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Fire, contagion, murder! Halloween tour exposes Vancouver's grisly early years

(Courtesy Forbidden Vancouver Walking Tours Facebook)
Summary

A Vancouver tour aims to immerse guests in the city's gruesome and grizzly past

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Halloween is a time for gruesome and grisly tales, and historic Vancouver has more than a few of them.

Will Woods is chief story teller with Forbidden Vancouver Walking Tours, immersing guests in Gothic Gastown, the terror of the Great Fire, contagion and even murder.

“The Lost Souls of Gastown, which is our Halloween tour, is very different from a typical walking tour. Your guide is a professional actor playing the part of a fictional character from Vancouver’s earliest years, back when it was a Wild West town of just a few hundred people.” he tells NEWS 1130.

“It’s the life story of someone who grew up here and experienced the Great Fire, smallpox outbreaks and was involved in a gruesome murder which did actually happen here in Vancouver — the murder of John Bray.”

Woods says guests are taken on an interactive journey through the back streets and alleyways of Victorian era Gastown.

“In the 1860s, it was a very different place, it was a wild town where loggers and dock workers would come and let their hair down in the saloons and bawdy houses of Gastown. It was like a little Las Vegas on the Lower Mainland and it burnt to the ground in 1886,” he explains.

“Fire whipped up and destroyed the whole thing in just 20 minutes. We look back at the Great Fire as part of our folklore, but when you imagine what it really would have been like if you were on the streets, all those years ago … it must have been absolutely terrifying.”

Woods describes a wall of fire, 30 or 40 feet high, racing through early Vancouver.

“Accounts of the day say buildings weren’t just going up in flames, they were literally exploding, one-by-one on Water Street. People were running for their lives, getting eaten up by flames because the fire was moving faster than a sprinting man. People swam into the inlet to survive.”

Since it is Halloween, of course we asked Woods about hauntings in the dark corners along Vancouver’s waterfront.

He insists he is a sceptic, but there was one time on the edge of historic Chinatown…

“I was standing at the intersection of Carrall and Pender Street and there’s the Jack Chow building there, the very narrow building. I was at the crosswalk with a friend and there was no one around, which is unusual for that area. We were waiting for the light to change, and I felt a push at my back.”

Woods says it wasn’t a hard shove, but it was enough to make him turn around and look. There was no one near him.

“It really unsettled me at the time. I can’t can’t explain it to this day. I will say that on another of our walking tours we do stop and talk about the Jack Chow building — formerly the Sam Kee building, built way back in 1913 — so I don’t know if the ghost of the original owner had a little message for me,” he chuckles, maybe half-jokingly.

Forbidden Vancouver’s “Lost Souls of Gastown” walking tours continue through the end of November.

There are still Halloween tickets available.

-With files from Amelia John