Canada's Notorious 'Witch House' Is Full of Dead Bodies
They're mostly taxidermied animals, but there's also a human skeleton named Cecilia.
All photos by Geoff Webb
This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
There is something really satisfying about discovering that the spooky century-old house in East Vancouver that bears striking resemblance to Anton LaVey's "black house" (a.k.a. the Church of Satan's former headquarters) is actually full of dead bodies.
Granted most of the bodies are taxidermied animals (reptiles, foxes, a dwarf antelope), there's also a human skeleton named Cecilia, who chills on a dresser in Sarah Lindsay's bedroom. As a collector of all things of the occult and morbid, she lives up to the mythology of the creepy house she calls home.
Lindsay has been living in the East Broadway place casually called "hexenhouse" or "witch house" for more than a decade. She knows the place has earned a reputation because drunk teenagers frequently dare one another to knock on her door at 3 AM—plus she's heard complete strangers recount the myths to her.
On her first visit to the city's Eastside Flea market years ago, where she aimed to sell from her personal collection of occult books, skulls, and taxidermy, she recalls organizers telling her in hushed tones about the last standing house on the block.
"A couple people at the flea were like, 'Do you know about that house that's across the street?' I was like, 'No, tell me! Tell me about this house.' They're like, 'There's this old witch who lives there, and she'll curse anyone who goes on the property,'" she said. "I said, 'You're kidding. I've never heard that—do you know what she looks like?'" They're like, 'I just hear she's really old and walks with a cane.'"
I can't imagine this description would be based on Lindsay, who appears to be in her late 30s, but she tells me she does have a cane. She recently invited me to tour her collection of witchy oddities before Vancouver's relentless real estate shitstorm forces her to downsize.
Stepping through the front door, it's hard not to notice two wooden crosses leaning against the wall, right next to neatly arranged boots. Each has a stake pointing down, as if, wait, they really are grave markers.
"Oh, those are funny. I got those from a cemetery, which sounds really awful, but actually they were temporary crosses that were put up in a rural burial ground before real tombstones could be put in," she said. "I found them in the compost. I just felt like they should come home with me."
Not far off to the right, inside a cabinet, I spot a human skull with a trepanation hole drilled through the forehead. Lindsay tells me it's old enough that it could have been a medical intervention—a centuries-old attempt to release demons. "This one you can tell they survived—you can see some of the healing," she said.
I ask about the ethical boundaries when you're buying and selling human remains—surely there are bones you wouldn't want to pick. Lindsay says she has several lines she'll never cross. "I've had people try to bring me Native American skulls, and I say, 'No, absolutely not—I will not accept this,'" she said, adding that she also stays away from mass-produced taxidermy, where animals are raised and slaughtered for trinkets.
When I point to a sizable alligator in her living room, she tells me it's 100-plus years old and was recently used in an episode of A Series of Unfortunate Events. Upstairs, she shows me how to blow through a Tibetan flute made of a human thigh bone. I'm told this is part of an ancient necromancy tradition, an instrument meant to literally wake the dead.
So many of Lindsay's belongings have unsettling stories often involving death, and now the building itself is no different. The owners told Lindsay that they can't afford the property taxes anymore, so it will be "removed" from the lot (heritage bylaws may require some part is salvaged) and replaced with, you guessed it, condos.
It's a familiar cause of housing death in the city, one familiar to the many bands and artists that make use of Lindsay's space. Over time, she's hosted touring bands looking for a spot to crash, as well as the backdrop for plenty of metal bands' album art.
"Sometimes the house gets really crowded; in the beginning, I'd get something like six bands at a time coming through for festivals, and we didn't have any furniture downstairs," Lindsay said. "We'd just put down bedding and have people sleep in my room because there's a real shortage of spaces to house underground bands. No one has like an entire house."
Now the house's demise is on the horizon, likely within six months or two years. Lindsay says she'll know by the end of the month how quickly she'll have to clear out her literal skeletons in the closet.
"You know, this has been a space that's meant a lot to a lot of people over the years. When I made the announcement that the property was being sold, many people from around the world were contacting me and saying how sorry they were."
For the coming months, you can now catch Lindsay at the Eastside Flea Market in Vancouver, hawking taxidermy foxes with bloody teeth and Charles Manson–inspired art. "We can rebuild. I just don't think it can be so soon. I thought I had another five years to figure it out," she said. "At this point, I just want to start taking the steps to planting seeds somewhere else because it's just not worth it to stay in the city."
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