Saturday, October 18, 2014

What Happened That Night....

As you can see from my last post titled ‘How to Catch a Spider – Advice from Ros’, my friend Ros obviously has great powers over me. She sends me on these great adventures and I do what I’m told. I must be subconsciously scared of her or something because I always seem to do what she says. Recently she sent me on a wild-goose-find-the-haunted-well-chase, but that’s another story for another time.

I have a much better haunted story....

As she and I have an ‘appreciation’ for all things eerie, spooky and paranormal, she kindly advised me of a ‘seasonal’ event she saw advertised in the newspaper. As she lives quite a few hours away from me, accompanying me on this ‘investigation’ would be difficult so I was tasked this quest ALONE. The advertisement my friend Ros saw was not for a typical museum ‘tour’ of The Maritime Museum of BC, but for a ‘Haunted Hallways’ tour of the building.

The Maritime Museum of BC has artifacts and info from shipyards to shipwrecks, to discoveries to losses. Now that stuff is all well and good, and as traitorous to my British Columbian patriotism as this might seem, it’s just not my interest. But given the history of the building, well...

The building was first built as the Supreme Court back in around 1889. Back then when laws, thinking, and social graces where different, hangings were commonplace, and many of the convicted who were tried there were sentenced to death. But prior to that building’s existence, in its place was a jailhouse - complete with gallows. Hangings were a family event and bacon sandwiches and beer were served as refreshments. When the convicted was hung and the thrashing body stilled, “Who claims this body!?” was called out to the ‘audience.’ If no family member stepped forward to claim their loved one – which usually never happened for fear of association with such a derelict – the deceased was buried in the grounds of the jailhouse courtyard. When the jail was later torn down to make way for the Supreme Court to be built on top of the jailhouse, construction workers found skeletal remains. Finding buried bodies around Victoria was quite commonplace so the workers simply shrugged and continued building on top of the bodies (I’m no historian - this is just a brief summary- any errors in this recounting is mine). (For more info, visit

So back to my friend Ros and her special powers....

“You must go!” said Ros about the ‘Haunted Hallways’ tour.

“Should I?” I asked.

Silence on the other end of the phone was telling. The silent ‘duh’ urged me on.

So at 8pm on a Friday night I armed myself with a camera, an umbrella (like that would help – but it WAS raining, you see), my cell phone with 911 on speed dial, as well as packs of gum to gnaw on nervously, then headed to the museum.

Down-to-earth, passionate-about-her-job Christina gave us the grand tour starting with a history of the building. Her storytelling skills, her knowledge and historical facts mixed with local lore, sightings and experiences had everyone captivated. From room to room we ventured. First there was the room aptly called 'The Knot Room', built right on top of where the gallows was from the previous jailhouse. Accompanying stories and experiences left everyone – including me – with the chills. Then there was the holding cell room, where a ‘presence’ is still felt by many staff. A hallway known for an ghost looking for his wife had us furtively glancing around, eager yet apprehensive to catch a glimpse of this lost soul.

From stories of racism – indigenous people and the British didn’t see ‘eye to eye’ back then – of lost loves and betrayals, and downright violent deaths had us all captivated. From room to room we went, Christina's stories of historical fact laced with first-hand experiences with unsettled spirits had us all believing in the ‘what if.’ We had secret ‘behind the scenes’ tours, venturing up hidden staircases and into recently-discovered secret rooms. We ended up in the courtroom where the infamous hanging Judge Matthew Baillie Bebgie sentenced the convicted to hanging. (Note: The Supreme Court as it was then didn't have 'gallows' - the convicted were sent to a jailhouse off site to meet their fate (for the locals, there was jailhouse complete with gallows by Hillside Shopping Centre)

After an hour the tour ended (I, for one, wasn't 'done' and could definitely go back for more), concluding with a brief and spooky ‘lights out’ moment in the courtroom. I sat on one of the jury benches – the same benches where jury would help Judge Begbie lay down the law – and for a moment I felt my bum go cold. Seriously.

But let me get back to the beginning of the night...

Before the tour started, early attendees were allowed to tour the museum. I had a quick peek around the exhibits then found myself in a room sporting a few pictures of ships. What held my interest was what was in the back corner.

A big black safe, almost as high as your typical door, stood silently in the corner. I approached and took a few photos. My senses were on high alert during my self-guided museum tour, and as I was early, there weren’t many folks around. I snapped a few photos and wanted a close-up of the wording on the outside of the safe.

I barely bent my knees to access a better camera-view of the wording, when I suddenly felt a sharp pain in my ankle and then...

My camera seized up. The screen went fuzzy as you can see from the photo, and remained that way for the rest of the tour. I couldn’t turn the camera off or on and no amount of button-pressing could fix it. I resorted to using the camera on my cell phone – a risky move, at that – and my camera didn’t ‘fix itself’ until almost two hours later, right down to the minute from when it first ‘went funny.’ Even when I later got home and plugged it in to charge, it still wouldn’t 'fix' itself. I have never had a problem with the camera before; it was fully charged and was seemingly all right prior to the evening.

I’ll let you ponder that and make up your own mind...

I later told Christina about my camera, sheepishly admitting to the 'coincidence' of it all and brushing it off in a manner of 'I know I am nuts, but....'

She waved off my concern: 'Oh, that happens to people's cameras all the time here' - like this was a normal occurrence.

In the end, it was a MOST fantastic night - one I will never forget. I lived to tell the tale, my camera is fine, and I will continue to do what Ros tells me to do.

Oh - and my ankle is fine.

(Note: The museum is being moved to the basement of the CPR building, where the renowned ‘Wax Museum’ used to be. The museum’s last days residing in the historic building are numbered, so the staff are going all-out, hosting tours and sharing first-hand experience tales of their experiences in the building. Be sure to check them out at
(Me in the court room sitting at The Hanging Judge Begbie's desk)

For more interesting facts about Bastion Square, Victoria, BC, where the building resides, please visit Bastion Square Info.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

How to Catch a Spider - Advice from Ros

I have a secret passion for hardware stores. I’m not a carpenter, electrician or plumber (save the ‘crack’ jokes). I don’t know how to change the oil on a car or repair a leaky roof. I can barely figure out the circuit breakers in our house and don’t bother telling me to pass you the ‘Phillips’ screwdriver – just say the screwdriver with the star.

So when I recently wrote about my ‘adventures’ with a spider and my hair dryer (check out ‘Karma, Irony and Guilt – Lessons From a Spider'), my very good friend, romantic suspense writer Rosalind Villers (, was quick to give me some valuable advice. I like her, she knows stuff, and she writes a mean bit of prose; of course I was gonna do what she says!

She recommended the Bug Trapper, a nifty gadget perfect for catching all little things creepy- crawly. Although I’m sure it can be found via many other outlets, she was quick to recommend Lee Valley Hardware.

Well, given my penchant for hardware stores my excitement and curiosity mounted. Not only was I going to get the gadget that would ‘change my life’ (her words), but I could also check out this renowned hardware store I had often heard about but had never been lucky enough to go to!

The store was off my regular well-beaten path, but after a few wrong turns I found it. It was during one of my typically busy Saturday afternoons, but I was on a quest – I had to get this gadget! I was determined to find the store, no matter how busy I was. My car was full of frozen food and meat from a whirlwind grocery shopping spree but since I was ‘only going to be a minute’ I figured everything would be fine (which, in the end, everything WAS – no one died of botulism or salmonella or whatever) (not yet, at least).

Now before I go on I must insist that my story here is in NO way criticizing the store or how it does business. In fact, how they do business was quite ingenious. The store was clean, neat, usual-hardware-store-smell-free, and rather…ritzy for a hardware store. The store clerks were beyond knowledgeable and polite and I will, most definitely, go back again.

Moving right along…

Finally finding the store, I pulled-up to the newly built store and….scratched my head. It was too fancy and too small to be a hardware store – at least to be the kind of hardware store I was used to. But seeing as I was on a quest for something that would ‘change my life,’ I had no time to spare. Dawdling and pondering about the appearance of a store was not on my schedule.

A few steps in I stopped short. Wall-to-wall carpeting, spa-like music in the background along with fancy wooden shelving and display racks made my shopping experience in a ‘hardware store’ a little….confusing. This was not a ‘hardware store’ but a retreat for those needing a getaway from the usual grime and oil-slick of other hardware stores.

Whatever, I shrugged. Ros must only shop at the uber-fancy-hardware stores, I realized. Just when you think you know a person…

But I had no time to spare – food was in the car. I pushed my friend and her champagne-taste in hardware stores out of my head and went in search of the Bug Trapper. But as hard as I tried I couldn’t find it, which was understandable given the fancy store I was clearly unaccustomed to.

The store clerk I asked for assistance was beyond friendly and helpful. She knew exactly what I was looking for and led me to a little wall of gadgets. The first bug catcher she showed me was 4 times what I was willing to pay. No bug is worth more than my hourly wage (well…maybe). The next bug catcher – the exact one Ros showed me – matched the contents of my wallet.

“I’ll take it!” I announced and went to grab the gadget. This was easier than I thought!

“Oh no…” she started, and pointed to a code on the tag. “You’ll need this code.”

She then went on to explain that the store is kind of a like a mail order/warehouse store and then she showed me an order form. At first I didn’t understand. Would I have to ‘order’ the item and wait for it to come in the mail? My excitement deflated – I would have to spend another night in my home vulnerable, unarmed and defenceless.

Seeing my confusion the nice clerk reassured me I WOULD get to go home with my gadget. She explained that I had to first fill out a form then take it to the counter where a staff-person would retrieve the item from the warehouse in ‘the back.’

I looked at my watch. Damn that Ros, I cursed my friend. What had she gotten me into? (No wonder she’s such a good suspense writer – she had sure kept ME in suspense of what I was really getting myself into!)

After ensuring I was okay and understood what to do, the very kind store clerk left me to my own devices and assured me she would be ‘right over there’ (by the scary looking soil and compost thermometers). Using a cute little golf pencil (of which I wish accidentally rolled into my purse) I filled out the form. By then I had my bearings and understood what the store was all about. I wish I had more time to browse but with the threat of the meat frying itself in the warm car, I had to hustle.

Presenting my form at the counter another equally nice clerk went in ‘the back’ to retrieve my Bug Trapper. Before I could truly enjoy the beauty of a copper slug belt (another ingenious gadget) beside me on the counter, she returned with a little box.

“Is that the Bug Trapper?” It seemed too small compared to what the first store clerk had shown me.

“Oh yes, my dear, here…” She opened the box. Oh, my shoulders slumped. I would have to put it together. “It’s from England,” she continued. “It’s quite extraordinary, actually.” Her serious tone had me second-guessing the hilarity of what I was really buying. This Bug Trapper was no laughing matter.

With manners Miss. Manners would envy the clerk processed my order then wished me well in my endeavours. Again I wished I had had the time to look around but I swear I could smell the meat sizzling in my car. Damn that Ros!

I made it home in record time and the food was fine. Despite my lack of hardware/handyman skills, I assembled the Bug Trapper then practiced trapping an imaginary bug/spider/insect/creepy-crawly and relocating it outside. The Bug Trapper sits at the ready and despite me cursing my friend Ros throughout my experience, I am thankful for her advice and introducing me to something new.

But one thing was clear - I obviously need to get out more. First stop - Lee Valley Hardware.