Ghosts Of Gastown

You don’t get to choose what your talents are in this life. While some you can hone, exercise like a muscle and refine, there’s no denying that some people are just born with certain innate talents. Others have to tire endlessly to acquire what others only have to exert the slightest effort with relative ease. I know, we all hate these people, but all of us have these talents somewhere in our bodies, brains and souls. Mine seems to be talking to the dead.

Before you roll your eyes at my semi-goth remark, let me back it up. While I do dabble in scrying, ouija and various EVPs, I also have what I tend to think of a heightened sense of history. Part of it comes from home team advantage, having lived in Vancouver all my life and having grown up here. I think that seeing old photos of the way we were and living in the contemporary places, these old spirits might find themselves something of a sympathetic ear with me. When I cruise down Granville Street, I can see the street when she was a neon fledgeling overlaid on what’s our current Entertainment District for weekend warrior suburbanites. When I roll through Chinatown, I see our old downtown, before the False Creek fill, Georgia Street viaduct, and when Hogan’s Alley often had a body laying motionless the morning after a night of high spirits. They all talk to me, in varying degrees and share their stories with me.

How much of this is fact and how much of it is my own head taking the history I know, my own experiences and weaving them together in a gin-soaked story is anyone’s guess. But I’ve some experiences. They started around the time when I started hanging out with the Sweet Soul ladies. When the base of operations was a shared studio in Gastown for Cara Milk’s design company, where they’d throw lavish parties and everyone dressed up. If it seems like a Pet Shop Boys song, trust me, it was way better. To someone who had only just dabbled in rave culture, it was going from dipping a toe in curious waters to being sucked into a riptide of awesome. The fluffy petticoats that hung from men’s and women’s hips, the interesting concoctions, the TINY stage that everyone vyed to perform on, and that moment when intruding dawn came and it was time to climb on the back of a motorcycle and be spirited away to boat or bed. It was of sorted a defining era for me in my early roaring 20s.

Crystal Precious, my gateway to Babalong

The building that housed Babalong still stands. She has had an interesting and varied history too. She was once known as The Europe Hotel and stands at a wedge between Powell street and Alexander street in Vancouver. She was the first fire proof hotel in Vancouver and built in 1909, purposefully close to to wear the steamships would dock at Columbia Street and where a bus would shuttle guests to the hotel. She has withstood the test of time, with her remaining windows still housing the original leaded glass windows and Italian tile floors.

In 1916, a newer hotel was opened up over on Georgia street and lured many of the Europe Hotel’s clients away. The degree of the city was shifting due west with the commerce, stores and theatres. Original businesses in the old heart of Vancouver found it hard to compete. Throughout the 20′s and 30′s the apex of the building housed a beer parlour. The basement stored the kegs for the establishment and were accessible from the street via ‘areaways’. The glass tiles on the street still exist there now, and served as a way to shed light on the basement. Decades ago these areaways were filled and bricked up and the upper part of the old hotel were subdivided into subsidized housing in ’83 while the lower street level were used as retail and *cough* creative studios.

The first reported ghost encounter came in 1980 when a contractor was working in the basement, and upon leaving to go upstairs returned to find all his tools scattered. The incident alone shook him, but the heavy feeling of a malignant presence coupled with scratching noises where the areaway had been bricked off and filled him caused him to pack up and never return. Reports continue to tho day about noises from the cellar. The second spectre was spotted in the early 2000s, in the poster shop which now occupies where the beer parlour once was. The owner reported seeing a figure in the store’s security convex mirror. She found no one in the shop and has seen the apparition since then.

I’d like to think that the spirits from that time before are attracted to energy. And if they are, that maybe while we had what was Babalong and is now Canvas Lounge that they are still stirred by the fresh spirits, the joie de vivre of the laughter, the love, and the creativity that continues to grow there. I’m pretty sure in a fit of high spirits I might have given them an eyeful and accosted a few happy phantoms of the area. I’ve no regrets for our shared time together.

Sleep well, Gastown ghosts. I’m dreaming of you tonight.


Little Miss Risk


This entry was posted in Miss Risk, Notorious Vancouver, Vancouver History. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Ghosts Of Gastown

  1. Having also been a life-long Vancouverite and local history wonk, this was a fascinating look at a building I only knew a little about. Apropos to the above, you might want to see this which I happened across through Twitter today.

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