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Hycroft: Who is the Lady in the White Dress?

By March 3, 2016UWCV Blog

Hycroft  has been the scene of many stories over its lifetime – mostly of the interesting non-spooky kind.  Built from 1909 – 1911 by wealthy entrepreneur Alexander Duncan McRae and his wife Blaunche, to be one of Vancouver’s prestige locations, it was their family home from 1911 – 1941, donated to the Federal Government for use as a Veterans Hospital during WWII, then purchased by The University Women’s Club of Vancouver for use as our clubhouse since 1962.

Which stories are the best is hard to know.

Built to impress, our Edwardian mansion of delightful proportion is the central feature of a grand property in the area of Old Shaughnessy in Vancouver.  The original house, coach house, and part of the gardens are now the clubhouse home of The University Women’s Club of Vancouver. No longer does the property include stables, swimming pool, and bowling alley. The magnificent setting provides a view north over False Creek and the mountains of North and West Vancouver.

The 10,000 sq ft of living space in Hycroft is on four floors.  On the main level there are lovely rooms small enough to feel ‘homey’ for the well-to-do family aided by a staff of 25, but large enough for fine entertaining.  The lower level features public rooms of a grand sprung-floor ballroom, smoking lounge, and fantastic bar.  Behind the bar is a tunnel-style hallway to the back of house through the maintenance area providing access to a well-hidden wine-cellar secured by a thick iron door behind thick iron bars!  Hycroft had been built with the prospect of prohibition looming so this is the most secure room in the house.  The upper level was designed to be the private family living areas of bedrooms, sitting rooms, and lovely solariums.  ‘Behind stairs’ were the Housekeeper’s office and suite as well as a Butler’s retreat.  A long hallway between the main house and the upper level of the stables where the menservants lived began at a small room we call ‘Lovers Leap’.  Within ten years of construction, indoor bathrooms became de rigeur; consequently solaria were added to provide lovely bathrooms and glassed spaces to recline afterwards.  The top or attic level is where the women servants lived in the many bedrooms.

The parties during the McRae years were legendary.  The annual New Years Eve costume ball was a coveted invite for Vancouverites who wanted to see and be seen.  There are stories of wild carrying on, trips down the hidden hallway into the wine cellar, and more. Were there stories of jealous and wild liaisons?

During WWII Hycroft became ‘Vancouver’s Downton Abbey’.  Used as a veteran’s hospital until the opening, in 1960 of a new public hospital, it was the scene of many gatherings as well as of care for local veterans recovering from the perils of service. Were there tragedies in the stories of the residents and visitors?

In addition to The University Women’s Club of Vancouver using Hycroft for our clubhouse and ‘home away from home in the city’ we offer Hycroft for rentals, to help cover the cost of maintenance, for parties, events, as well as filming for television, movies, and photographic shoots.  If you haven’t been to a party or event at Hycroft, chances are you may have seen parts of our grand old mansion in movies, on television, or in a magazine spread.

You may not realize we’ve been turned into the ‘embassy’ for several countries, a New Orleans hotel, and the staircase out of a sinking Titanic (television version, NOT the movie), fogged in setting for the X-Files and more.

Who is the lady in the white dress?

We cannot find one member who has confessed to seeing anything out of the ordinary.  Maybe we are the trusted ones!  We do have few volunteers who venture into the attic after hearing whispered stories that come to us however.

A longstanding film liaison has shared several experiences out of the ordinary.  Many involved film crews seeing a woman in a long white dress in either the upper hallway or coming down the grand staircase to the foyer.  Having seen the long and flowing dresses popular in the early 1900’s could it be Blaunche?  Have we done something of which she disapproves?  Or could it be something more recent such as one of the nurses in the veteran’s hospital days?  Did something go wrong or does she want to remain at home in Hycroft?

Are the stories to be believed?  Once you go down the trail of the supernatural the speculative stories about suspicious movement, cold spaces, and strange noises are trotted out.

The only thing I know for sure is that one evening after a party held by an IT firm celebrating the launch of a new game (featuring a haunted mansion of course) I was talked into giving a tour of the attic by some fun-loving techies.  Shortly afterward I was quizzed about scraping noises, strange apparitions, to which I replied that I had never seen anything.  Securing the house after the event I ventured, cautiously as usual, up the stairs into the attic.  As I peered down into the dimly lit length of the hallway I nearly fell back down the stairs.  Gathering my courage and turning on extra light I found the pranksters had dragged a 7 foot tall Father Christmas out of the storage area and into the hall facing the stairs. Thanks so much, boys!

Are there supernatural places and visitors in Hycroft?  Come visit and see.

written by Louise Corrall, Chair, Communications Committee of The University Women’s Club of Vancouver