Victoria, B.C. - the witch capital of Canada?

John Threlfall moved to Victoria BC because he'd heard it was ‘the witch capital of Canada.’ He says witchcraft may be having a moment (just look at Instagram) - but there are profound reasons the tradition is calling out to people at this moment in human history.
John Threlfall, a self-described out witch, says Victoria's acceptance of witchcraft goes all the way back to the founding of the city. (Getty Images/RooM RF)

As a young man growing up in Burnaby BC in the 70s and 80s, John Threlfall felt drawn to the supernatural. He watched television programs like Bewitched and thought to himself, "it's too bad witches don't exist, because I'd be a really good witch!"

Threlfall, a Communications Officer for the University of Victoria, likens Victoria with San Francisco in the 70s and 80s. The city "was a community I could be an out witch in," he says.

But in those pre-internet days, information was hard to come by, so it wasn't until John moved to Vancouver that he heard Victoria had a reputation as a very "witch-friendly" town. He knew he had to go there.

"In the 70s and 80s, a lot of queer people went to San Francisco because they felt it was an accepting community and their people were there. And that's how I felt about coming to Victoria in the early 90s. I felt it was a community I could be an out witch in, I could find other witches to work with, and I would be accepted for my practices there, and that's definitely been the case."

Threlfall says Victoria's acceptance of witchcraft goes all the way back to the founding of the city.

"It was settled as an outpost of England. Mid to late 19th--century England had a lot of alternative spiritual values. You think about spiritualism, you think about psychic research, you think about the kind of things that were going on in England at the time - a lot of those people moved over to Victoria and brought their practices and their traditions with them."

"You have the local secret societies - you have the Masons, you have the Oddfellows, but then you also have a boom of spiritualists and you also have a boom of Theosophists, and you have these people who are linking spiritual practice to nature, place, and these people are all congregating in Victoria."

Then again, Threlfall says it's easier being a witch everywhere these days … thanks to a certain work of fiction:

"Harry Potter comes along and just in one fell swoop changes everything. Because all of a sudden it's great! Everybody loves Harry Potter, everybody loves Hermione, they like the idea of Hogwarts, of this school." says Threlfall. "Quite often I say there's the pre-Harry Potter era for witches and there's the post Harry Potter era for witches. And the post-Harry Potter era for witches is much more accepting of witches — we don't have to work so hard."

John Threlfall is a Communications Officer for the University of Victoria's Faculty of Fine Arts.

Click LISTEN to hear John explain how Macbeth and The Wizard of Oz were responsible for giving witches a bad name.