On Halloween,as our thoughts stray to witches and ghosts and things that go bump in the night, would you believe that in today’s bustling city centre on the property now bounded by Westminster Hwy, No 3.and Saba Roads and Buswell Street, stood one of Richmond’s oldest and most haunted houses?
The house was built in the 1870s as a hunting lodge by wealthy Englishman Sir Edward Walter (1823-1904), founder and first commandant of the Corps of Commissionaires and whose family founded the Times of London.
Walter was fond of duck hunting and spared no expense in building his retreat. Bevelled mirrors, stained glass, marble and cast iron fireplaces, carved woodwork,elaborate hardware and even a grand piano were imported and apparently floated to the property, probably along the Pearson Slough which penetrated into the area from the middle arm. Why he chose to build his house in the middle of a sodden mudflat quite a distance from boat access to the river is unknown.
The lodge was patterned after the connected farm, a design common in New England, England and Wales. In this design the main house, dairy, kitchen (with servant’s quarters upstairs), toilet and carriage houses are connected along a long north facing wall, allowing access to all areas without the need to be exposed to the weather. Apparently Mrs. Walter did not enjoy life on Lulu Island very much and went back to England after about three months, never to return. Sir Edward stayed on for a while, but eventually returned to civilization himself, abandoning the house.
In 1916 Mr. Charles Jones, Waterworks Manager for the Township of Richmond, managed to track down the executors of Walter’s estate and purchased the property.
Mr. Jones’ son Arnold described the feelings of unease and apprehension that he and others in his family felt while living in the house, and later in the kitchen/servant’s quarters which his father moved to a different part of the property and enlarged for use as the family home. Footsteps on the stairs and landings when no-one was there were so common that they were generally ignored. Visitations by a man wearing a formal jacket, bowler hat and carrying a cane occured every spring in the house. A woman was occasionally seen peering out the window. These sightings always seemed to occur as the person was waking up and the apparitions would fade away as full wakefulness came. On one occasion, when Mr. Jones was away there was so much banging and clashing in the walls that no one slept for two days.
Mr. Jones sold the house to the Berry family in 1921. The Berrys put a large addition on the back of the building. When questioned by Arnold Jones about any strange things they noticed in the house, members of that family described strange noises and seeing a man in a bowler hat while living there. The Berrys sold the house to Mr. Mudry who in turn sold to Mr Thompson and Mr Silverton of Vancouver who renovated the building into suites and opened it as the Lulu Island Tourist Hotel.
Gradually buildings appeared around the house as Richmond grew. In this image from 1948, commercial development is in the early stages at the intersection of No.3 Road and Westminster Highway. To the left of Sir Edward Walter’s house is the Rooster Cafe. To the right are the Lulu Theatre and Lang’s Nursery. The building was demolished in the late 1950s.
Today, everything has changed. I wonder if any of the people living in these modern highrises know this area’s haunted past or have woken to the fading image of a formally dressed man wearing a bowler hat?