Vancouver Feature: Restless Ghost Haunts the Old Court House

The old Court House became the Vancouver Art Gallery in 1983. Emily Carr’s paintings line walls that were once paneled in mahogany. But one thing from the former court remains: a ghost named Charlie still walks the halls at night.

William Charles Hopkinson, right, 1914. Vancouver Public Library 6228.

Vancouver Court House, 1911. Vancouver Public Library 5877.

The Vancouver Art Gallery, formerly the Vancouver Court House.

Vancouver Art Gallery employees are used to finding their desks rearranged when they arrive at work in the morning. They don’t blame the cleaning staff. The janitors have long since convinced them that a spirit wanders the halls at night, making odd noises and rummaging through offices. The ghost, they say, is named Charlie — the spirit of immigration officer William Charles Hopkinson, shot to death in the old Court House in 1914.

Tension between the Vancouver East Indian community and government officials were running high in 1914. In the months following the notorious Komagata Maru incident, when Sikh migrants were forced back to India, the Sikh community was split between Indian nationalists seeking independence for their homeland and British loyalists.

The nationalists held a particular hatred for William Hopkinson. A Yorkshireman, Hopkinson had served in the Calcutta Police Force, where he showed a particular talent for languages. He spoke Hindi and other Indian languages fluently. Even as an immigration inspector in Vancouver, he continued to serve as an agent for the Indian police, keeping an eye on extremists. He set up a secret network of pro-British Sikh informants to report on nationalist activity. He even went undercover in the guise of Narain Singh to gather information.

The nationalists took revenge. At 10 a.m. on October 14, 1914, Hopkinson was having a smoke at the barrister’s entrance to the Court House when Mewa Singh pulled a pistol from his jacket and shot Hopkinson at point-blank range. Singh would be hanged for the murder, although he is still a hero to many. A hall in the Ross Street Sikh Temple bears his name.

As for Hopkinson, his body was laid to rest in a grand civic funeral. His spirit, however, seems to be restless to this day.