Now being the helpful kind of guy that I am, and thinking that there just might be a possibility that one or more of you out there may be thinking of moving into Vancouver some day, I thought it might be nice if I were to step away from this computer for a while and do a little house hunting for you. I admit I didn’t really know what price range I should be looking in, but knowing how my blog attracts only the finest of people (he says as he rolls his eyes) I thought I would confine my search to somewhere in the mid to upper range, and keep it relatively close to the downtown area so you would be close to all the action, and save money on the cost of commuting.
At first I was thinking of condominiums, but that really is so last year, and seriously, who wants to share their home with 150 other millionaires living above 17 stories of high-line hotel space? I mean, not exactly where I want to be living when the Big Earthquake finally hits, and after all, it is overdue. Not to mention Mt. Baker, right across the border, looking more and more like it’s about to blow its top, and you know if you’re on the 40th floor, you’re getting the worst of that ash, and long before it reaches us guys on the ground. They don’t make a Shop-Vac for that kind of dust. So in the end I decided to stick with houses, but a nice house, sturdy enough to withstand a good shake, and maybe even with some built-in safety features. Oh yeah! Nothing but the best for my readers.
So the next thing I needed was to supply some first-rate entertainment for the happy new land-owners. Something unique, something spectacular, wait, that’s it! Something spectral! Who doesn’t like a good ghost-story? Better yet, who doesn’t like a good ghost? You can’t really get more unique than that in living accommodations that are located in the heart of the downtown area. I mean, we’re not just looking for a great big beautiful, earthquake-resistant, safety-enhanced, centrally-located, currently on the market mansion in one of the most housing-depleted cities in North America, but we want one that’s all of that, and haunted besides. Yes! That’s it. I’m a genius (sorry about that, I got carried away in the moment, oops). The question was, could I do it? Well, I’ll tell you what. First, you take a look at the little gallery below, and then beneath the gallery, I’ll fill you in on just what exactly it is that you are looking at. How does that sound? Alright? Alright. Here we go.
Now first of all, these photos that you just looked at, are of one of the oldest buildings in Vancouver, built way back in the very early 1900’s. The house was built for Benjamin T. Rogers who was lovingly remembered as “The Sugar King” since he was the founder of B.C. Sugar and the attached refinery (if you think that at least some portion of the profit of every teaspoon of sugar used in British Columbia finds its way back into B.C. Sugar’s coffers, you’ll get the idea that the company is probably doing alright). Just in case they aren’t, however, you can add the fact that Mr. Rogers’ interests also include the chain of Hy’s Mansions and Steak Lofts. And while I’m on the topic of Hy’s Mansions, you may find it interesting to note that after the house was no longer being lived in, it was a Hy’s Mansion, after which, it served as a Romano’s Macaroni Grill. The outdoor tables, set up on the front lawn area were an absolute pleasure to see. When Romano’s closed, about 5 or 6 years ago, I heard that The Keg held a long-term lease on the property, but failed to ever develop anything on the site.
The property has sat vacant since, with its 17,327 sq. ft. of area designated for retail, with office and restaurant space. I don’t want to be the type of Travel Host who would spread unfounded, or alarmist-type rumors, but I think it’s because of the →GHOST←!!! But more about that a little later. First, a bit more about the building itself, because it really does have an interesting history of its own. You see, aside from being known as Hy’s Mansion because of the famous owner, the building is also, and many people would say, more properly, called Gabriola House because the sandstone exterior of this Victorian Mansion was quarried on Gabriola Island, which is in the Straits of Georgia, just a short distance from the city of Nanaimo. The building has three storeys plus a basement (more on that later), as well as eighteen fireplaces including one in the main hall that is terra cotta, carved by John Bruce, who also carved the stone lions that stand guard at the Vancouver Courthouse. Back in 1979 all sprinklers, heat, air conditioning, and necessary structural work was completed to bring the building completely up to code, and since Gabriola House possesses a “Class A”, protected heritage designation, any changes or additions to the property or structure would have to be approved by city council. But then I can’t help but think, this isn’t exactly a “fixer-upper” we’re talking about here, right? And oh, did I mention that the house has amazing stained-glass windows that I couldn’t get shots of because they’re being protected right now, and also a grand interior staircase that you can’t see for obvious reasons.
And now on to the last couple points before we end this little tour. So I’ll need you to think back to those days in front of the TV set as little children, when the teacher at Romper Room told everyone to put on their imaginary “Thinking Caps”, close your eyes, and if you are of the “faint-of-heart sort, you may want to find another kindred soul, and hold hands for a while, because the next stop, is the border, where the land of Reality meets the neighboring country of Legend, and you can never quite tell just what side of the line you are standing on. But then again, that’s what makes it so interesting. So if you’re all ready, and the nitro tablets are within reach, here we go.
As the story goes, in the basement of Gabriola House, back in the days when the law of prohibition ruled in the city of Vancouver, there could be found, if one was in the know, an underground tunnel that connected to a nearby nightclub known as “Maxine’s Hideaway”. This was actually the final name of the club located at 1215 Bidwell Street, which in an earlier incarnation had been known as “Balzathar”, but I like the final name better, and this is my story to tell. So what makes Maxine’s Hideaway even more interesting than being one end of the mysterious underground tunnel, was that Maxine’s little hideaway had a ghost of their very own. Now you just have to think about this for a minute. In 1886, Vancouver, with the exception of only a handful of buildings literally burned to the ground (another amazing story for another day), and here we are in roughly 1925, and our little town, struggling so hard to rebuild, already has at least 2 decent ghosts to tell ghost-stories about. No one can say us Canadians don’t try harder. 😉 Anyway, Maxine’s ghost was supposedly the Madam who ran the brothel that used to occupy said premises in the early 1900’s. Unfortunately, the building was destroyed in favor of condos three years ago, but they saved the Spanish-style facade out of kindness to the buildings history. I wonder if any of the condo owners have had any strange visitors?
Mr. Rogers died in 1918, and his widow moved into another house. Did I mention Gabriola House was large? In 1925 it became a 20-unit apartment building known as “Angus Apartments”, a nod to Mrs. Rogers’ maiden name. It was 50 years later before all the tenants had moved out, and the building fell into disrepair, so in the 70’s it was revamped, and thus began the restaurant era that we spoke of earlier, but now we’ll look at it from our new, spookier perspective. And to give you a better idea of the sort of goings on that have been encountered in this building, I’m going to let you read a short little excerpt from a web-site called “Ghosts of Vancouver“.
“When the house was occupied as Hy’s Mansion, some customers would report seeing cutlery levitating in the air. And, when the place housed Romano’s Macaroni Grill, the ghost of a young man was encountered several times. One evening, a restaurant manager saw the man standing at the top of the grand staircase, looking down at him with a blank expression. When the manager began ascending the stairs to investigate, the man vanished. Sometime later, a sous chef who was working alone late one night said he heard what sounded like someone cooking on the front line in the kitchen, banging pots and pans. When he went to investigate, nobody was there. Only a mess of kitchenware remained. He was so frightened by the experience that he raced out of the building.
On another occasion, an interior painter was working alone in the restaurant late at night. While up a ladder, he sensed that somebody was nearby, watching him. When he turned his head, he saw an old gentleman standing by the banister of the grand staircase. He asked the man what he was looking for, but the man didn’t respond. The painter descended the ladder to confront him, but by the time he got to the bottom the man was gone without a sound. Like the sous chef, the painter dropped everything he was doing and fled the building out of fear. Was this ghost of an elderly gentleman that of Benjamin Rogers himself? This seems unlikely as Rogers was only 52 years old when he died. Perhaps this spirit is of one of the tenants who occupied the building when it was an apartment complex. Or perhaps he’s one of the Rogers’ illustrious visitors from 100 years ago, descending the staircase for a perambulation around what was once a most extraordinary property.”
So anyway, there you have it, a house that’s close to downtown, it looks great on the outside, and I have no doubt that the inside looks even better, it’s sturdy enough to withstand any of the smaller quakes that we get in these parts, and in the case of a larger one, or a volcanic eruption next door in Washington, you could always hold up in the underground tunnels (with lots of room to store emergency supplies), and as far as built-in entertainment goes, hey, levitating spoons, and visits from people long since deceased, sounds like a hoot to me. Oh, I almost forgot, the price, well, according to the listing, as you may have guessed from my title, the owners are only asking for a nice round $10, 000, 000.00. But who knows, you might be able to talk them down a little if you mention my name, and I’m even willing to waive my fee, this time. 🙂 So until next time, stay healthy, stay happy, keep on writing, and I’ll see you then.