Gabriola House - 1523 Davie Street
At the northwest corner of Davie and Nicola Streets, Gabriola House is the embodiment of a classic haunted mansion. It is the only one left of many grand homes that dominated Vancouver's West End in the early 1900s. Built in 1900-1901 for industrialist Benjamin T. Rogers, the founder of B.C. Sugar and its refinery, Gabriola House is considered by many local historians and architectural enthusiasts to be the most opulent of all private homes ever constructed in Vancouver. In its heyday, the property spanned an entire city block and its outbuildings included horse stables, greenhouses and work sheds. The mansion was built with sandstone blocks, quarried on Gabriola Island, and is adorned with fabulous stained glass windows and a grand interior staircase.
Legend has it that there's an underground tunnel that once connected the mansion to a nearby nightclub. This tunnel was used for bootlegging and prostitution running during Vancouver's prohibition era. Coincidentally, this nightclub, at 1215 Bidwell Street, last known as Maxine's Hideaway and, before that, Balzathar, had a ghost of its own. This ghost was reputed to be that of a madam who oversaw the brothel that occupied the place in the early 1900s. Unfortunately, this building was torn down in 2012 to make way for a condominium highrise, but its Spanish-style facade was kept intact as a nod to its history.
After Benjamin died in 1918, his widow, Mary, moved into another home and, in 1925, Gabriola House became a 20-unit apartment building, known as the “Angus Apartments” (after Mrs. Rogers' maiden name, Angus). Fifty years on, the building had fallen into disrepair and its tenants had all moved out. In the mid-1970s, it was given a face lift and converted into a restaurant, Hy's Mansion. This establishment occupied the building for the better part of two decades and was well regarded by many Vancouverites. Then, in 1993, the interior was renovated to create another restaurant, Romano's Macaroni Grill. Following a significant fire in 1998, further repairs and restoration work was done. Today, Gabriola House sits empty and, as of December 2014, it is for sale.
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.
Note: In an earlier version of this article, I cited from an online source from 2007 that one of the ghosts at Gabriola House was thought to be that of a Rogers family member who committed suicide in the house. A Rogers family descendant recently wrote to inform me that this is not true -- nobody in the Rogers family committed suicide in Gabriola House. My apologies go to the Rogers family, their descendants and all readers of this website for having presented this misinformation. I endeavour to keep the information presented in this website as accurate as possible. But when researching accounts of ghosts, it can be difficult to separate fact from speculation, exaggeration or misquoted information.