Ghostly Walks are walking tours conducted every night from mid-June to mid-September and on weekends through the rest of the year, with additional tours in October. Ghost tours for booked groups may be arranged at any time. The tours have been developed by John Adams, one of Victoria's foremost historians and storytellers, who has been leading ghost tours through the alleys and haunted places of Victoria since 1970. He has appeared on the TV series Ghosts and Ghoulies and on OLN's Creepy Canada. The tours are conducted by John and his team of expert guides.
Adults: $12.00, Seniors $10.00, Students: $10.00, Children (6-12): $8.00
Family Special (for up to 2 adults and their children under 16): $30.00
Ghost host with the most
John Adams turned a passion for history into a career as a walking tour guide
By ANDREW DUFFY
May 21, 2005
John Adams, pictured in Bastion Square, brings history alive with his ghost walks and talks. Debra Brash/Times Colonist
John Adams conducts walking ghost tours in Victoria, BC
Take a walk with John Adams — I dare you. A few moments with him leading you through the courts of Bastion Square, along the infamous Helmcken Alley or into the old burial ground at Pioneer Square, and you’ll start to see things.
They probably aren’t there, but Adams’ passion for and sense of history, flair for storytelling and attention to detail will take you back to the Victoria of yesteryear and more often than not, into the realm of the supernatural, where the things that go bump in the night are real enough.
Historian by trade, storyteller by nature, Adams has turned a hobby for the past into a long career in history and is currently thriving with his family owned business Discover the Past, which runs historical and ghostly walking tours of the city.
The walks are his flagship and year round, he snakes people through the city’s nooks and crannies, weaving tales of ghosts, visions and the supernatural along the way.
“The ghost thing really came out of the history. I was a historian interested in Victoria but I kept hearing all these stories,” he recalled.
There are tales of the clanging chains in Helmcken Alley, where the chain gangs were once led, visions of a woman in white in Boomerang Court behind the Maritime Museum, and the appearance of the ghost of Sir Matthew Baillie Begbie in the halls of the museum, which once housed the B.C. Supreme Court.
The tales and the tours were a hit, and when Adams was presented with the chance to retire from his job with the provincial Heritage Branch last year, he took the leap and devoted all his time to the walking and talking business.
“He is an awesome speaker, and he really does his research, which is very different from some of the other tours I’ve heard,” said Carey Pallister of the City of Victoria Archives.
“He really does have a passion for not only history but for doing the tours themselves.
“He gets great anecdotes from people by walking around the neighbourhoods knocking on doors and talking with people,” said Pallister, noting Adams’ great collection of local stories and lore as well as his own recollections bring alive the discussion of the various courts, squares, buildings and alleys in Victoria’s core.
When Adams launches into a tour he’s not putting on an act or persona for effect, it’s his natural love and affection for the topic that breathes life into old material.
“I look back on my career and I realize I have been so lucky to be able to work in that field,” he said during a chat in Bastion Square, one of the most haunted and historically significant parts of the city.
“I’m my own boss and I’m doing exactly what I want.”
And that’s being immersed in the past.
He may have started the walking tour business in 2000, but Adams has been fascinated with the history of the city since his time at Sir James Douglas elementary school.
The family home was across the street from the Ross Bay Cemetery and it wasn’t long before Adams carved paths through the sprawling yard, eventually picking out names like his school’s namesake.
He was also a devoted reader of the historical column in the local newspaper, rushing to the door before anyone else woke to grab the Islander and delve into the past. “At the time I thought that was normal for a kid,” he said with a laugh.
The love of history stayed with him through high school and university.
He graduated with a history degree from the University of British Columbia, and worked as a tour guide at Fort Rodd Hill before his first walking tours of Victoria during the summer of 1971 — part of a summer job for the Old Town study group looking into alternatives to replacing old buildings with high-rises.
Adams then did a master’s of museum studies degree at the University of Toronto and worked at museums in Niagara Falls and historical sites like Burnaby Village before a job opened at the Royal B.C. Museum, which eventually led to the Heritage Branch.
All the while, Adams found time for his walking tour hobby, taking people around neighbourhoods and the Ross Bay Cemetery.
The hobby and sideline has since become his bread and butter, but it will always remain his passion.
“History is not a linear, boring chronology, and bringing history to life is the real aptitude of a good guide,” he said, adding giving people a sense of the past is important in a world that moves so fast that people have lost their sense of attachment to people and places.
And if that history comes with a chill down the spine, so much the better.
“People have a fascination with the unknown and a lot of them come on the tours because they are hoping to see a ghost,” he said.
• Born: St. Thomas, Ont. Raised: Victoria
• Age: 55
• Family: Wife Donna, son Chris 29, daughter Kate 26.
• Education: History degree from UBC, master’s in museum studies from University of Toronto When not working: Gardening, walking the dog and working on his own haunted heritage house in James Bay. Have you seen a ghost?: “No, but it’s kind of like asking the preacher, ‘Have you seen God?’” Adams says many believe his home is haunted by the spirit of a Chinese man named Lum who was a servant to the family that owned it before him. “It’s not scary stuff, it’s helpful stuff.” Do you believe?: “You have to have an open mind ... but I have to be skeptical because I’m collecting these stories and people may exaggerate. But I’ve heard enough to think there’s probably something there.”
To make a booking or inquiry, please contact John Adams at:
Tel: (250) 384-6698;
Fax: (250) 384-2833
634 Battery St., Victoria BC Canada V8V 1E5