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
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
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
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
originally published in analogue magazine’s April 2014 issue