Larry and Sandra Gray are innkeepers captured by their love of their heritage home.

Larry and Sandra Gray are innkeepers captured by their love of their heritage home.

Saanich couple cherishes heritage at home

B.C. Heritage Week may be on now, but it’s everyday for the Grays

Natalie North

News staff

There’s been rarely a dull moment at Sandra and Larry Gray’s house.

One time, an elderly visitor fell so soundly asleep, Larry had to check her pulse.

Another time, Sandra encountered a naked young man who left his underwear behind as he hastily fled the scene. And then there are those times a ghost will spark up a Colts cigar in the middle of the night.

“You know that nice, sweet smell of wine-dipped tobacco? I smelled it so strong it woke me up,” Sandra said of one of her many encounters with the spirits she believes inhabit her bed and breakfast.

Sandra, a member of the Saanich Heritage Foundation, finds comfort in believing that she and her husband are not alone in their 1910 Craftsman-style home. And they’re not, with an eclectic mix of characters regularly sharing a meal and a conversation with the couple.

Sandra also feels at home with the home’s first owners: Captain Robert Neill Walker, who was buried in Royal Oak, and his wife Satu Fukuda, who was laid to rest in England.

“I always feel that spiritually, they belong together and that’s what the problem is,” Sandra said, about why she thinks the couple’s ghosts return to their Saanich home.

Larry has self-published a collection of stories from their 30 years of hosting guests, living and otherwise, at the home.

With nine bedrooms of restored woodwork, hardware and classic architectural elements – including a servant staircase, “funeral” door in the living room and a laundry shoot from the second floor to the basement – the couple has dubbed their home “the house that captured the innkeepers.”

Larry’s stories range from the inn cats to the plastic skeleton he built into the wall as a playful homage to the house’s haunted reputation.

“I was your biggest skeptic,” he said to his wife, fresh off of a tale of a faceless presence watching her play the piano.

“You’re not receptive if you’re looking for something,” he added.

Historian Valerie Green calls Larry’s book, A Heritage Gem, a must-read for anyone interested in either running a bed and breakfast or curious about local heritage. “Their hard work over the past 20 years to restore their home to its former glory is a testament to that dedication,” Green writes in the foreword.

Now fully restored with just under an acre of surrounding gardens, the Heritage House at 3808 Heritage Ln. has come a long way since the couple bought it in 1990.

“When our friends saw what we had bought, they said ‘What are you doing?’” Sandra said, recalling the shag carpet and harvest gold paint that lined the interior at one time. “But we loved the bones.”

Heritage Speakers

• Saanich Coun. Vicki Sanders, proud owner of a Lakehill heritage home, was recently recognized by the Hallmark Society for her dedication to preserving heritage. Sanders, who will speak at the Feb. 23 event, plans to complete the restoration of her home within the year.

“It’s completely modern, but it has all the uniqueness and the value of the well-built, or traditionally built homes,” Sanders said of her 1937 family home. “It’s got a real good, warm, strong feeling.”

Saanich hosts free talks this week, at 7 p.m., Feb. 22-24, as part of heritage week at municipal hall, 770 Vernon Ave.

• Explore the Cultural and Natural History of Saanich Parks – Feb. 22 with Dianne Murray, Saanich Parks Department.

• Heritage Energy Efficiency and Carbon Reduction – Feb. 23 with Pam Copley, Community Heritage Planner, B.C. Heritage Branch & Natalie Cushing, City Green Solutions.

• The Past is Present: The story of a community told through its buildings – Feb. 24 with Nick Russell of the University of Victoria Speakers Bureau.

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