Who’s haunting Anna Duryba? A 1950s Chilliwack ghost story

In 1951, a series of strange noises and broken windows drove a Chilliwack chicken farmer to distress. Anna Duryba insisted she didn’t believe in ghosts. Her neighbours weren’t so sure.

By Tyler Olsen | October 29, 2021 |6:00 am

To see the Chilliwack Progress articles mentioned in this story, click the links. The Chilliwack Museum and Archives has an extensive searchable record of newspapers dating back to before 1900.  The Vancouver Sun article is available through the Fraser Valley Regional Library’s database of historical newspapers.

Reverend William Clarke’s diagnosis was simple: a poltergeist was at large on Brooks Avenue. It was November of 1951.

For weeks, a series of strange noises and broken windows had driven 38-year-old Anna Duryba and her niece Kathryn, 14, to distraction and distress. Loud bangings that moved “rapidly about the outer walls of the house” were taking place regularly, sometimes dozens of times each week, according to newspaper accounts from the time. The episodes were bad enough to cause Kathryn to temporarily relocate to Vancouver while her aunt tried to figure out what was going on and how to stop it.

Over the coming months, she would repeatedly tell reporters she didn’t believe in ghosts. But that didn’t stop the rest of Chilliwack from gossiping about what would become one of the biggest stories in town. At one point, so many people were coming to gawk at Anna’s house that it was creating parking problems for neighbours.

No wonder Anna was exhausted.

The first story about the Brooks Avenue ghost appeared in the Chilliwack Progress on Nov. 21, 1951.
The first story about the Brooks Avenue ghost appeared in the Chilliwack Progress on Nov. 21, 1951. Click the headline, or here, to read the full story. 📸 Chilliwack Museum and Archives / Chilliwack Progress

A haunted house?

The first record is a news story on the Nov. 21, 1951, front page The Chilliwack Progress: “‘Ghost’ Haunts Local House.”

When the next week’s paper landed on doorsteps around Chilliwack, its front page featured two more stories, and the doubting quotation marks were noticeably gone from both. “Ghost Continues Knocking; Investigators Still Baffled,” declared a story that cited “mysterious bangings,” “strange knockings,” and “rapid poundings,” on windows and walls. The other story (headline: “Cleric Probes Ghostly House”) focused on Rev. Clarke’s belief that a legitimate poltergeist was to blame.

Clarke was touted as a “long-time student of what the experts call psychical research,” and had apparently visited the house and talked with investigators.

“This case shows all the indications of similar happenings which have been observed all over the world,” Clarke told The Progress’s reporter, noting the cases had been “thoroughly documented by most eminent men.”

In the late 1800s and first half of the 1900s, the world was seized by a growing interest in spiritualism and an idea of an afterlife that retained connections with our world. As people sought to reconcile scientific advances, the legacy of devastating conflict, and the increasing knowledge of our physical world with still-unexplained questions and phenomena, many floated theories that, in one way or another, suggested that ghosts or other beings from the afterlife could affect the lived-in world.

By the 1950s, those beliefs were on the wane. They hadn’t been snuffed out entirely. But they were increasingly regarded with skepticism, in part because of how often prominent hauntings were revealed to be hoaxes or other natural occurrences.

And despite the sometimes breathless coverage and the “ghost” headlines, there were also indications that many observers—including both Anna Duryba and The Progress’s reporter—considered the case an oddity, but not one that necessarily required a supernatural element. Not that all the potential explanations made much more sense than a poltergeist.

In the article that ran opposite to Rev. Clarke’s poltergeist musings, the unnamed reporter wrote that authorities had looked into a range of potential natural causes for Anna’s nighttime noises. By late November, investigators had considered, as possible causes of the disturbances: “radio station and aircraft beam transmissions,” “possible freak effects from minerals in the ground,” unspecified “electronic equipment,” “earth movements,” and a woodpecker.

“I thought they were nuts when they called me in on this,” a deputy sheriff told The Progress. “Now I don’t know what to think.”

(One notable thing about the Chilliwack Progress articles on the ghost: the unnamed writer is clearly both very good at his job and taking more than a little delight in reporting on a supposed “haunting.”)

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A diversity of theories

But early on, there were also hints that those closest to the case were less taken in by the speculation than observers. Indeed, there is an undercurrent of potential malice running through the early stories: that the person or people haunting the house wasn’t dead. In the first newspaper story, Anna speculated that a man wanting to buy the home was trying to scare her off. The next week’s paper suggested that, although children were ruled out early on because the disturbances were too “clever,” the sheriff noted:

“Whatever it is, someone is going to a lot of trouble.” (Then as now, real estate was a hot commodity that could drive some to unethical behaviour.)

In early December, the Vancouver Sun reported on the Chilliwack ghost. The lead: “A spook is sharing a cottage here with a cuckoo clock, a bobtailed cat and a 38-year-old lady chicken rancher who says there is no such thing as ghosts.” After quoting the poltergeist-believing reverend, that story dutifully noted that Anna continued to insist “malicious pranksters” were to blame.

Anna wasn’t all alone. She lived with her niece, the newspapers noted. And the home next door was occupied by Alex Duryba, either her uncle by the account of newspapers, or her brother-in-law according to a former neighbour. (Anna’s husband hadn’t come home from the Second World War, according to the same neighbour.) Alex Duryba was 63 years old and, the newspapers suggested, doing his best to protect Anna and her property.

“At nights,” the Vancouver Sun reported, “Duryba props himself at the window in the basement of the house with a shotgun. He has shot off quite a packet of shells as a sort of warning so far, but that’s had to stop; shells cost too much.”

Between the gawking public, the attention from reporters, and (maybe?) the threat of Alex’s shotgun, whatever was haunting Anna started to make itself scarce as Christmas approached. The ghost was rarely seen through late November, returning only briefly in December. It still made the front page of the newspaper, though, with The Progress reporting that it refuted the recent explanation of an “expert” who declared that the sounds were caused by “extreme drying of the soil during summer drought.”

The Chilliwack Progress reported teh acclamation of Mayor T.T. McCammon and the return of the Brooks Avenue ghost in a December issue. McCammon would end up playing a key role in the ghost story.
The Chilliwack Progress reported the acclamation of Mayor T.T. McCammon and the return of the Brooks Avenue ghost in a December issue. McCammon would end up playing a key role in the resolution of the story. Click the headline, or here, to read the full story. 📸 Chilliwack Museum and Archives / Chilliwack Progress

A professional water diviner weighs in

The ghost wasn’t gone, though.

As 1951 turned to 1952, the ghost returned with fury, breaking three windows in broad daylight. It was time to start looking for new answers. So although a ghost still seemed too ridiculous for many, including Alex Duryba, The Progress’s reporter spoke to a professional water diviner.

Peter Hiebert—identified in the paper as just that, a “water diviner”—declared that a combination of water, dirt and air beneath the Duryba home was causing the poundings. Hiebert said he could use a metal divining wire to determine precisely how deep groundwater is. He told The Progress “a ‘vein’ of water flows through quicksand, snaking its way directly under the Duryba home where it passes under, or close to, all four walls.”

Hiebert was sure of himself and his solution. “I’ve got 167 wells around here and I’ve never been more than a foot off,” he said. “All they have to do is drive a sandpoint into the ground where the old well was beside the house to let the air in… I saw exactly the same thing happen on the prairies.”

The Progress reported the return of the 'ghost' in mid February of 1952
The Progress reported the return of the ‘ghost’ in mid-February of 1952. Click the headline, or here, to read the story. 📸 Chilliwack Museum and Archives / Chilliwack Progress

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Mayor McCammon spots a clue

And then the Mayor of Chilliwack cracked the case.

The ghost started banging again in February, an event that, the Progress reported, “explodes a widely held theory that the sounds were caused by drying out of the subsoil.” But actual evidence would emerge soon after. After three weeks of silence, the Progress published its final report on March 5: “Discovery of various metal objects, held together with wire, in flowerbeds beside the home of Anna Duryba… has raised speculation as to whether the ‘Duryba ghost’ is the work of a mechanically-minded prankster.”

The paper reported that Chilliwack’s mayor, T.T. McCammon, visited the home (Anna was a former employee) and noticed a “copper wire projecting above the ground.” That discovery apparently led Alex Duryba to start digging up flower beds around the home. Over the span of two weeks, Alex dug up six objects including: “a small wrench with a wire wrapped around it, a valve and wire, and nails wired together in an unusual manner. Several of the objects have had lengths of copper wire attached to them.”

As Alex removed the objects, banging ceased in nearby areas of the house, he told The Progress.

The final story on the Brooks Avenue Ghost appeared on March 5, 1952.
The final story on the Brooks Avenue Ghost appeared on March 5, 1952. Click the headline, or here, to read the story. 📸 Chilliwack Museum and Archives / Chilliwack Progress

And that, almost inexplicably, was where The Progress’s coverage ended. The ghost was gone, and the culprit never publicly identified.

In 1954, William Clarke, the poltergeist expert, died suddenly at the age of 42. Alex Duryba died in 1961, around the age of 72. And Anna Duryba died in 2000 at the age of 91. The Current hasn’t been able to find any public official record of consequences levied for terrorizing Anna. But there is one local account that potentially sheds some light on what occurred.

The boy next door

In 1951, seven-year-old Ron Arnett and his family moved in next door to the Durybas. Then, rumours began to spread that a ghost lived next door. Young Arnett and other children in the area took more than a little notice.

“As a seven-year-old kid, you’re going to believe it,” he told The Current. There was plenty of talk in the neighbourhood about the ghosts. And that talk continued even after the newspaper articles dried up. Eventually, Arnett says, the knockings were discovered to be what Anna once suggested: an attempt to get her to move—allegedly by her own relatives next door. Arnett says the police even became involved in the matter, though The Current hasn’t been able to find a written record of such a conclusion.

In the end, and as with many supposed poltergeists from the first half of the last century, the truth obeyed, rather than defied, logic. There was no vein of water. There were no monstrous electronic instruments. There was no poltergeist. There was just the harassment—whether by Alex or an undiscovered other party—of a woman trying to do her best to tend her chickens, and get on in post-war Chilliwack.

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Tyler Olsen

Managing Editor at Fraser Valley Current

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