Ghost Lights on Southwest Marine Drive

A few days before Halloween, I received an email from a visitor to the Ghosts of Vancouver website to tell me about ghost lights that she and two friends saw on Southwest Marine Drive many years ago. She doesn’t talk about their experience much but thinks about it every now and then, especially around its anniversary. And when she came across my website, she was compelled to share her story with me. At her request, I’ve changed her name to protect her identity.

Late on a clear night in the fall of 1982, when my correspondent, Marie, and her two girlfriends were 18 years old, they spent some time hanging out at Spanish Banks. After some star gazing on the beach, they hopped back into a Honda Civic driven by one of the girls and headed home via the University of British Columbia (UBC). Marie sat in the back seat. As typical teenage girls, they chatted and laughed as they went along the dark road, around the edge of UBC campus and south on SW Marine Drive towards the turn-off at West 41st Avenue.

While travelling along the stretch between UBC and West 41st, Marie’s friends in the front of the car suddenly became quiet as they stared at the road ahead. Marie wondered what was going on, and she looked at the road and saw what appeared to be a glowing ping pong ball, suspended in the air about a foot above the tarmac. As the car sped along, they seemed to drive right over it. But there was no sound of the vehicle hitting anything.

This happened so quickly that Marie wasn’t sure what she’d seen, or whether she’d actually seen anything at all. But when her two friends exclaimed, “Did you see that?” it was obvious that they’d all seen something weird. Her friends then explained that they’d seen a cluster of glowing balls floating above the highway just before the car drove over them.

Both of Marie’s friends were shocked by seeing the strange lights, but Marie was merely disappointed that she hadn’t seen the whole cluster of them. She begged her friend to turn the car around at the next opportunity and drive in the opposite direction to see if they could see the lights again. But both friends were so scared that they refused to go back.

As they drove home, they talked about what they’d just seen and tried to figure it out. They agreed that it couldn’t have been headlights from an oncoming car because there were no other cars on the road with them, in either direction.

The girls never spoke about the incident with each other again. Ultimately, Marie lost touch with the two friends and hasn’t communicated with them in decades.

Marie returned to SW Marine Drive a few months after the sighting, and has since driven along that stretch of road several times. But she never saw the glowing balls again.

Today, SW Marine Drive is wider than it was 35 years ago, and is better lit by streetlamps. Marie wonders what it was she saw that night, and speculates whether it was something paranormal, such as an orb or ghost light.

Marie’s email arrived at a time when I’ve been thinking a lot about ghost lights and what they might be. This is because I’ve been reading Shanon Sinn’s excellent book, The Haunting of Vancouver Island, in which he tells about a strange, glowing ball of light he saw at Keeha Beach, near Bamfield, in 1998. In my own research, I’ve also come across reports of ghost lights and glowing mists, including some seen on the Upper Levels Highway in North Vancouver.

I can’t say for sure, of course, what Marie and her friends saw all those years ago. As an open-minded skeptic, my own thoughts run to headlights from oncoming cars reflected on the road surface or in the car’s windshield. Light can be diffused and defracted by trees, of which there are many along the sides of SW Marine Drive. So even if the girls didn’t see an oncoming car at the time, the light from a car far away or around a corner may have bounced off trees and reached them. But reflected or defracted headlights don’t look like glowing ping pong balls. They look like headlights.

Shanon Sinn’s sighting of a ghost light on Keeha Beach seems to defy normal explanation, too. Standing on the beach late at night, he saw a ball of light weaving around and through dense trees at the top of a nearby cliff for some time. When he climbed the cliff the next day to investigate, he found the rock face difficult to ascend. At the top, it was hard to walk around and treacherous near the edge. It would have been a very dangerous prank for someone to pull on a stranger at night on a remote beach, which makes that unlikely. As for the possibility that Shanon saw a ship’s light, that’s unlikely, too, as the light danced in and around the trees, seemingly with intelligence.

In earlier times, ghost lights were known as Will-o’-the-Wisps. They were thought to be created by faeries, or the lanterns of wood sprites. More modern and scientific attempts to explain the phenomena theorize that they’re the result of swamp gas, which creates a bioluminiscent glow. Others say they’re plasma balls created by an electromagnetic build-up where tectonic plates collide. Neither of these seem to be good explanations for what Deborah and Shanon witnessed, however.

Have you seen a ghost light or glowing orb you couldn’t explain? Do you have any good photo evidence of them? Or do you have a theory about what they are – natural phenomena or paranormal? I welcome your contributions.

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