A Ghost Story

Kennedy House

A renovation and ghost story

Prologue

I rose awkwardly from kneeling before the bedroom chest and caught sight of myself in the closet mirror.  Standing behind me, he was there again, just like the last occurence. We stared into each other’s eyes and for a tiny second, I thought perhaps he might be someone from my past, but whom?  His image was clearer now, and instead of the wet leather greatcoat, this time he wore a vest, perhaps of leather, and a white shirt, open at the neck. His shirt sleeves were long and billowy. His hair tied back, and light colored.  He almost seemed to smile, and just as before, his image began to fade.

“No, don’t go yet…tell me your story.”

I stood there, clutching the old blanket, alone again, but for my double in the mirror, now weeping.

Friends thought we had taken leave of our senses when we bought the old house on Kennedy Street in Nanaimo. We owned a beautiful new house on acreage in Lantzville, built by my husband, and where we raised our children. But the days had become long and the house felt empty when our boys left to attend university; what was needed was a new project.  Being naïve, I thought buying the derelict old house downtown would give us a direction that would rejuvenate us.  My husband was more realistic, but reluctantly agreed to sell our home (one that we’d lived in for 30+ years) and buy the old ‘Wilkinson residence”.

 

-from Columns, cornices and coal. [1]

“One of the most prominent heritage home in the Old city
Neighborhood, this splendid structure holds a commanding
Presence on a large double corner lot at Fitzwilliam
and Kennedy Streets.   The two story round turret faces east
towards the harbour. A grand veranda also faces east
With a second floor balcony supported on a turned roof
projection.  Extensive use is made of stained glass panels
including sidelights at the front door. Mature landscape,
with large trees and holly bushes complements the
house. The lot is bound by a concrete retaining wall at the
lot boundary. The house was built for Alfred Wilkinson,
a local blacksmith and carriage builder and proprietor
of BC Carriage Works on Selby Street.’”1

Old houses have always intrigued me; I was born and raised in an old house in Lafleche, Saskatchewan. There are certain houses you live in all your life, your childhood home with its quirks and mysteries, the first apartment you rented yourself with money you made at your first real job. The place you chose as your own family’s home, to settle into and call your own. You never really move away from any house you’ve lived and loved; like a snail, you carry it with you forever, not on your back, but in your heart.

When we first saw the Kennedy house in March 2002, the crocus and snowdrops had already poked their heads through the front lawn under the barren weeping birches. They painted a picture that heralded what was soon to come. After taking possession of the house as owners, primroses, willow catkins showed promise and young nettle leaves were already up, as well as hundreds of tiny Siberian irises. The foliage of the honeysuckle vine over the back gate was expanded with new growth.

 

“It is the first mild day of March.

Each minute sweeter than before.

The redbreast sings from the tall oak,

That stands outside our door.

There is a blessing in the air

This seems a sense of joy to yield,

To the bare trees, and mountains bare,

And grass in the green field.”

At the end of March, plentiful winter aconites burst forth under the huge old oak tree in the back garden. I could hardly wait to get my hands in the dirt and discover what else held promise, in the next weeks. I was surprised by the bountiful bluebells bloom for early April.

The design of the house was a combination of late Victorian, Queen Anne and Arts and Crafts, and had an oversized turret that faced Kennedy Street. I remembered the house from my Malaspina College teaching days (and my first Nanaimo job), as it is situated one block north of the former college and I had passed it daily, on my way to work. Then, it was part of the college itself, housing the history department. Of course now we have a new Malaspina College which is called Vancouver Island University and the old college buildings at the end of Kennedy street now houses Malaspina senior’s residence, and probably where a lot of the original professors now reside.

The place exuded an aura of neglect that touched our hearts; it appeared lonely, bereft of friends. Three huge barren birch trees in the front garden added to its forlornness. The main floor was uninhabitable…the kitchen was too small and badly designed; it had obviously gone through many styles over the years, and needed too much renovation; the upstairs was salvageable with a kitchen and two bedrooms, a living room and two bathrooms, which could be rented out while an addition was added to bottom floor.

My husband, brother and son started the renovations in late April of 2002. Old houses are interesting because they are so unlike those built today; they have such diverse characters and can tell a story. Our Kennedy house was no exception. During the course of the renovation, or restoration, we discovered it had many secrets to tell us.

Every room on the main floor called for a renovation, whether it be stripping paint off hardwood floors and stairs, removing old floor coverings, stripping paint from wood paneling, rewiring electrical outlets (It still had knob and tube wiring), stripping many layers of old wallpaper, completely gutting the kitchen and bathroom, not to discount adding a kitchen addition of at least 500 square feet, to provide a decent family kitchen and new laundry room.

We decided to buy another old house not far away, which we could live in more comfortably with our entourage of dogs and cats and one son, and one brother, while the addition to the main floor was built.  We thought it would also be a good investment for the future, but alas, it had to be sold in order to finish the Kennedy Street house renovation. As with most projects, more money was called for than anticipated: and another good idea gone sour.

Following our restoration plan, we decided to go ahead with new windows. The stained glass in all of the windows had been broken in many places and had to be taken out and repaired. We found a stained glass shop downtown Nanaimo who agreed to the project at a reasonable price. The old single panes were removed and were to be replaced with sashes vinyl windows. My husband framed all of the stained glass portions in hand made frames and hung them in place, in front of the new windows. The effect was beautiful and the replacement pieces in the stained glass designs hardly noticeable.

But it was during this process that a ghostly presence became evident.  One of the workers, who had carried the heavy windows upstairs for installation, came running downstairs and out the front door, yelling something about a ghost ‘up there‘. After he calmed down, he told me that when he had gone into one of the bedrooms carrying the large window the door had slammed shut behind him. When he tried to open it, he couldn‘t and had to call a co-worker to open the door from the other side. Because it had happened twice, he wouldn‘t go back upstairs and the job could not be completed until another helper could be found for the installer.

The second instance occurred a short time later, while we were standing outside watching the excavator at work for the new addition, and my brother said, “Look, there’s someone in the house, watching us, out that window.” sure enough, I saw man in the kitchen window looking out at us, so I rushed to the back door and into the house. There was no one there, and the front door was securely locked.  We looked through the entire house and no one could be found. Both my brother and I had seen the apparition as clearly as possible from a distance of about twenty feet from the house.

The next week, the two students who rented the upstairs suite told me about someone walking around on the ground floor at night, and they wondered who had been staying there. My brother, who is not superstitious, said he would move into the house and make sure there were no surprise visitors or otherwise during the night. 

In spite of his presence, the students continued to hear movement downstairs at night and gave their notice to leave.  My brother then moved upstairs into their quarters. He attributed noises in the night to mice. 

The next occurrence came during my younger sister‘s visit. We had discussed this ‘nightly footsteps’ phenomenon which she scoffed at, telling me it was my desire for a good story that was driving this ghostly legend.  When I told her the noises seemed to emanate from the room where there was an attic access, and which was located in the bedroom where she had elected to sleep, she laughed and said she hoped for a nightly apparition, so she could tell her friends about the ‘incubus’.

That night, when she woke and decided to visit the washroom, she opened her door and tripped over a huge footstool which ‘someone’ had placed in front of her bedroom door. Of course, she blamed me for the practical joke, but I had no one idea, nor had anyone else, who would have played this dangerous trick; she could have seriously been hurt by falling over the footstool.  As well, it soon became a nightly ritual that our cat, Miss Kitty, would be somehow locked in one of the four bathrooms and her pitiful howls would wake us.

The poor cat, to this day, will not venture from its basement hideaway. And soon after her visit, it became a regular occurence that my purse would be dumped out in the middle of the kitchen floor, if I left it out. There were other sightings as well, usually when I was busy doing some job or other, I would turn around suddenly and see a ghostly apparition quietly fading into obscurity. It always left good bumps over my body and a chill on my back when this happened.

Shortly before we were almost finished with the renovations, I was invited by a friend to an evening of massage and psychotherapy sessions.  There were several choices for participants and I decided to try the medical intuitive therapy because I had been having some back spasms and thought perhaps the therapist could provide me with some good exercises.  On entering the room, the therapist immediately told me that she could sense some ‘presences’ in the room around me. After several minutes of meditation, she told me there were three ‘ghosts’ in the room…an older man and two children.  She also questioned me about where I lived, etc., we then had a frank discussion wherein I told her of the past happenings at the house on Kennedy Street and that I was concerned about the safety of my visitors. We had lately decided to pay for the overrun costs of the renovations by opening a bed and breakfast for a few years and having ghosts in the house might not be the best attraction for some travelers.

Several visits later to the same therapist, I learned that the ‘older man’s’ presence in my house was not of the house itself, but by his demeanor and dress, was probably an explorer from the early eighteenth century. He wore his hair long, tied back with a piece of leather, a long blousy shirt and leather vest. His pants were knee length and he wore stockings and leather boots. 

She presumed he had died somewhere in the vicinity of the house and had been disturbed by the excavation we had done for the addition. The children, however, had both died in the house, but at different times. The little boy had been dark skinned and curly haired and has passed at the age of two of diphtheria; the little girl had died at the age of eleven of kidney failure.

How this woman knew these things, I cannot fathom, but she also told me many things about myself and my past that no one else but me has known and therefore, I could only believe her to be telling me the truth.

Because we were planning on opening a bed and breakfast, I decided to pursue her talents. With candles and a prayer book, she arrived one morning and we arranged to have the ghosts leave the house.  The day was overcast, but dry, with a slight wind blowing from the southeast. She opened all the doors and windows and went through each room, lighting candles and incense.  After several minutes of meditation, she slowly walked through all areas of the house, praying silently from her book. She asked me to remain quiet and silent during this period.

At the end of several hours, she told me the specters were no longer in the house, and had ‘passed over to the other side’.  It may have been my imagination, but suddenly I felt a great relief, as though a dark cloud had been lifted from my psyche.  Months later I called her as she had wished, and found that she had obtained a good position in California as a medical psychic for animals, for a company owned by a Hollywood agency.  A few years later, she did visit me, wondering if all was well with the house and I was happy to reassure her that we had had no more ‘visits.’

 

Sometimes however, I do miss the surprise appearances of my sad explorer, and the mischievous children’s antics.

 


[1] The Heritage Resources of Nanaimo, compiled by the Nanaimo Community Heritage Society. 1999.   B.C Heritage Trust Society.