Doris Gravlin: The April ghost

missing-since-tuesday

Doris Gravlin. Her name became a household term overnight almost 80 years ago. Before

that fateful evening in September 1936, however, few people in Victoria had heard of her. But

now she is recognized as one of western Canada’s most frequently seen ghosts at her favourite

haunt, the Victoria Golf Course in Oak Bay. Mounting a nocturnal expedition in search of Doris

has been a right of passage in the capital city for many students. Few leave high school without

having attempted it at least once.

Doris Thomson was born in Lancashire in 1906 and immigrated to Canada with her parents

eight years later. The family settled in Victoria where Doris’s mother worked at a private hospital

in the Vista Heights neighbourhood. Doris followed in her mother’s footsteps by taking up

nursing herself, until she married Victor Gravlin in 1930 and had a son.

Victor was born in Victoria in 1899, the youngest child of Herbert and Elizabeth Gravlin who ran

a painting and decorating business on Oak Bay Avenue. As a sports reporter for the Colonist,

Victor could indulge his passion for sports.

When her husband began to drink heavily, Doris left him. Their young son stayed with Mrs.

Thomson when Doris found work as a private live-in nurse for an elderly widow who lived facing

the Oak Bay waterfront.

In mid-September 1936, Victor’s nephew delivered a letter to Doris. Its contents are unknown,

but it is believed to have been a request for her to meet Victor to discuss reconciliation. That is

probably why Doris stepped out for a walk at about 7:45 pm on Tuesday September 22, 1936,

and why Victor left his parents’ house shortly afterwards. Exactly where they met or where they

walked is open to conjecture, though a popular belief that they met at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel

is unfounded.

Both Doris and Victor were reported missing and a thorough search ensued. Five days passed

until a caddy noticed a pink sweater sticking out from some logs on the beach beside the

seventh fairway at the golf course. He was horrified to find the sweater had an arm inside.

When the Police arrived they determined that Doris had been strangled and were curious why

her shoes, belt, and felt hat were missing, but that otherwise she was fully dressed. Evidence

suggested that Doris had been murdered close to Beach Drive and that Victor had dragged her

by the feet across the golf course.

Where was Victor? Some thought he had disguised himself as a woman and escaped on the

CPR ferry. However, one month later, a fisherman found the body floating in the kelp beds

off the ninth fairway. A length of rope was found in his coat pocket, along with Doris’s missing

attire. The police concluded he had murdered his wife then committed suicide by walking into

the water.

A number of urban legends have grown up around the famous haunting. One of the most

persistent is that Doris appears only during April, giving rise to her being dubbed “the April

Ghost.” This seems to have started in the 1960s when several reports of her being seen during

April were covered in the local media. Other myths are that she appears when the moon is

full or when ghost hunters ring the bell that is located between the sixth and seventh fairways.

These details add to the mystique of the story, but are quite coincidental to seeing Doris. She

really is seen throughout the year during any phase of the moon and whether or not the bell is

rung.

Captions:

The body of Doris Gravlin was found under logs on the beach beside the seventh fairway.

The murder took place just about where the photograph below was taken, looking along the

sixth fairway, with Trial Island in the distance.

 

 

words by John Adams

 

Find out more about Victoria’s history and its amazing ghost stories on one of the tours

conducted by John Adams and his team of expert guide storytellers. Ghostly Walks focus on the

hauntings in Old Town and neighbourhoods close to downtown. Chinatown Walks cover many

aspects of culture, history, food and religion in Canada’s first Chinatown. Discovery Walks take

you into diverse heritage neighbourhoods, including Oak Bay, Fairfield, James Bay, Rockland

and Victoria West. For full details about these tours which take place year-round, check out

www.discoverthepast.com

 

 

 

originally published in analogue magazine’s April 2014 issue