Ghosts of the Downtown Vancouver Bay Store

Ghost of the Downtown Vancouver Bay
Vancouver Bay Store, 1918

If you live in Vancouver – or visited downtown – you’ve probably been inside the Bay on Granville Street. It likely never occurred to you, that many people who’ve worked there over the years have had what some might call a paranormal experience. It’s been a common enough phenomenon, but one in which the HBC Company might not be keen on sharing.

The Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC), historically, was largely responsible for shaping Canada and much of the United States by bringing British law and culture into the New World along with a profitable empire built on fur trade. The HBC was chartered in 1670, and at one time the company owned 15% of the North American landmass[i]. What had began as a fur trading company, would, over time, eventually become the Canadian retail giant that it’s known as today. “The Bay” branch of the HBC has some 92 existing locations in Canada[ii]. Many of these remaining buildings are very old, and some harbor rich and dynamic histories.

The Vancouver Bay store was built in phases starting in 1913 alongside an older 1893 building. This older building would be replaced completely by the third phase of the construction in 1925[iii]. As you can imagine, portions of the building are very old… and extremely creepy.

Countless people have been employed by and have worked out of the downtown Vancouver Bay store over the years. For many of them – even today – the Hudson’s Bay Company was their life. Who could even begin to guess how many restless spirits would choose to roam the building’s floors if they were given an option? Many believe, in fact, that some spirits do just that. I personally agree that there’s something to these tales, as well.

I don’t merely say this because one of the cleaning ladies was crying one early morning after she stated she had seen an apparition on the second floor. This lady had claimed to have seen a woman in a red dress floating along the aisle. In fact, I was told that the cleaning lady requested to no longer work on the second floor at all. Interestingly – and somewhat unrelated – a woman in red is also supposed to haunt the 14th floor of the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver a block away. This other haunting is much better known and is even considered public knowledge[iv]. Regardless, it takes a lot more than a single story to make me a believer, but I did have reasons of my own not to doubt her.

I used to be at the top of the alarm call-out list for the downtown Vancouver store. In fact, I was the Loss Prevention manager of this location from 2001 to 2005 where my duties included the arrest of those committing criminal offences (on or in relation to the property) camera installation, emergency preparedness, staff awareness training, and an overseeing of the physical security of the building itself.

Occasionally, I would get an unexplained motion alarm call out. This was during a period in which there were no overnight security guards on site. I would get the alarm call, attend, and then go into the store to investigate the cause. Due to budget constraints at the time, I would often attend the store on my own.

On more than one occasion, the elevators doors opened without explanation in the middle of the night. Reviewing cameras for that particular zone, which had been triggered by motion, would be interesting. On reviewing camera, I would observe the doors open. The light that was visible from the camera angle would then indicate that the elevator was going down or up. The elevator would then travel to a separate floor and open up again. The camera angle would sometimes provide me with a chance to look directly into that elevator when the doors finally opened. It would be empty.

I spoke with the engineers and they assured me that – technically speaking – this movement was impossible. Someone would have had to have been inside of the elevator, and would have had to press one of the buttons. This “person” would have had to push this button from inside the elevator or have called it from the outside by pushing the up or down call button. Neither of these actions could have occurred, though, because on camera there was nobody there. The alarm was not set off in this way very often, though. If it had been a malfunction, it would have occurred more often than it did. The elevators were very old and not computerized. They were not programmed to move in this way at all because they could not be programmed in the first place.

These elevators would always open up on the 2nd floor, or on the sub-basement level. They were usually the customer elevators, but this also occurred with the staff elevator, as well, which was located in a nearby back area. Other Loss Prevention (LP) associates experienced these incidents as well.

At the time, our loss prevention office was located on the mezzanine level between the first and second floors. This office was also our camera monitoring room. It was located beneath the 2nd floor washroom. During nights where one of us was on site – and in the office – the sound of wheels in the above washrooms was very common to hear. The camera would indicate that no one had gone into or out of the bathroom. If someone investigated inside the actual washroom, the sound would stop immediately (a second person was sometimes on camera and would remain in the office) and nothing would be found that could have caused the noise. The sound was similar to the noise that is made by squeaky wheels. This was experienced by almost everyone that I managed on the LP team. Some of these guys did not believe in anything paranormal, but were unable to offer a proper explanation for the noises nonetheless.

This was the full extent of the activity I experienced on the second floor myself. I must admit, however, that this floor did feel very “different” compared with most of the other store areas. Some staff members have, over the years, reported activity in the Seymour Room, which is a cafeteria-style restaurant on the 6th floor. I had never experienced, or felt, anything in this room myself, though.

The sub-basement was the area in which I did have the most convincing experiences, however. As I have already mentioned, the elevators sometimes opened up on this level unexplainably, as well. There’s a back corner of the sub-basement, in fact, which seems to be a hot spot of activity. In this corner, there’s a cafeteria and a staff kitchen. Before the renovation a few years ago, this had been a burger bar and a soup counter. Strangely, I would sometimes get a call from the alarm company of a motion alarm going off in this back corner.

Vancouver’s notorious for its Downtown East Side, which runs parallel to the Bay a few blocks away. Drug addiction was rampant in this neighborhood at the time, and our job could be very difficult. Addicts would sometimes stay in the store and try to burglarize the place or would try to smash their way out with high-end merchandise. When we tried to stop them they would sometimes be combative. The most common weapon pulled on us would be a syringe, but the hardware that they would potentially present was always varied. If multiple alarms went off in the Bay building, we would know that someone was there and we would enter the store with the police. If only one alarm went off, on the other hand, it would be a little strange. We generally thought that this was a false alarm, but we would still need to investigate. An item falling over or even a mouse could set off the alarm. If an intruder was fairly still they might set off an alarm only once. This has happened before as well.

Why I Believe in Ghosts
Vancouver Bay Store, 2012

I would glove up (Kevlar) and go into the area to investigate. Sometimes, I would carry a bat. If I did find someone in the store we would usually both be startled. These foiled thieves would usually allow themselves to be arrested without further incident. During these budget-cutback times, I would carry a radio and pretend to be talking to a second person and would even squawk it to make noise. I never gave the impression that I was alone but I often was. It was a very intense situation. Not enough evidence to call the police, no backup, and a dangerous type of addicted clientele that tried to take anything they could at any cost.

An intruder never seemed to be the cause of the alarm in the back corner, but at the time I was prepared for that to be the answer. Truthfully, to this day I do not know what set off these alarms. It was always important, however, to take these calls seriously.

Anyways, I particularly hated checking the sub-basement corner when it did go into alarm, because something just plain felt wrong to me. This feeling was not very friendly at all. It reminded me of the St. Louis Ghost Light’s angry buzzing, which I had described last week. It felt muggy, somehow, and there was an electric heaviness in the air as well.

I remember the times in which I experienced a heightened level of fear in that corner. The kitchen staff had an alarm clock by their sink. The thing went off twice right beside me as I walked past it! The time of night was different on each occurrence and the likelihood of someone setting the alarm to go off in the middle of the night was not very high. The first time I must have literally jumped out of my skin I was so startled. I was already on edge, for reasons I’ve already explained, just in case someone was actually back in that corner. I decided that the experience had a logical explanation the first time that it happened. I decided it was merely a coincidence.

The second time, however, I was thinking about this “coincidence” as I passed by the same alarm clock. Even though a part of me half expected it, the alarm going off for a second time really rattled me. I had to rule out coincidence. This realization made this particular feeling of fear just a little more unbearable. This occurrence was immediately followed by what I now refer to myself as “the hallway incident.”

I was walking up towards the hallway that led to the staff lockers and washrooms in this same corner. I was already rattled from the alarm clock. The area was sparsely lit and had an abandoned hospital look to it. The hall ran beneath the escalators going up to the Pacific Center mall. As I walked up to this propped open door I was taken aback by it violently slamming in my face. I kicked the door open in response. I was so wound up that I did not have a chance to think but just reacted. The door flew back open immediately.

As I had already known, however, there was nobody there. I had seen clearly down the hallway and it had been clear. The door did not shut that violently naturally. It was always left open with a stopper in place. There was absolutely no explanation. The stopper had been moved to the side and the slow closing door had somehow gained momentum on its own. No one was there, the doorway had behaved differently at that moment in comparison to any other time that I was aware of –  I also could not recreate the slamming door the next day when I tried to no matter how hard I pushed it- and it had slammed right in front of me as if it had been timed. The whole experience was very unnerving, I’m not going to lie.

“Okay. I get it. I know you’re here!” I stated aloud in an effort to sound confident. Saying this out loud always seemed to make me feel better. In retrospect, it also seemed to work on the ghosts of the Downtown Vancouver Bay store.

Nothing much happened to me in the store after that. I was still there for at least two more years. Being in loss prevention, though, others staff members would still sometimes tell me about what had happened to them. I would usually keep my own stories to myself, however. I didn’t really want to get into it, as I saw these incidents as a somewhat private affair outside of our department. What was most interesting to me over those years, however, was the fact that the 2nd floor and the sub-basement were the two areas attached to most of  – if not all – these ghostly claims made by staff.

Even over the few years that I was a manager in the store, there had been deaths in the building. If there was a lost soul in the Bay, it could have been a younger version of one of the many seniors who had passed away there, been an overdosed drug addict, one of the vehicle or pedestrian fatalities outside, one of the Skytrain suicides below the store, or could have even been a spirit from a far older time. There are more than a few possibilities as to where the ghosts of the Downtown Vancouver Bay store had come from.

I have heard it said that 47% of people in Canada believe in ghosts[v]. I imagine that some of these people are probably the whimsical types, while some are probably more similar to me… quasi-agnostic believers. Sometimes, a personal experience just can’t be ignored.

I know that there’s something that seems to coexist with us as humans, something that I cannot completely observe or understand. When I dismiss these experiences in my life, which I have done on occasion, it seems as if I can expect to receive a wake-up call of sorts. Something unexplained will happen similar to the hallway incident.

I do, however, now understand why some people believe in ghosts and why some people do not. In fact, if you told me that you had seen a ghost yourself, I would probably be very skeptical. I am a believer after all, but I’m also that self same agnostic. This seems to be a never-ending balancing act, and perhaps even a contradiction. I hope that one day, however, I will be able to fully understand these experiences and the others as well, those similar incidents which have also occurred off and on throughout my life.

Ghosts of the Downtown Bay Store
Hudson’s Bay Company Logo

[ii] (May, 2012)

[v] At the time of this writing on the Vancouver Fox radio station but read Qualicum Heritage Inn: the Great Haunted Condominium Sale for specific stats or Science & Ghosts.

* All images found on this post are of the public domain except for the 2012 image. This image belongs to the author.

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