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The April Ghost of the Victoria Golf Links

Driving through the Victoria Golf Club’s course at night can be an eerie experience. The city, with all its lights and buildings, dies away, and you are in a dark and wind-swept area with only the sounds of the wind and the pounding seas. It is a setting of bleak loneliness, with rarely a living person to be seen. Once it was the sight of a violent murder, and it is now the home for Victoria’s most famous ghost.

The story begins in 1936. Doris and Victor Gravlin were a young couple living in Victoria. She was thirty, he was in his mid-thirties. They had a seven year old son called Walter in newspaper reports of the time, but later known as Robin. Victor Gravlin had worked as a sports reporter for the Colonist newspaper until illness (possibly alcoholism) forced him to quit in 1934. Doris worked as a private nurse for an older lady. Their marriage had been going badly and by September of 1936 they were living apart. However, they were still attached to one another, and on Tuesday, September 22nd, 1936 they arranged a meeting to discuss a reconciliation.

Just what happened that evening will never be known. Both were last seen about 8:00 p.m., Victor leaving his home and Doris her place of work. The Victoria Golf Club course was an obvious place to meet, as they had often in the past enjoyed walking from here to the Oak Bay Beach Hotel. No one saw them after that, and the couple were reported missing by their respective parents a few days later. On Sunday, a caddy discovered the beaten and strangled body of Doris on the beach. Victor Gravlin had disappeared.

The search was now on for Victor. Several municipal forces, the provincial force, and even a boy scout troop were involved. A month later, he was found. A fisherman discovered his body floating offshore, tangled in a bed of kelp. Doris’s shoes, missing from her body, were found stuffed in his pocket. The case was reported as an obvious murder-suicide and everyone felt it was resolved.

Everyone, that is, except Doris herself. Within months people began reporting of her appearance on the golf course. Here is a description of one of the first reports of her, taken from Charles Lillard and Robin Skelton’s pamphlet The April Ghost Of The Victoria Golf Links:

A fisherman fishing off the rocky shore of Gonzalez Point, the section of the Victoria Golf Links containing both the seventh green and the ninth tee, was one of the first Victorians to see Doris Gravlin after her death. . . . The fisherman was unable to say what made him turn around and look up the bank and the green. But he did, and there, standing above him, was a woman staring out towards the kelp beds. She paid him no attention whatsoever, even though she was only a few feet away. He could not immediately understand why she was there. Theirs was not an easy place to reach, nor was this a spot where women walked by themselves. The light was fading fast and all the fisherman noted, besides the gloomy look on her face, was what he later described “as an old-fashioned brown suit”. The suit stuck in his mind because Oak Bay was, then as now, one of Victoria’s richest suburbs, and hardly the place where young women ignored fashion. He continued casting. She said nothing. He said nothing, and “then she suddenly hurried down as if she was going to meet someone, and on the way she vanished. I saw her kind of melt away”.

Over the years there have been many sightings of Doris. Why she became known as the “April” Ghost is a mystery. She may appear in any month, with late March being the commonest. She prefers two areas, and two times of day. Between 4:30 and 5:00 p.m. she strides through the golf course looking like a normal human, except for her old-fashioned clothes. Between 9:30 and 10:00 p.m., the most common time to see her, she appears at the green closest to the water looking decidedly more ghostly.

She will appear with arms outstretched, wearing a long white gown. She will rush towards people, then disappear. She also exhibits a variety of other behaviour. One night, for example, a man saw her as he was out walking on the course. He turned around, and then turned around again, and she was facing him every time. After completely boxing him in, she disappeared. On another night a woman was out walking the course with a group. A wild wind suddenly sprang up, blowing at them from all directions, despite it being a perfectly calm day. Some of the group became very frightened. As the woman hung back from the rest of her group, she felt someone with a cold, clammy hand take her hand. She assumed one of her friends needed comforting. Then she noticed that all her group had moved on, and she was alone. The hand then disappeared.

There have been many such stories over the years. With over seventy years of haunting she has become easily our most famous ghost. She has entered our imaginative landscape, with writers such as Charles Lillard and Robin Skelton being attracted to her story. But what of her future? Will she continue to haunt our shores, or will she move on?

Her son has had something to say about that. Overlooked in most accounts is the seven-year old boy she left behind. He was adopted by his grandparents, became known as Robin Thomson, and went to school in England. He later joined the British Army and had a military career. He seldom came back to Victoria. When contacted by a reporter in 1994 for a comment about his mother’s ghost, Thomson was completely surprised. He knew next to nothing of the tragic events, and asked for more information on them. When contacted next, though, he was philosophical about it. He said, “If it’s history, then it’s there, and it’s not going to go away”.

You can read more about this in our Heritage Room. The fullest account is in the previously mentioned pamphlet by Lillard and Skelton. Other books listed in the bibliography have versions of this story. In addition we have a “Ghosts” clipping file with articles about other encounters with Doris and other local ghosts.

For further reading:

The April Ghost of the Victoria Golf Links by Charles Lillard and Robin Skelton.
Call number: 133.12971128 LIL

A Gathering Of Ghosts by Robin Skelton and Jean Kozocari
Call number: 133.1 SKE

Ghost Stories Of British Columbia by Jo-Anne Christensen
Call number: 133.1 CHR

 

Stephen Ruttan, Local History Librarian
January, 2008