Pioneers, Gold Rushes & Ghosts.
These three topics make a curious triangle of interest in terms of ghost folklore and this local ghostly tale from Vancouver Island is composed of this magical mix straight from history. In this story, we are going to travel to the remote Village of Zeballos, located on the west side of Vancouver Island. Even to this day, the area is rugged and remote; you’re more likely to spot a cougar than you are to see many modern comforts.
Like most gold rush towns, Zeballos once had a lively population. Between 1938-1943 it had an estimated population of 1500, though some say up to 5000, due to the gold mines and the riches being extracted from the area. After the gold rush of the 30’s died down, Zeballos depended on its forest as an economic resource, now that too has declined to almost none. Today if you ventured to this tiny village you would find at most, 125 people still living in this secluded deep-sea port.
When the town of Zeballos was first founded in the 1930’s quick construction of several buildings ensued to support the people flooding in to procure gold from the area. The Zeballos hotel was one of three hotels to be built in response to this flood in the area and it was done so with lightning speed. The hotel would be a bustling place for gold rush transients. It was upon hearing about a ghost at the hotel many years ago that I decided to visit Zeballos and stay at the hotel myself.
It was almost 20 years ago that I ventured to the north end of the island, along with my mother to have a stay at the hotel. I had read about the ghost of Suzy Woo, who during the 1940’s had been a maid at the hotel. It is reported that Suzy died in room 1 and there was plenty of poltergeist activity reported by the current staff members and owner. I had never traveled this far north on the island, I never had a reason to, and I was hesitant about telling the people at the hotel why we were there. Believe me, they asked, as it was rare to get many people staying in Zeballos at that time of year.
When we arrived at the hotel we were greeted by an odd sight upon entering the doors. There was an area that looked like it might have served as an old check in desk back in the 1940’s. It was quite small and enclosed and it had a mannequin sitting in place of an attendant. I’m not sure if this was meant to be a historical throwback to the gold rush day, but honestly, it came across as very creepy. At this time we simply walked straight through and checked in at the bar with the hotel owner.
If I had to describe the old Zeballos Hotel in one word, I would use the word creaky.
It creaked with every step that you made. It was old and built in a rugged manner and our room was tiny with two single beds that, you guessed it, creaked a lot when you sat on them. If my memory serves me correctly we were in room 4 of the hotel. It had few modern amenities and felt as if we were right back in the gold rush using the basics they had to offer. After getting our bags settled in the room, we went down to have something to eat and a few drinks at the bar. I noticed the hotel had posted some news articles on a bulletin board, amongst other nick nacks, that talked about the place being haunted. I asked casually and the owner did little more than confirming the stories to be true.
It became apparent that there was very little to do in Zeballos and as night time fell the hotel bar became the main area of culture if you will for the local residents. After 9 pm we retired to our room, as the night had been fairly uneventful. I lay in my bed listening to the rowdiness of the locals echoing from downstairs until I eventually fell asleep.
I can’t say what time it was, but I was suddenly awakened out of my sleep with a start. I wasn’t paralyzed and I had full movement of my body, but I felt like someone was in the room. I looked up as I saw a shadowy figure standing over me in my bed and it caused me to scream quite loudly and jump up into a sitting position in my bed. I looked back again and there was nothing there. I could still hear some of the locals partying the night away in the bar below us, which was a good thing because if they hadn’t been so loud I am certain the entire hotel would have heard me scream.
My logic quickly snapped to action, telling me that I was just imagining it and everything was fine, so I laid back down and drifted off to sleep without much resistance. A few hours later I awoke once again, but this time I could hear this slight moaning. I was literally in bed thinking, wow a fucking banshee now? I sat up and realized it was no phantom at all, but my mother was in her bed next to me having a bad nightmare. I got out of bed and shook her awake, told her it was okay nothing was wrong. She was still quite groggy and incoherent, but it’s quite possible she heard me scream earlier and it gave her a fright and made her sleep poorly.
The next morning my mother was quite ready to pack our bags and get out of that hotel. I personally couldn’t stop laughing because in my mind it was a case of me giving her the nerves. She, on the other hand, was convinced that place was haunted indeed. I can only say I didn’t see any poltergeist activity whilst there, nor did I see a ghost that I could physically say looked like a Chinese maid from the 1940’s. I did see a shadowy figure standing over me and we could chalk that up to a type of sleep paralysis, except I was not paralyzed and I don’t experience sleep paralysis at home.
That was almost 20 years ago and today if you go to Zeballos you’ll find that the old hotel we visited no longer exists as it did. In 2004 the original hotel burnt to the ground and was eventually replaced with a new and more modern structure. If you go to the website Living Library Blog by Shanon Sinn, a commenter on there says in reference to The Zeballos Hotel, that there are no reports of Suzy still being there, but another hotel up the road, The Cedars Hotel has “stories enough to curl your hair.” Perhaps we will have to take another visit to Zeballos soon!