Sometimes you look for them in dark crypts and abandoned cemeteries. Other times you happen upon them in homes and in old battlefields. And sometimes you are drawn to them and they drawn to you. Here is the true tale of one night at the Historic Hume Hotel in Nelson, British Columbia.
The Nelson area has a rich history of exploration and mining. Explorers and adventurers employed by the North West Trading Company and the Hudson Bay Company were the first to enter the Kootenay and Columbia River valleys while searching for fur trade routes. David Thompson travelled the Kootenay River as well as the full length of the Columbia River between the years 1807 and 1811. In September 1876, gold was discovered at Forty-nine Creek, nine miles west of Nelson, resulting in a minor rush of prospectors from the United States.
The mining industry helped to create the foundation for a community and on March 18, 1897 the City of Nelson was born when the Letters of Patent were issued. The first mayor of Nelson was John "Truth" Houston. Once incorporated, Nelson became a hub of activity for the West Kootenay region. Sternwheelers plied the waters of Kootenay Lake and the West Arm, and development of the new city, including the construction of the Hume Hotel, proceeded quickly.
On March 17, 1898, the Hume Hotel opened with a grand celebration the likes of which had seldom been seen in Nelson. The fan-fair that accompanied the occasion underscored the sense of pride felt not only by J. Fred and Lydia Hume, original owners and one of Nelson's pioneer families, but also the local community in general. No consideration was left unchecked and the opening was a celebration of the skill, determination, and hard work that went in to the hotel's construction.
At that time, Nelson's landscape was considerably different from today. A deep ravine, created by Ward Creek, essentially divided the city in two, with the dirt roads of Vernon and Baker Streets passable only by way of wood frame bridges.
The Hume Hotel, which sat on the corner of Ward and Vernon, was an impressive figure within this scene. The hotel was designed by Alexander Charles Ewart, who carefully considered all the architectural details, from piazza views to bay windows to inset balconies. With much thought also given to ornate detailing and state-of-the-art amenities like electric lights and steam radiators, all for a total cost of $60,000, the hotel was indeed a marvel to behold.
After nine years of successful operation, on March 11, 1907, J. Fred sold the Hume Hotel to Wilmer C. Wells, a political man who served as commissioner of lands and works for two terms under Premiers James Dunsmuir and E.G. Prior respectively. Wells brought in his two sons, George and James, to run the hotel, and fully intended to construct additions in response to the growing demand in Nelson for first-class accommodations. Wells, however, never did fulfill his commitment, and on October 14, 1912 he sold the hotel to George Benwell, an hotelier of considerable repute, for a sum of $85,000. Benwell's tenure irrevocably changed the Hume Hotel. Following the revolutionary architectural standards of Frank Lloyd Wright, in May 1929 a massive interior and exterior renovation was completed.
The Hume Hotel was so different in appearance that it was, as described in the Daily News, "hardly recognizable." The magnificent cupola, which towered over Vernon and Ward Streets, was removed; the balconies were extended outward flush with the exterior walls; the entrance was moved to its present location; and many other changes were made. Benwell, following in Hume's footsteps, also considered modern amenities and state-of-the-art technology a necessity. He installed a telephone exchange and phone in every room, a dumb waiter, a French steel range, steam tables and electric dishwasher in the kitchen, and an icemaker capable of producing 600 pounds of ice daily. The level of service, sophistication, and general hospitality excellence, which were hallmarks of the Hume era, were also the hallmarks of the Benwell era.
By 1979, the Hume Hotel was in a serious state of deterioration. Benwell had sold the hotel in the 1940s, and after a series of owners failed to keep up the standards established by Hume and Benwell, the Hume Hotel was nearly condemned. Bills were left unpaid, the power was disconnected, and it sat empty for several months. Ernie Rushworth, who at that time carried the first mortgage on the property, called on Dave Martin, who had helped Rushworth successfully revitalize a run-down hotel in the Yukon.
He asked Dave if he would be interested in the purchasing the Hume. After careful consideration, the purchase was completed and an exhaustive heritage restoration project began. Nelson was undergoing a similar initiative in the same period so the timing was excellent. In December of 1980, the Hume Hotel was reborn as the Heritage Inn, and once-again became a proud symbol for the people of Nelson. The restoration project took one million dollars to complete, twice the original budget, and was carefully undertaken by designer David Thompson. The massive renovations were wrought with pitfalls—the interior was completely gutted and the hotel's electrical and plumbing systems redone. A number of hidden treasures were revealed during this time, many of which have been carefully restored and are now part of the Heritage Inn ambiance. In the Library Lounge, for example, you can see the original old brick fireplace, which had been hidden from view by a plaster wall.
Adding to the success of the project, many local residents provided antiques, photos and artifacts to decorate the interior, and local trades people recreated many of the original embellishments, sometimes working from old photographs. The opening ceremony, on December 8, 1980 was an auspicious occasion, with many local dignitaries in attendance.
The highlight of the night was the presence of three generations of Hume descendants: Freeda Hume Bolton (the 80 year old daughter of J. Fred and Lydia), her daughter Dawn, and her grandson Jay Fred Bolton. Freeda presided over the ribbon cutting ceremony and 'knighted' Dave Martin Sir Lancelot. In 2005, major changes to the hotel’s exterior façade were completed which included an outdoor patio for the General Store Restaurant as well as the hotel’s signature rooftop ‘crown’.
For twenty-five years as the Heritage Inn, the Martins continued the tradition of hospitality excellence started in 1898 by J. Fred and Lydia Hume. At the completion of the exterior renovation, the hotel went back to its roots to be renamed as the original proprietor once titled it, the Hume Hotel, paying homage to a local legend and a storied history on the corner of Vernon and Ward Street.
Members of the Hume family were again on-hand for the festive grand re-opening as they were exactly twenty-five years ago.
The Investigation Begins
As always, I begin my investigations with no knowledge of the history or the haunt. I come in fresh and with an open mind. I owe it to the reader and more importantly to myself to see what truth comes out. I arrived at the Hume Hotel in late afternoon on a very hot and smoke-filled summer in 2009.
The BC forest fires raged in the interior and tourism was low. I pulled in Nelson noting all the historical structures and the beauty of the city itself. Pulling into the Hume I felt a distinct welcoming feeling, a calling if you wish. I entered the front entrance and immediately I felt eyes on me. I was being watched. This same feeling overpowered my wife as she entered as well and on several occasions she mentioned it. The eyes that were watching us were piercing and they emanated from a portrait of Lydia June Hume which hung on the staircase.
I also got the feeling that something was not right and my attention was brought to an elevator. The elevator was installed sometime later and the shaft blocked the magnificent view of the grand staircase. Checking in, I got to choose my room save for one that was pre-booked. I chose the 2nd floor. Room 221. Room 221 was actually historic Room #4 and #5. You see, during the early days, hotel rooms were not that large and most did not contain a washroom at all. The redeveloped room was a combination of two historic rooms. The room was very comfortable and offered a fantastic view of the Provincial Court House incidentally the same view people paid top dollar for to see a public hanging in the front yard.
The room above- 335, was the prize room for the viewing. The Hume held a lottery to see who would get the room and the best view. This room was the one that was previously booked. I guess the view is still the best. I toured around Nelson and came back to conduct an investigation. It didn’t take too long to meet the ghosts of the Hume face to face. Firstly, I found myself wondering the hall ways and staircases. At each level I felt as if someone was following me. A female. “Mrs. Hume?” I asked. But did not get a response. Mrs. Hume, who I assumed was following me stopped at the 3rd floor and did not continue further. Coming back down I spotted a poem on the 2nd floor. It’s title? The Ghosts of the Hume Hotel. Interesting I thought. They know this place is haunted. I got the immediate feeling of suicides, murder and thievery.
I continued on to the other rooms and into the bar and restaurant and found nothing other than the distinct feeling of being watched and followed. I returned to my room and lay on the bed when suddenly an apparition appeared.
A man in a strikingly dark suit and fedora. He sat in a lone, empty chair smiling as he puffed on a cigar. He knew I saw him because he smiled when I squinted my eyes and strained to see the illusion.
The man tipped his head as to say, “Hello” and then melted away. I had the feeling this man had a secret. His secret I knew by the smile on his face. Without a spoken word more, I knew his secret. I waited, patiently and did not see him again. I shuffled in the bed and turned on all my recording devices. The night was peaceful for me and I had one of the best sleeps I could ask for. My wife, on the other hand, did not. She, too, saw an apparition. She saw a male pacing in the room back and forth and then sitting on the bed itself. She believed it to be me, but then saw me fast asleep beside her. Startled and scared she was going to wake me when the vision vanished.
That morning, in the shower, wondering what I had picked up on EVP, I heard a sentence spoken to me as if a person stood next to me. “You’ll have a safe trip lad.” When I returned to my home I checked for any recordings and found none.
My photos, also, proved to hold no ghostly images. Now it was time to do my research. In 2005,
The Nelson Paranormal League, a group of Paranormal Enthusiasts filmed their documentary Haunt at the Hume along with Thea Trussler a psychic who conducted a reading on the structure.
A brief clip is available one Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TlaGaPZwyYE which shows a teaser of the documentary. For more info contact the NPL at 250-505-5016 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Over the course of the last 75 plus years there have been recordings of strange happenings at the Hume Hotel. Many guests and employees believe the ghost to be that of Fred Hume himself. Room 335 of the Hume Hotel has become synonymous with paranormal activities.
Stories from guests include the full physical manifestation of a man in a top hat raising his brandy snifter in a cheer to an incoming guest. One guest asked to be moved to a different room, stating she had never experienced such a phenomena, and while she felt no malicious intent from the figure, she was certainly uncomfortable knowing she would be sharing the room. Staff have experienced numerous occurrences of paranormal activity including the television set turning on and off of its own accord, the tap beginning to drip as they are doing their cleaning duties and despite the best efforts of repairs, it continues to do so without measurable reasons. Temperature fluctuations are also a regular occurrence, often times attributed to paranormal activity.
The room has its own history, as conveyed in the film, The Haunt at the Hume. It is believed there was a prospector who favoured that room as his meeting place for an illicit affair. His love of the room may explain the appearance of the man in the top hat. Room 335 also has a darker past.
The only hanging to occur in Nelson stirred much attention and the entertainment factor of a hanging seemed to inspire the hotel to capitalize on the morbid event. The hotel sold lottery tickets to gain the best viewing rooms of the hanging that was to occur in the yard in front of the courthouse. The readings Thea conducted on the room had her experience the excitement of the day and then the sheer horror of a man being killed.
The shock that reverberated through the winning lottery ticket party was palpable in the very walls of the room. Why was room 335 denied on my investigation? Was Lydia Hume following me as I enjoyed my time investigating the Hume and who was the man in room 221? Was he the same as witnessed in 335 or simply a different spirit altogether?
The Hume is there, waiting. Waiting to be discovered and the secrets revealed.