New
The Nurses’ Lodge sits on the other side of our building. Right now, it’s being gutted in preparation for renovation into apartments. I wish they had stuck with the plan to turn it into an arts centre. My old apartment was next to a theatre/gallery/museum. James is right- I do like old things. I’m turning into my mother! Somebody turn off the Antiques Roadshow!
Fraser River
I think I’ve always lived near water. Some people might not think it so pretty, but I love the view of the Fraser River with its log booms and tug boats. The mountains, too. A classmate commented that this picture would be better without the cars, but they’re a constant in this scene, too. Below the road, trains thump and screech along at odd hours.
Heritage Trees
The old trees are amazing, aren’t they?
Nurse's Lodge - Detail
This is a detail of the front porches of the Nurses’ Lodge at Woodlands. This the front facade of the house; the other sides look rather plain, almost industrial, in comparison. When the workers are taking materials out of the house, they do it via the back and side doors.
So that’s where we are right now. I’m curious to know what these old buildings will look like 1, 2, 5 years from now. Back to watching the highrise, then.

Maktaaq (the best blogger to come out of Port Moody) wrote a very cool companion piece to my post yesterday. She found even more photos of Woodlands buildings taken by urban explorers and as usual, found lots of other cool stuff having to do with ghosts and paranormal investigators.
Given the history of these grounds, and the history of the neighbourhood (a whole swath of heritage house to the west and the redeveloped BC Penitentiary lands to the east), it wouldn’t be so surprising to see ghosts. I just don’t want them in my house.

I really enjoy my new home. When Levi and I stroll the grounds behind this new building, it is impossible to forget two things: 1) the view of the mighty Fraser River and 2) the history of this place. You see, for a long time, the parcel of land which is now being developed was known as Woodlands Institution. The large building to one side to us was built in 1878 as British Columbia’s first Insane Asylum (around the turn of the century the name was changed to the slightly more sensitive “Hospital for the Insane”).

On the other side of us is the old Nurses Lodge for Woodlands, which also has Heritage Designation. The windows are mostly boarded up, but you can see the beauty of the structure in the graceful porches. There were some plans for the city to renovate it and turn it into an arts centre, but apparently, now the lodge will be turned into apartments. Like the Administration Building pictured above, it has heritage status, so the developer has to keep the facades and work within the original structure.
In the mid-50s, Woodlands became an institution primarily for children with mental and physical disablities. It was surrounded by trees, tall hedges and fences (which have been preserved), which made for an isolating experience for many children. Surprise, surprise – there was abuse of the residents. After the government began shutting down institutions such as Woodlands and Riverview in the late 1990s, former residents of Woodlands began coming forward with stories of abuse at the hands of staff, There was an inquiry and report published in 2002. Soon after, the land was sold to the developer and what I am living in now is the beginning of a new neighbourhood on the 65-acre grounds.
One question I’ve been asked a lot is: “Do you think it’s haunted?” And since there is so much history here, not all of it pleasant, I think it could be. I am afraid of ghosts, and I did actually check it out before we decided to buy. However, the only story of haunting I can find associated with Woodlands is the one involving tombstones being taken from the institution cemetery in the 1970s and used as paving stones for houses and apartment buildings. (Not this one!) One story of such an associated haunting is in the book Ghost Stories of British Columbia, another is here.
In between the time the residents were moved out and the time development started, the old buildings were used for filming shows such as The X-Files. The caretaker for the site confirmed in a news story that he had never experienced a haunting on the site. So that was good enough for me. But it was still important to knw what I was buying into with my new home. Luckily, a New Westminster artist, Michael De Courcy, put together an exhibit in 2003 entitled “Asylum: A Long Last Look at Woodlands.” It was shown at the local library, and lives on as a wonderful website with interior photos of the buildings and portraits of former residents. The accompanying essay, “Thinking About Woodlands,” is quite remarkable too.
I often look at the buildings and wonder what they are like inside. I stumbled across an urban explorer message board where infiltrators discuss their adventures in the old Woodlands buildings, and in other abandoned, empty spaces. If I wasn’t such as a soulless yuppie, maybe they would invite me out for a tour.
When I find my camera, I will post some photos of the river and the old trees on the grounds. This is a beautiful and haunted place.

Unlike Anna Jarvis, founder of Mother’s Day, Sonora Smart Dodd didn’t mind the commercialism and gift-giving that came to mark Father’s Day. She founded the holiday to honour her father, a widower and Civil War veteran who raised six children. She said, “Why shouldn’t the greatest giver of gifts be on the receiving end once a year?”
My pop happens to be one of the most generous guys you’ll ever meet but damn if I would know what to get as a gift for him.
Happy Father’s Day.

Flickr Photos