Visitors to the Fort Langley Cemetery have reported that they have encountered an Englishman asking on the whereabouts of an Indian woman and a First Nations woman asking if anyone has seen her husband, an English gent.
There were enough accounts of these encounters that the tale of William Emptage and his wife Louisa were included in Ghost Walks, the annual tour of haunted sites in Fort Langley.
Around 2006 the Fort Langley National Historic Site looked at organzing an autumn event for a few nights and canvassed the village for tales, hoping to get a couple hundred reports.
“We ended up getting more than 2,000,” said heritage interpreter Amn Johal, often seen portraying James Douglas as community events.
They whittled down the stories to ones that had multiple reports and each year adds some stories and drops others.
Having the artifacts of history right in Fort Langley helps as people, up to about 25 per tour, do a walk of sites of ghostly historical import.
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Tour leaders like Johal can stand beside the grave of former residents such as William Emptage and invite participants to wander over to the grave of Louisa, his First Nations wife, about 50 feet away, as they tell about their unique lives. William spent everything he had to get his beloved Louisa a plot and headstone in the cemetery so when he died poor a few years later, it was friends who paid for his grave and obelisk headstone.
William, having lost a hand due to mining dynamite, took the only job he could find – with HBC at the fort but for half pay because of only having one hand.
Tours start and finish at the fort and go rain or shine. People are advised to wear sturdy footwear and be ready for a brisk pace.
Tickets are now on sale for the walks which have proven wildly popular.
“We’ve sold out for the past seven years,” Johal explained.
Staff wanted to spread the word to the public that people should book because the spots fill fast.
Right now there’s no extra capacity to add evening events.
Grave Tales have attracted people from around the world but most are from this region.
“It’s a lot of locals that just want to know more about our backyard,” Johal said. “It’s great for date nights. We’re getting a lot of people from Vancouver [tired of the typical Halloween options there].”
These tours are not about Halloween hijinx. Johal assured people that no one will jump out from behind bushes or wear scary masks. It’s about historical storytelling and people can believe or not as they wish.
“We always get skeptics,” he said. “I’m the biggest skeptic.”
That doesn’t mean he hasn’t had strange encounters.
The extended tour will wind up back inside the fort, upstairs in the Big House where guests can hear about the Boy in the Big House.
Soon after Johal started working there he was opening up the Big House for the day. Upstairs, he had to open a room to turn on the lights. He hears scuffling, which he first took for squirrels, and then whimpers. When he looked into a far corner, he saw a boy with long dark hair dressed in clothing that looked from the 1800s.
“My first thought was holy cow, we locked a kid in last night,” Johal said.
Then he heard a woman’s gasp and turned to find two of the bolted windows open.
When he turned back to the corner, he was alone.
He didn’t mention it to anyone else for a long time, but oldtime workers at the fort were familiar with the boy.
And people have mentioned the child who is also seen playing hide and seek outside other fort buildings. Kids activities are often held upstairs at the Big House. Many people have complimented staff on having the little boy in period clothing play with the children. And one person wrote a scathing letter insisting a child that young should not be running around the fort without adult supervision.
The letter writer was invited to go on the Grave Tales tour, Johal explained. She did and blanched when he told the story of the Boy in the Big House.
The Fort Langley National Historic Site organizes tours which run Oct. 15 to 30. Tickets are on sale now and tours sell out fast. Tickets range about $18-$22.
• Adults (17 and older): Oct. 15-18 and 21-30 at 7, 8 and 9 p.m.
• Family tours: Oct. 16 and 23-30 at 6 p.m.
• New: an enhanced three-hour tour is 9 p.m.
• School tours available afternoons.
• Bookings: search for Grave Tales on brownpapertickets.com or buy tickets at the fort.
Amn Johal, a historical interpreter at the Fort Langley National Historic Site, explained about Masonic symbols visible at the Fort Langley Cemetery during a Grave Tales preview. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance)