After nearly 20 years of experience working as a paranormal investigator, Peter Renn says ghostly encounters rarely frighten him anymore.
“To be honest, the dead don’t scare me; it’s the living that does,” joked Renn, president and lead investigator for the Vancouver Paranormal Society, a registered non-profit society that aims to help clients find explanations for strange occurrences or phenomena they are experiencing.
Still, Renn said, when he recalls investigations carried out in suspected haunted buildings in Metro Vancouver, some cases do still send shivers down his spine.
Three years ago, Renn said he and his team were looking into reports of paranormal activity at Burnaby’s historic James Cowan Theatre and an adjacent mansion known as Ceperley House, which has long had a reputation for being one of B.C.’s most haunted places.
With its disturbing history, Renn said his team wanted to see if there was any truth to the claims of high levels of paranormal activity.
The century-old house was built by real estate tycoon Henry Ceperley and wife Grace, who died suddenly of an illness in 1917. Some people have reported seeing a figure in white walking the grounds, which staff believe to be Grace.
In 1955, it became an orphanage run by cult leader William Franklin Wolsey, a convicted U.S. bigamist who was alleged to have abused children on site.
Some staff said they have heard the sounds of phantom children crying and screaming.
When Renn was investigating the grounds, he said he was on stage in the theatre when he heard the eerie sound of shoes kicking against the back of a theatre seat.
“One of the investigators asked whoever was there to show themselves,” Renn recalled. “I was up on stage with a microphone and camera and I took a couple of pictures.”
When Renn looked at his images later, he said he saw a clear outline of a person in one of the back rows.
“It’s a white mass, but you can clearly see it’s an outline of someone sitting there,” he said. “I was actually more excited that we captured something like that because it validates a lot of the work that we do.”
A recorder belonging to a Vancouver Paranormal Society investigator also picked up a voice in the theatre saying, “This is making me angry.”
None of the investigators heard the voice at the time, they said.
Another ghostly encounter Renn said he would never forget took place at Surrey’s Historic Stewart Farm, when he captured on camera a shadow of a woman in a hallway.
The shadow was clear and couldn’t be explained, said Renn, as there was no one in the house at the time. For client confidentiality reasons, Renn said he could not provide the image or video clip to Metro.
While he realizes many people may be skeptical about his stories, Renn said his job isn’t to convince anyone that ghosts are real.
As a paranormal investigator, he said his goal is to either provide a client with a logical explanation for seemingly unexplainable occurrences, or to try and validate their claims.
“We’re not psychiatrists and we’re not exorcists,” he said. “And we’re not here to convert people. We’re here purely to put the believers’ minds at rest.”
Five of B.C.’s most haunted places
The Vancouver Paranormal Society has investigated Stave Falls Visitor Centre and Powerhouse in Mission, B.C., dozens of times and describe the historic building as the “most active” place for paranormal activity that the team has ever seen. From whispers to voices, chairs being dragged, shadowy figures, a dog barking and a bright light, a series of strange happenings has been reported in the powerhouse, which was constructed in the early 1900s.
Irving house in New Westminster, B.C., built in 1865, is one of the oldest homes in Metro Vancouver. Reports of paranormal activity include unexplained noises, walls in the dining room that seem to shiver, and a voice asking for a name to be said. When people walk upstairs, they also claim to see trophies on the walls that turn to follow them, according to Northern Paranormal Investigations.
In the early 1970s, a boy reportedly drowned in the New Westminster Secondary School’s basement swimming pool. Since then, according to Northern Paranormal Investigations, security guards have noticed the body of a boy floating in the water that disappears when they look away or return. Security cameras have also apparently captured an apparition of a boy in the woodworking shop.
The Mather’s House, a heritage home in Burnaby, B.C., was once a convalescent home for soldiers during the First World War. Since then, there have been reports of bygone toys being thrown around and strange lights, according to Northern Paranormal Investigations.
Mandy, a doll at the Quesnel Museum, is said to be haunted. The doll was donated to the museum in 1991, and had to placed separately from other dolls in the museum because it would apparently harm them, according to Northern Paranormal Investigations. Others claim they can see Mandy’s eyes following them throughout the museum, while some say they have seen the doll blink.