Features & Images » Feature Story

Settling spirits in the Callaghan

Spooktacular Story 2



If you pause for a moment in the Callaghan Valley, stop to reflect and soak it all in, you can almost hear the world quietly breathing in and out... if you listen closely enough.

There are snow-capped mountains, alpine lakes, waterfalls, old Western Hemlocks towering up to the sky, grizzly bears, wolves, black-tailed deer.

And a luxury wilderness lodge right in the middle of it all.

It's a haven for backcountry adventurers making their cross-country and skin tracks on high.

More than 30 years ago Peter Vandenberg was a young Whistler carpenter working on that lodge.

It was March. Still the thick of winter in the Callaghan, the nights drawing in fast.

The days passed in a blur of work and the nights offered a welcome respite.

Peter's temporary digs were a bedroom on the second floor. His friend Ken slept in the neighbouring room.

That March night Peter woke suddenly though no sound pulled him from his slumber, no nudge stole his sleep.

And there it was, in his room.

He saw it right away.

It was fuzzy, its outlines not quite defined. But Peter knew what he was looking at, though he had never really believed in ghosts before.

It was a man, dressed in white in a jacket with lapels, like a uniform. He moved when he saw Peter looking at him, turning back towards the stairs. Then he was gone.

Gone. In an instant. But not before searing himself forever on Peter's memory.

"That was just a moment in time, really," he says simply of what he calls the "spectre."

It didn't scare him, didn't leave him breathless and restless and worried.

It simply... was.

Peter didn't know the story at the time of the Callaghan's lost pilots. But he knows now. And he believes whole-heartedly that he saw one of them that night.

The night of the spectre's appearance was March 22, the same day that First Officers James Miller and Gerald Stubbs of the 409 Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force crashed in the Callaghan Valley decades earlier in 1956, never to be seen again. Alive, that is.

They were on an instrument flying practice flight in a T-33 Silver Star, setting off from their base at Comox on Vancouver Island. They were supposed to be back on base within an hour and a half, keeping within a 160-kilometre radius of the air force base.

Bad weather changed everything. And for almost 20 years there was no sign of them.

And then... clues began appearing.

The canopy of their plane was found in 1974.

In 1998 the fuselage was found, about one kilometre from the lodge.

Two years ago, the remains of a helmet.