The original bar and drinking parlour of the Jones Hotel (Ladysmith Historical Society photo)

Ghost tales of the Black Nugget

Ladysmith’s Black Nugget Museum has been the subject of folklore and ghost stories for decades

Ladysmith’s Black Nugget Museum has been the subject of folklore and ghost stories for decades. Stories of ghosts, gold rushes, and gunfights surround the now shuttered museum. The question is which — if any — of the tales are true.

Long before it was the Black Nugget, the building was the Miners Hotel. The Miners Hotel was built in Wellington in 1881, and transported to Ladysmith in 1900 by hoteliers Lodwick and Sarah Jones. They renamed the establishment the Jones Hotel. The Jones Hotel primarily housed miners and loggers who would come to work in Ladysmith.

Sarah had a reputation as a stern woman with a snow white apron, who kept a strict regiment of tidiness in the hotel — she was responsible for running a bulk of the hotel operations. Lodwick was in charge of the hotel’s gambling room. That gambling room was the site of a shooting when a gambler made the unfortunate decision to cheat a game of poker. The gambler was shot dead right in the room.

That wasn’t the only time the gambling room caused a stir in Ladysmith. In 1908, Walter Miles and John Bickle found gold flakes on the street outside the hotel. Within a few hours, the entire street had been claimed. Prospectors rushed to the area, only to find out two weeks later that the gold was actually residue from the gold trimming Lodwick had installed in the gambling room.

Eventually, Lodwick and Sarah died in their hotel. They were in their 80s. Their sons ran the hotel until 1938, then sold the building to the Ancient Order of Foresters. The Foresters then sold the building to the Fraternal Order of the Eagles in 1940. In 1972, a collector named Kurt Guilbride bought the building and transformed it into the Black Nugget Museum.

Since Guilbride took ownership of the building, tales of ghosts have swirled around the Black Nugget. Ladysmith residents have reported seeing a man with a handlebar moustache in the attic window. Some have claimed to have seen a lady in white walking around the parlour. It is believed they are the ghosts of Sarah and Lodwick.

Guilbride himself shared a story about a collection of elephants he had on a mantle. Each of the elephants were facing east. One morning he found a single elephant facing west. He turned the elephant back east, only to find it facing west again the next morning. This became a regular occurrence.

Another instance of ghostly activity was when a grand piano in the building would play three notes on its own. This was also a semi-regular occurrence.

In a 2011 interview with CTV Vancouver Island, Guilbride shared his thoughts on possible ghosts at the Black Nugget.

“It doesn’t bother me at all. It bothered my wife a little bit when we first married and she moved in here — she was a little bit leery. It’s not oozing green slime or anything dangerous. It’s just a noise here or there, something might move, or the piano plays a couple tunes, or you might hear some footsteps down the old hallway once in a while,” he said.

“It could be just creaks and groans, or it could be ghosts, who knows?”

Someone who does know is Christine Brant, a local medium who did a night of ghost stories and mediumship at the Black Nugget in the early 2000s.

“We walked around the museum before, and there’s just so much activity in there,” she said.

Brant picked up on the energy of the hotel. She said she sensed a lot of activity with drinking, smoking, dancing, and gambling. Brant said the spirits were protective of the building, and felt a sense of ownership over the Black Nugget. She did not sense any negative energy in the building.

“They anchored there because they enjoyed it. They had a good time there — they spent a lot of time there,” Brant said. “They loved that place. That couple, that was their life. It was their social life, it was everything. They loved that building so much that they haven’t left it. So, when you go in there, they’re still doing the same kind of activities.”

Lodwick and Sarah were not the only people in town who loved the building. Many residents of Ladysmith enjoyed the old building, and were happy to see it used as a museum. Brant said she hopes that one day the Black Nugget will reopen to the public.

“It should be open to the public. It’s a wonderful place… It almost seems like it’s time now to revisit the place and get it going again.”

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