A stroll through Kamloops' haunted history

Riding in her parents' car to her grandparents place up Sixth Avenue, Melissa Baker always sensed there was something wrong with the large grassy field on the west side of the street.

She remembers that the field was always empty. There were no buildings or benches and she never, ever saw children play there. And, whenever she passed by, the hair stood up on the back of her neck.

"It just kind of gives you an eerie sensation. You just didn't go there," said Baker, who grew up to be the museum educator at the Kamloops Museum and Archives.

Baker said she avoided the spot as a child and, once she took the museum job, she learned why.

The property at Sixth and Pleasant Avenue used to be known as Old Men's Provincial Home Cemetery, a final resting spot for many of the men who tried to make their fortunes on the gold fields. Those who died there are buried on the site.

Although just five graves mark their final resting place, word has it there are thousands of men beneath the grass, hence the eerie vibe, said Baker.

Had the building been left standing, it would surely be the most haunted in Kamloops, she said. But the structure was torn down in 1972 to make way for Ponderosa Lodge.

The ghost story from Baker's youth is one of many she and her volunteers will share on the nightly Haunted Kamloops Tour starting Thursday.

Baker takes over from previous museum educator Sierra Brown, who started the tours last Halloween. A trained teacher, Baker felt the museum job was a perfect mix of education and fun.

Brown based the 90-minute tours on one she took in Ottawa last year. She dug through the city's past and came up with several creepy tales to share with brave souls.

There will be fewer stops on the walk this year, which some participants felt covered too much ground, said Baker. But she promises all the tales will still be told.

Baker did additional research to expand some of the stories, and has developed a few personal favourites among the eight or so featured.

The walks start from Pioneer Cemetery on Lorne Street at 6 p.m., where Baker will share the story of John Tenant Ussher, a spirit that roams the neighbourhood.

Ussher haunts the site because he stood to inherit the land from his father-in-law, Jon Peterson. But, as government agent in 1874, he was tasked to hunt down the notorious McLean Brothers when they escaped from jail.

"They were some pretty mean gentlemen," Baker said of the McLeans.

Ussher caught up with the outlaws between Kamloops and Merritt and a fight broke out. He was stabbed, shot and left for dead. As far as anyone knows, Ussher's body was never moved from that spot.

The walk continues to Sagebrush Theatre and Pleasant Street Cemetery where people will learn about Albert, the theatre's resident spook, and George Hirst, a spectre who lives in the cemetery.

If people aren't too frightened, the tour will continue past the Old Men's Home site on its way back to Pioneer.

On the way, Baker will talk about Walter James Boyd, an American outlaw believed to lurk about the old Kamloops Courthouse and the plethora of spooks rumoured to live at Tranquille on the Lake, a former tuberculosis clinic.

Some of Baker's research relies heavily on stories from long-time Kamloops residents. Her favourite is about a ghost known as The Walker that once tormented the 800 block of Battle Street.

For many years, there were stories of a strange figure dressed in black that stalked the neighbourhood. Ghostly footsteps were known to trudge up behind people as they walked and chase after those who ran away in fear.

"One night a gentleman felt this ghost there behind him so he turned around and shot it," she said. Obviously, the gunshot had no effect.

Residents believed the spirit was tied to an old, decayed ponderosa pine tree. In 1926 the neighbourhood decided it had enough of the ghost and the tree was cut down in.

"Enough people believed in this ghost that they cut it down. I think that's pretty interesting," she said.

The stories were such a hit last year that every tour sold out. Baker added two tours Thursday night plus a morning tour on Saturday and still couldn't meet the demand. Kamloops residents love their ghostly history, she said.

She promised the ghost tour will be back next year, and there will likely be even more scary stories to keep people up on night.

"We have a pretty interesting history," said Baker.


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