Thursday, 28 July 2016

Getting to the bottom of some bottomless pond legends for #FolkloreThursday

Nestled between Breakheart Hill and Bennett's Point is the village of Champney's West in Trinity Bay. Across the Tickle from Champney's West is Fox Island, which is connect by an isthmus to the mainland. Within the isthmus is a deep freshwater pond, surrounded on either side by stony beaches.

The pond itself is famous for being bottomless, one of several reportedly bottomless ponds in Newfoundland. The best known of these is probably Deadman's Pond in St. John's, one of the tales we tell as part of the Ghosts of Signal Hill program.

Legend holds that the bodies of executed criminals were displayed on a gibbet at Gibbet's Hill. After a time the bodies were cut down and loaded into barrels. Upon being weighed down with rocks they were then rolled into Deadman's Pond. Deadman's Pond was believed to be bottomless, thus quickening their descent into hell.

A direct portal to Hell in St. John's East? Gothic stuff indeed, and as firm a fixture of St. John's folklore as the miles of tunnels everyone knows are just waiting to be found underneath Water Street. Firm enough in fact to steel the determination of a film crew from Space: The Imagination Station, Canada's national science fiction and fantasy cable station. They arrived in St. John's several summers ago as part of a cross-Canada odyssey to explore the unexplained.

After having invested in a boat rental and trolling Deadman's Pond, the adventuresome Torontonians demonstrated on national television what every Townie could have told them ahead of time, should they have felt so inclined. Deadman's pond has a bottom. It isn't even that far from the surface.

While I personally have not plumbed the depths of the Fox Island pond, something tells me that it probably has a bottom as well. Well of course it has a bottom, and we all know it. Most of us accept that we live on a spherical planet, and the idea of a pit that truly goes on forever is fantastic. We live in an era where satellite technology allows us to map the ocean's deepest abyss, and unless NASA is holding something back, no direct entrance ways to Hell have been discovered.

But legends like those of Fox Island Pond and Deadman's Pond continue to circulate, be retold, and find their way into tourist literature. Why do we continue to tell these tales, and why does the idea of a bottomless lake continue to hold such a grip on our collective imagination?

Part of it must be the fact that Newfoundlanders love a good yarn, even those (or perhaps especially those) known to be less than one hundred percent accurate. But maybe it goes deeper than that, if you will pardon the pun.

Legends and tales of bottomless pits, lakes, and ponds are almost universal. Lake on the Mountain Provincial Park near Kingston, Ontario has a bottomless lake. So does Budapest and the town of Agias Nikolaos in Crete. There is even a Bottomless Lakes State Park near Roswell, New Mexico.

These lakes and ponds offer us tantalizing doorways to another realm. Sometimes this other realm is stated as in the legend of Deadman's Pond, and sometimes it is left unsaid. But peering into the reflective surface of a still body of water and wondering what lies beneath provides us with a link to the unexplained. Perhaps this is why they fascinate us. It is not so much that we think they actually are bottomless, but that part of us wishes that they might be.

Dale Jarvis is an author, storyteller, and professional folklorist who splits his time between St. John’s and Clarke’s Beach, Newfoundland, Canada. The proprietor of the St. John’s Haunted Hike ghost tour, Dale tells ghost stories, supernatural stories, legends and traditional tales from Newfoundland, Labrador and beyond. The Haunted Hike runs every Sunday to Thursday during the summer, and is online at You can like us on Facebook, or better yet, come along and let us tell you a tale!

Photo credit:  Deadman's Pond by John W.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Bodies, Barrels, and Boxes - Gruesome Tales from Newfoundland

By Dale Jarvis

Around 1835, one of the English clerks at the Newman and Company’s plantation in St. Lawrence on the Burin Peninsula suffered a rather untimely demise. Embalming of any sort was an impossibility in that far flung fishing station, so the unfortunate man’s body was preserved inside a puncheon of rum until the body, by that point well pickled, could be taken back to Europe for burial. While unusual perhaps by today’s standards, this practise was apparently not uncommon.

The most famous of these pickled corpses was Admiral Horatio Nelson, who himself had a Newfoundland connection. In May of 1782, Nelson, in command of the HMS Abbemarie, spent several days in St. John’s. Nelson was not impressed with St. John’s, and in a letter home to England described it as a most disagreeable place. During his stay he spent most of his time courting the bottle at the historic Ship Inn, close to what is now the Crow’s Nest on Water Street.

Thankfully, the Admiral turned down a post in Provincial Tourism, and left St. John’s. In true heroic fashion he was killed at the battle of Trafalgar in 1805, and was shipped back to England in a barrel of brandy. According to naval legend, when the barrel was finally opened it was found to be drained of its liquor. Apparently sailors unaware of the true contents had tapped it for some illicit tippling.

These tales have a gruesome similarity to another story from the community of St. Lawrence, which apparently had a strange association with disturbing objects inside casks. The event in question shocked the community when the preserved corpse of an African baby was found sealed up inside a puncheon of molasses which had been imported from the West Indies.

The delight of finding a body sealed up inside a container of one sort or another is reflected in a popular ghost story from downtown St. John's. Sometime around the 1870's, a married couple by the name of Packerson moved into St. John’s from a settlement in Conception Bay, and rented the house for two pounds four shillings a month. Mrs. Packerson always felt that she was being followed through the house and this made her feel very uneasy.

The months slipped by and Mr. Packerson was offered a berth on a sailing vessel. It was barely a week after his departure when his wife had the horrifying experience of coming face to face with the house’s paranormal inhabitant. On that day, Mrs. Packerson had three times attempted to light the gas burner in the kitchen, and three times someone beside her blew out the flame. In a state of frenzy she turned to run from the kitchen but she was unable to move one inch.

Directly in front of her, in what she was using a closet, she saw the figure of a woman standing in the doorway, illuminated with a dazzling brightness from the crown of her head to the very soles of her feet. Mrs. Packerson stared at the amazing spectacle for a few moments before realizing that she was actually gazing upon the figure of a ghost. When she realized what she was witnessing, she instinctively put her hands to cover her eyes and fell into a state of unconsciousness.

When she revived, she ran to her neighbours, who informed her that a former owner had killed his wife, placed her body in a box, walled it up inside the closet, and had fled the country before the murder was uncovered. By the time the Packersons entered the story, they had been able to rent the house so cheaply only because the place was known to be haunted by the unhappy spectre of the murdered bride.

Dale Jarvis is an author, storyteller, and professional folklorist who splits his time between St. John’s and Clarke’s Beach, Newfoundland, Canada. The proprietor of the St. John’s Haunted Hike ghost tour, Dale tells ghost stories, supernatural stories, legends and traditional tales from Newfoundland, Labrador and beyond. The Haunted Hike runs every Sunday to Thursday during the summer, and is online at You can like us on Facebook, or better yet, come along and let us tell you a tale!

Thursday, 7 July 2016

The Headless Ghosts of St. John's, The Featherbed, and Red Bay. #FolkloreThursday

The ghostly horseman spotted by Icabod Crane in Washington Irving’s classic tale “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” may be the world’s most famous headless ghost, but the mythical Sleepy Hollow is not the only location to boast such a creature. Tales of headless horsemen and other headless phantoms can be found all over the world, from North Carolina to the community of Croydon in the United Kingdom.

We can all be proud of the fact that Newfoundland and Labrador ranks right up there with other haunted locations around the globe when it comes to headless ghosts.

Travelling along Labrador's northeast coast in 1995, I was told stories of a strange man without a face who haunted the now abandoned community of Hebron, Labrador. I once collected a story from a man in Heart’s Content who saw two headless monks. And Newfoundland author Robert Parsons once shared a story with me of a headless ghost from a spot called the Spring Well, in Lawn on the Burin Peninsula. That phantom was rumoured to return to the Spring Well each year, forever searching for its missing head.

The oldest recorded St. John’s haunting that I know of dates to around 1745, and true to form, a headless ghost takes centre stage.

According to local legend, Samuel Pettyham was a St. Johnsman who rented a small house at the end of a lane off Queen's Road.

Pettyham had been visiting a friend in the west end of town. As it was late, his host offered to drive Pettyham home in his carriage. As the horse drew near to the laneway, it stopped suddenly, and refused to move an inch further forward. Pettyham offered to walk the rest of the way.

About twenty yards along, a spectral figure stepped out into the moonlight. Pettyham took one look, and turned and fled in absolute horror. The figure he had seen was that of a very tall man, missing his head.

Pettyham raced back up along Queen's Road, burst into a boarding house, swearing he would never spend another night in his house.

As if one headless ghost is not enough, Signal Hill boasts two. One legend concerns the ghost of Tommy Connor’s Gate, a story which has been circulating Signal Hill for at least sixty years.

Tommy Connor’s Gate was located right across from where the Battery Hotel now stands. The property had at one point been farmland owned by the Barnes and the McGrath families. The original farm house had been torn down in the long forgotten past, but the gate had remained for many years.

The gate was a big wide one which would open up to allow a cart to pass through, with concrete posts on either side. While there was nothing special about the gate itself, the ghost that appeared alongside it was another matter. People would see the ghost of a man standing by the gate, missing his head, but holding his hat in his hand. As a result, everyone was scared to pass it.

While the gate was named after a local man, no one was certain who the ghost was exactly. It was believed it was the spirit of a man named either Fitzgerald or Fitzpatrick, who died (or was possibly killed) on the spot. In life, he had been known to stand by the gate or to sit on a little chair alongside it, looking after his property.

Much more frightening was a different spirit, believed to haunt another location on the historic hill. That ghost was said to be the spirit of a huge African pirate, missing his head.

Pirates, it seems, were forever losing their heads in Newfoundland and Labrador’s days of yore. Indeed, headless buccaneers seem to be rather common figures on our foggy shores. Many a community claims to have a pirate ghost, minus his noggin, guarding yet-to-be-discovered chests of gold.

Lower Island Cove is one example. Its headless pirate was said to haunt a spot known to locals as The Featherbed on the north of Flambro Head. In the days before electricity, The Featherbed was said to be a rather foreboding place, often wreathed in mist and fog.

Local author Gerald Morris wrote about the Flambro Head ghost in an online article called “Lower Island Cove Tidbits.”

“What proved the undoing of many a traveller was the common sighting of a headless spectre that came out of the mist,” writes Morris. “He was said to be dressed in pirate’s garb complete with sword in hand, everything except his head which was cleanly removed as if by a rival's blade!”

Newfoundland's long, unprotected shoreline with thousands of bays and inlets made it a perfect hiding spot for pirates in the sixteen and seventeen hundreds. While it was far from the gold-rich shipping lanes of the Caribbean, the fishing communities of the island were easy pickings for battle-hardened pirates. As well, its position at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River made it a good base of operations to raid ships sailing to the colonies of New France and Nova Scotia.

Such a rich history of piracy gave rise to countless local legends of pirate gold and ghostly guardians. One of my favourite of these tales is from Red Bay, Labrador.

In 2003, the town constructed a new walking trail up over Tracey Hill. If you climb the 689 steps to the top of Tracey Hill and look around, you will be rewarded with an amazing panoramic view of the town and the coastline. If you are lucky, you might spot a ghost, and if you are truly blessed, you might find a buried treasure.

The local folklore of Red Bay tells of the infamous pirate, Captain William Kidd, who was said to have hidden a treasure at the bottom of a small body of water known as the “Pond on the Hill” close to the summit of Tracey Hill.

In the story, the pirate cut off the head of one of his crew, and tossed the body on top of the loot. The spectre of the unfortunate headless man was believed to appear at midnight, acting as the treasure’s ghostly guardian.

As part of the walking trail up Tracey Hill, the town erected a series of interpretive panels. The panel closest to the Pond on the Hill reads:

“Some adventurous locals from Carrol’s Cove (a small resettled fishing village west of Red Bay) in earnest attempted to drain the Pond on the Hill, therein unlocking the mystery of the buried treasure. During nightfall, nature unleashed its fury in an unforgettable display of thunder and lightning. These men were gravely superstitious and were convinced that the headless man was returning!”

The men of Carrol’s Cove quickly abandoned the search, and never returned. The event was such that no other attempts have been made to procure Captain Kidd’s treasure.

Dale Jarvis is an author, storyteller, and professional folklorist who splits his time between St. John’s and Clarke’s Beach, Newfoundland, Canada. The proprietor of the St. John’s Haunted Hike ghost tour, Dale tells ghost stories, supernatural stories, legends and traditional tales from Newfoundland, Labrador and beyond. The Haunted Hike runs every Sunday to Thursday during the summer, and is online at You can like us on Facebook, or better yet, come along and let us tell you a tale!

Photo: the path to Tracey Hill, Red Bay, Labrador, by Dale Jarvis.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Grandfather King - a strange ghostly Bigfoot story from Newfoundland. #folklorethursday

By Dale Jarvis
Originally printed in The Golden Leg

Grandfather King was a farmer. But back in the 1930s, in the height of the Great Depression, things were not very good for farmers. So, to help out his family and keep food on the table, Grandfather King turned to a much more lucrative business. He started to sell bootleg rum.

No matter how bad times got, it seemed people always had money for a bottle of rum. Perhaps it was because of the fact that times were so bad that people always wanted it. So Grandfather King helped them out, and made a few pennies doing so.

Now, it was hard to keep something like that perfectly quiet, and before too long the police started to hear rumours of strange goings-on down at the King family farm. Every so often they would stop by to visit Grandfather King, to see if they could catch him in the act.

But Grandfather King was too smart for the police. He never kept his rum anywhere they might find it. Instead, he started to carefully bury the bottles of rum up in the back garden, in different places, under the cover of darkness. No matter how hard they searched, the police could never find a thing.

One night, when it was nice and dark, Grandfather King went up to the back garden as usual to get a bottle of rum. He took his shovel, paced off the right number of steps from the fencepost, and started to dig. He had just reached the first bottle of rum when he saw a very bright light coming towards him.

Grandfather King's first thought was that the police had finally cottoned on to his tricks. The light came closer, so bright that he could not look at it directly. Grandfather King was not frightened, but he did not know what to do. The light was so bright it almost blinded him.

As the light came closer to where Grandfather King was standing, it started to dim. When it got dull enough that he could look at it, the man saw that it was not the police with a lantern, but something much more unusual.

The light was coming from the very bright eyes of what could only be described as a monster. In size it was taller than the tallest man, over nine feet in height. It was jet black and covered all over with hair an inch to an inch and half long, and its eyes were like two big saucers. It had no clothing whatsoever.

The Devil himself would not frighten Grandfather King, but Grandfather King had never seen anything like the monster with the two glowing eyes. He started digging again to see what would happen. The two great eyes grew brighter and brighter, and the monster drew closer and closer.

Grandfather King stopped digging. The eyes grew dim once more and the monster backed away, further into the shadows. In haste, he started shovelling dirt back into the hole, and as he filled in the hole the monster disappeared.

Grandfather King took up his shovel, put it over his shoulder, and hurried home. The next day he thought about what he was going to do. That precious rum was still buried up in the back garden, but he was not about to go dig it up during the day when people would be able to see. So he waited until nightfall. When it was dark, he took his shovel and ventured up into the back garden once more.

He found the fencepost, measured off the right number of paces, and started to dig. Just like the night before, as soon as he started to dig, the bright light returned. As he dug, the hairy monster with the two great eyes drew closer and closer. When he stopped digging, the eyes grew dim and the monster moved further away. He dug a bit more, and the eyes grew so bright he was almost blinded again. Eventually, Grandfather King had to fill in the hole and go back to bed.

Grandfather King became convinced that the monster was guarding something buried in the back garden. He was certain the monster was afraid he was going to find it, and this is why it appeared each night, warning him away.

Being a cautious man, Grandfather King decided to leave well enough alone. He had no desire to enrage a monster nine feet high, covered with black fur and with eyes that shone like headlights. So from that point on he gave up the bootleg rum business, and put his energies into more legal activities.

There are those who say the monster was guarding a great treasure. The treasure had been hidden by pirates, and they had left the monster behind to act as its protector until such a time that they could return. But the pirates never came back.

It is said that the buccaneers' treasure, along with a few bottles of well-aged rum, still lie safely hidden, buried deep somewhere up in the back garden of Grandfather King. If you don't mind nine foot monsters lurking in the darkness, covered in fur and with eyes as big as saucers, you are welcome to go and try and find it for yourself.

Note from the author: A version of this story can be found in Michael Taft's article “Sasquatch-Like Creatures in Newfoundland: A Study in the Problems of Belief, Perception, and Reportage” page 83-96 in “Manlike Monsters On Trial” (University of British Columbia Press, 1980). Taft gives the location of the story as “Battle Point” but notes that he changed the original name of the community. The description of the monster used here is based on two different accounts of Sasquatch-like creatures reported in Newfoundland, one from the late nineteenth century, and the other from the 1930s.

Dale Jarvis is an author, storyteller, and professional folklorist who splits his time between St. John’s and Clarke’s Beach, Newfoundland, Canada. The proprietor of the St. John’s Haunted Hike ghost tour, Dale tells ghost stories, supernatural stories, legends and traditional tales from Newfoundland, Labrador and beyond. The Haunted Hike runs every Sunday to Thursday during the summer, and is online at You can like us on Facebook, or better yet, come along and let us tell you a tale!

Monday, 27 June 2016

On Folklore - A public talk with Marissa Largo and Dale Jarvis

St. John's based author, storyteller and folklorist Dale Jarvis joins visiting scholar and writer Marissa Largo for a public talk in conjunction with MIRROR/MOTHER (fragments) exhibition

Wednesday June 29 7-9pm
Eastern Edge Gallery
Free. All welcome.

Folklore Reimagined: The Supernatural in Marigold Santos' Art and the Limits of Modernity. 

Marissa Largo is an educator, artist, and PhD candidate in the Department of Social Justice Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto. She holds a Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship for her PhD project, Unsettling Imaginaries: The Decolonial Diaspora Aesthetic of Four Contemporary Filipino/a Visual Artists in Canada (in which Marigold Santos is one of the four artists). Marissa is co-editor of the forthcoming book, Diasporic Intimacies: Queer Filipinos/as and Canadian Imaginaries (Northwestern Universty Press, 2017). She resides in Toronto with her partner, Sean and their two children, Carlo and Lorena.

Finding Folklore: Documenting the Mysterious in Newfoundland and Labrador

Newfoundland and Labrador may very well be blessed with more fairies, devils, old hags, phantoms, Jacky Lanterns, sea monsters, and other fabulous and frightening creatures than any other spot in Canada. Luckily, it is one of the only places in Canada to have a provincial folklorist. Dale Jarvis will discuss the work of the province's intangible cultural heritage program, and his own love of strange tales, in this talk on the weirdness that lurks at the edge of our perception, and those curious creatures that go bump in the night.

Dale Jarvis works as the Intangible Cultural Heritage Development Officer for the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, helping communities to safeguard traditional culture, the first full-time provincially funded folklorist position in Canada. Dale has been working for the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador since 1996, and holds a BSc in Anthropology/Archaeology from Trent University, and a MA in Folklore from Memorial University. He regularly teaches workshops on oral history, cultural documentation, folklore project management, and public folklore programming. By night, he is the proprietor of the St. John’s Haunted Hike ghost tour and raconteur of local tales. As a storyteller, he performs ghost stories, stories of the little people, tales of phantom ships and superstitions, and legends and traditional tales from Newfoundland, Labrador and beyond.

All media inquiries please contact:

Penelope Smart, Director
Eastern Edge Gallery

Thursday, 23 June 2016

The Horse Who Saw A Ghost - Black Duck Brook. #FolkloreThursday

With a history of European settlement that stretches back to the Basques in the 1500s, the Port of Port Peninsula has heard many a strange tale over the centuries. It has also produced a number of tale tellers, one of the best known being Emile Benoit.

Emile Joseph Benoit was born in 1913 at L'Anse-a-Canards (Black Duck Brook) on the Port au Port Peninsula, son of Medee and Adeline Benoit. He began playing the fiddle when he was nine, teaching himself to play on a home-made violin. By the time he was seventeen he was a well known local entertainer, and he went on to achieve national and international recognition. He was also a respected storyteller, both of personal reminiscences and the older traditional tales.

When he was a young man, Emile had a run-in with a ghost which was visible to horses alone. One weeknight in March he hitched up his one-horse sleigh and went to visit his brother Ben. Ben lived at Three Rock Cove, a fishing community on the northwest shore of the Port au Port Peninsula. Three Rock Cove was originally named Trois Cailloux, or "Three Boulders", by migratory French fishermen who used it as an outpost.

Emile stayed there for a spell and had supper. After he had dined with his brother he decided that he would go visit his sister, Yvonne, who lived about a mile away. He told his brother that he would be back at 9 o'clock and set out.

The wind was blowing from the north east as Emile made his way down the pathway. When he got close to his destination, he had to open a gate and go across a field. About two hundred yards further along was the sister's house, at the top of a rounded hill. He tied the horse up behind the house and gave it a feed of hay.

When he went into his sister's house he found her there chatting with some young women around his own age. Engaged in the pleasant company of the young women, he didn't notice the passing of time until he realized that it was already nigh on 9 o'clock.

It was a clear, moonlit night as he started back towards his brother Ben's house. By the time he hitched up the horse and turned the sleigh around., the wind had all but died away. He cut a plug of tobacco and started to make himself a cigarette as the horse plodded along. Then the horse stopped.

It was a good horse, and one of which he was proud. Tall and well built, its mother was a racer, and the horse had some of her character. When he bought it, he had paid out two-hundred and fifty dollars for the horse, a sizeable sum in those days.

Busily engaged in the work of hunting for a match for the cigarette, the driver simply told the horse to keep moving. Sure enough, the horse started to move, but not in the direction Emile had intended, for the horse began to back up along the path, retracing its steps.

He told the horse to go on again, but the horse continued to back up.

Puzzled, Emile started to look around to see what was frightening the horse but could not see a thing. He looked along the line of the fence, and could see nothing in either direction. It came to his mind that if he looked between the horse's ears he would see exactly what the horse was staring at. Therefore he got up on the board at the front of the sleigh and looked up over the ears of the horse, but could still see nothing.

With an oath, he reclaimed his seat, took a good hold on the reins, and delivered a blow to the horse with the whip. The horse reared up, turning the sleigh around like a top, and was off like a flash of lightning, back towards the house they had just left.

Completely startled by the horse's actions, he lost the reins. By the time he had taken them back into his hands, the horse was back at the gate they had pass through shortly before. Emile got out of the sleigh, took the horse by the halter, and started to lead him by hand

At this the horse pounded its hooves into the ground, stamping and whinnying, making it clear it would not set foot on the path. When it became obvious that the horse had no intention of returning home that night, Emile gave in and led the beast back to his sister's house.

Somewhat surprised to see him back so soon, his sister asked him what had happened. He related the story, telling her that the horse would not go back along the path. Emile then asked his brother-in-law Fintan if he would go back with him. Fintan refused to go and then told him a strange tale.

Apparently the mailman had also tried to move his horse along the same path the same night with the mail. And, at the same point, his horse had refused to move and had turned around the same way. The mailman was stuck, and had to find shelter for the night with one of the local families.

When Emile tracked down the mailman and asked him if he would go out and try again, the mailman refused. So two cows were taken out of the barn and turned out into the field for the night, and space was made for Emile's horse.

Eager to get home, Emile left around four or five in the morning the next day. The weather was the same as it had been the night before, with not a drop of wind and with a layer of frost on the ground. The horse once more plodded along, and Emile watched his ears, to see if the horse would act up when it reached the same spot.

When they reached the spot the two horses had refused to pass, the ears did not give so much as a twitch. The horse passed by as if nothing had happened, and maintained it usual pace all the way home. The frost on the path showed that nothing had gone before them.

ears later, in the style of a natural storyteller, Emile related the strange occurrence to the folklorist Gerald Thomas. In turn, Thomas included the tale in his book "The Two Traditions", which deals with the French language traditions of the Port au Port Peninsula.

Emile never uncovered the reason for the horses' fright. He was certain, however, that whatever the two horses had seen, it must not have been a pretty sight, nor anything pleasant, to have frightened them that much. In Emile's own words, "it wasn't God for sure he seen. No..."

According to the late Ferryland native Ray Curran, horses on the other side of the province had similar experiences. Mr. Curran told me that along the Southern Shore, there are a number of large rocks alongside roadways said to be possessed by the devil. There was one in Renews and another in Tors Cove. Horses would run away once they approached these sites and many people were injured as a result of these boltings.

Dale Jarvis is an author, storyteller, and professional folklorist who splits his time between St. John’s and Clarke’s Beach, Newfoundland, Canada. The proprietor of the St. John’s Haunted Hike ghost tour, Dale tells ghost stories, supernatural stories, legends and traditional tales from Newfoundland, Labrador and beyond. The Haunted Hike is online at and you can like us on Facebook! Or better yet, come along and let us tell you a tale!

Photo: Emile Benoit, from The Telegram.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Phantom Dogs and Gallow's Cove - The Ghosts of Torbay. #FolkloreThursday

It had rained all day, leaving the world sodden with heaven’s tears. As I approached Torbay, it seemed for a moment that the sun would shine. For one brief, glorious moment, blue skies opened up and the sun poured forth its golden light. But as I slowly drove past the funeral home and the old cemetery, dark grey clouds obscured the sky and swallowed up the sun. The rain began to fall once more.

In a way, the dismal weather was appropriate for the journey. I had, after all, made the trip to Torbay in order to hunt down the story of one of Newfoundland’s saddest ghosts.

Torbay researcher, folklorist, and writer Lara Maynard volunteered to be my guide.  Lara herself has deep roots in Torbay and area. While the Maynard side of her family were originally from Flatrock, the Tappers on her mother’s side were some of the early settlers in Torbay. English planter Charles Tapper, for example, arrived in Torbay in 1764, and the family name is reflected in local place names such as Tapper’s Cove.

According to Lara’s research, Watson’s Cove, an area just north of Tapper’s Cove, is well known as the site of a local haunting.

“The story was that in that area, pirates had killed a cabin boy and buried his body with their loot so that is ghost would guard it,” says Lara. While the story may sound similar to many other pirate legends from across Newfoundland and Labrador, the Torbay story has an interesting twist.

“When they killed the cabin boy, the cabin boy’s dog attacked the pirates, so they killed the dog too,” she explains. “So now, the dog’s ghost also haunts the area. It is said to be a big black dog with red, glowing eyes, and makes chain shaking noises.”

“I’ve heard people claim to have actually come across the dog, and to have heard it, within the last few decades,” Lara states.

Another haunt for Torbay ghosts it the wonderfully named Gallow’s Cove. The origins of the place name are uncertain, though Lara has three different theories as to how the cove could have been named.

The first theory has to do with public hangings. “Some people maintain that it is because the Governor decreed that pirates or whomever would be hung in Gallow’s Cove,” says Lara. This theory was also one put forward by Robin McGrath in her book “A Heritage Guide to Torbay”. McGrath writes that the spot is “thought to be named in honour of the less successful pirates reported to have been hung there.”

Local rumours also link one specific non-piratical hanging to the site. Folklore states that a Chinese man had stolen a loaf of bread, and had been hung in Gallow’s Cove for the crime. Like many stories however, there seems to be little historical evidence to support it.

Lara’s second theory as to the origin of the name Gallow’s Cove has to do with the early settlement of the community. “When I was researching the history of Torbay,” Lara states, “the theory has always been that people from Torbay, England, in the Devon area, came to Newfoundland and called it Torbay after their home town. In the original Torbay, there are areas called Gallow’s Green, so the name may have transferred.”

The third theory has to do with the fact that the cove was a fishing area. The name Gallow’s Cove may have something to do with an old word for a structure used for drying nets. “I think it is because of the net drying contraptions that were called ‘gallis’, and the Dictionary of Newfoundland English backs that up” says Lara.

Sure enough, “gallows” are defined in the Dictionary of Newfoundland English as frames on which nets are spread to dry, a sort of 'horse' or trestle made of rough rails. The word, usually pronounced “gallis” refers to a frame of cleanly peeled poles 12-15 feet high used to drape nets and ropes over for drying or repairing. Interestingly, the local pronunciation of the place name is closer to “Gallis Cove” than “Gallow’s Cove”

Chances are, however, that the ghost of Gallow’s Cove cares very little for the history of the name, being more concerned with its own tragic tale.

Lara remembers that “there was a meadow in Gallow’s Cove that we used to go to when we were ten or twelve, and there was a mound in the meadow. Everybody said that was a Howlett’s grave. Phil Howlett and his family were buried there, and that they haunted Gallow’s Cove.”

“That was all I ever knew,” she says, thinking back, “that there was this poor unfortunate Howlett who used to live in Gallow’s Cove, who was buried there and now haunted the place.”

It was not until Lara was older and a student at Memorial University looking for a topic for a folklore research paper that she went and talked to some of the older people in Torbay. They told her that Phil had been at home with his young daughter while his wife Ellen was at mass. The Howlett family home had one of those big open fireplace hearths that people had in years past. Somehow, the child fell into the fireplace, was terribly burned, and died of her injuries.

For some reason, and here oral tradition is a little vague, Phil’s responsibility for the death of the young daughter was seen a terrible sin. “He could not be buried in the churchyard,” says Lara, “that was the story.” So instead of being buried in consecrated ground, the mournful father was interred on his property at Gallow’s Cove. Tormented with grief, the spirit of Phil Howlett was said to wander the spot of his burial and his daughter’s death.

“Maybe five years ago, that area was dug over as a farmer’s field, and I don’t remember any bones turning up,” recalls Lara. “But there were, in that area, old house foundations. You could see the old stone foundations. People definitely did live in that area. Now, whether it was Howletts I can not say for sure.”

From what Lara has been able to piece together from talking to other people, the Howletts lived on what is now called Howlett’s Avenue, which is on the north side of Torbay. Her archival research on the story yielded a few other clues.

“I hit the archives for a while, and I found there was indeed a Phil Howlett and that he married Ellen Pounden, and that they had four children. But I didn’t find their burial records and I didn’t find any record of this young child, but whether that is and indication of anything I couldn’t say. It could be that those records are missing.”

Today, there are no Howletts in Torbay that Lara knows of, but she has reason to believe that Phil and Ellen’s surviving children had moved to St. John’s at some point. Today, there may be St. John’s Howletts who were originally Torbay Howletts. If you are one of Phil and Ellen’s descendants, or know any more details about Torbay’s most tragic ghost, let me know!

Dale Jarvis is an author, storyteller, and professional folklorist who splits his time between St. John’s and Clarke’s Beach, Newfoundland, Canada. The proprietor of the St. John’s Haunted Hike ghost tour, Dale tells ghost stories, supernatural stories, legends and traditional tales from Newfoundland, Labrador and beyond. The Haunted Hike is online at and you can like us on Facebook!

Photo: The Rooms, Newfoundland Tourist Development Board photograph collection, VA 15a-41.2, [194-?]

Monday, 30 May 2016

How a ghost bear saved a man's life in Connoire Bay, Newfoundland

As told by Dale Jarvis

In the late 1960s, a gentleman from Burgeo named “James” had an experience with a terrifying invisible spirit. The being kept the man awake for days with horrifying noises, and eventually drove him to abandon his property. Strangely enough, the creature may have had the man’s best interests at heart.

The incident occurred at a cabin located just west of Burgeo in Connoire Bay. The cabin sat out on a point of land in West Barachois. It had changed ownership several times, and when it came up for sale again, James decided to purchase it.

At the time, James was unaware that he had purchased a property with a strange guardian. As his son puts it, “my father eventually bought it, but was not there very long before things started happening.”

One night in the fall of the year James made the trip out to the point to stay at the cabin for a short while. He had just settled in for the night and was about to drift off to sleep when he heard a strange noise. It sounded like an animal scratching at the side of the cabin. The man’s first thought was that a bear was outdoors, trying to break in.

James jumped out of his bed and got his gun ready. The door was shut, and the creature did not attempt to knock it in. James looked out the window to see if he could catch a glimpse of the creature, but he could not see anything in the blackness. An old oil lamp was the only source of light he had, and without a flashlight to shine into the darkness, there was little chance of him sighting the beast.

Outdoors, the thing walked over the bridge, or stoop, by the front door and scratched at the side of the cabin. It kept James awake until daylight, and then as the sun rose over the horizon to the east, the sound of the creature vanished.

Needless to say, the man was very tired from his long vigil, though he managed to get in a few hours sleep during the day. Thinking that the creature might return, he decided to put fresh mud in the path alongside the cabin. James reasoned that should it return, the mud would capture the track of the animal, and in that way he could at least determine what he was dealing with.

As the light started to fade, James returned back to the cabin after an afternoon of hunting. Once more, he settled in for the night, and got into his bed.

No sooner was he in bed than the noise returned, but this time in a much more ferocious manner. The noise came from directly above him. As he listened, it seemed as if the animal was on the roof of the cabin, tearing at the shingles and felt on the roof.

Again, James jumped out of the bed, loaded his gun and waited to see if it tried to come in the door. It did not try to force the door, but it maintained the din all night long from its position on the roof. At daybreak, the noise stopped with the coming of the sun.

Thinking that the creature would have at least left its footprints in the mud, James hurried outside. When he checked the pathway, there were no footprints to be seen whatsoever. Baffled by this, he went about his chores and cutting wood.

Before it got dark, the man made one modification to his cabin. He nailed a few pieces of wood across the door to keep it open just enough to stick his gun out through.

By this time, it was starting to get dark so James got ready for bed. He did not make it to his bunk before the racket returned. On this, the third night, the thing was even more persistent. He could hear it clawing around the opening of the door, and then moving around to the side of the cabin to claw the length of the building.

James sat himself down in front of the crack in the doorway, and fitted his gun into the opening. He waited there all night, and although he could hear the beast thrashing and clawing along the sides of the cabin, he never caught sight of whatever was out there.

Daylight came, and the clamour ceased. James packed up, and left the cabin, heading back towards Burgeo. Whatever the beast had been, it put quite the fright into the man. As James’ son puts it, “Dad doesn’t scare easily. He’s a pretty hearty man.” To frighten him off completely must have meant that the experience had been very intense. Not knowing exactly what it was that had tormented him, he told no one out of fear of being ridiculed. It was years before he even told his own wife.

Frustrated and frightened, the man sold his cabin to another fellow. The new owner of the cabin did not stay there very long either, perhaps experiencing some of the same strange noises. Eventually the new owners took the cabin down and moved it more inland on the same point of land.

Just days after the cabin was moved, a terrible storm struck Connoire Bay. The fury of the storm was intense. The sea hove in across the point of land, bringing with it masses of rocks, some weighing over fifty pounds apiece. When the storm abated, it was revealed that the tip of the point where the cabin had stood was covered with between eight and ten feet of rocks and gravel.

Before the storm, there had been a tree out on the point, which had stood close to the cabin. The tree had been about ten feet in height, but after the storm, only the tip remained protruding from the new pile of rocks.

Was the terrifying noise of the invisible creature some sort of an omen foretelling the coming storm, or a warning for the cabin’s inhabitants to get out of the way and abandon the point of land? If it was, it seems that it worked. If the ghostly bear’s purpose had been to drive people away from the point, it may very well have saved James’ life.

Dale Jarvis is an author, storyteller, and professional folklorist who splits his time between St. John’s and Clarke’s Beach, Newfoundland, Canada. The proprietor of the St. John’s Haunted Hike ghost tour, Dale tells ghost stories, supernatural stories, legends and traditional tales from Newfoundland, Labrador and beyond. The Haunted Hike is online at and you can like us on Facebook!

Illustration: A bear (Ursus species). Etching by S Angl(?) after R. Savery

Thursday, 5 May 2016

An anonymous, insider's view on the heartbreaking NL library closures. #nlpoli

I've been vocal on what library closures mean to me, and what libraries mean to communities. Since I started sharing my thoughts, librarians across the province, worried about their positions, have been writing to me private. This is just one of their stories. The librarian who sent it to me said I could edit it as I saw fit. I haven't changed a single word. Please read, and then share. - Dale Jarvis

We've all heard some version of "do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life". Call me Pollyanna, but I wholeheartedly believed that; that is, until I started working in one of our province's public libraries. Don't get me wrong, I grew up thinking of libraries as a magical place filled with tickets to places I could only get to in my dreams. Because of my library I was a little pioneer girl living in the big woods with Ma and Pa, a red-headed orphan on a farm in in P.E.I, a lost boy in Neverland, one of the March sisters ensconced at home with Marmee waiting for news of a father away at war, Encyclopedia Brown on the case, and the main character in any number of choose-my-own-adventures. Lessons I learned from literature shaped who I am, and how I choose to live my life. As it was for countless others, my local library was a repository of imagination, and a safe place to read, explore, learn about the world and find myself. The thought that I could somehow make that experience possible for children and adults as a career was irresistible to me. 

I realize now that my childhood was a lucky one; my parents felt the same way that I had and instilled that belief in me. They, of course, grew up without a public library in their town. Both were voracious readers who had parents who believed reading and education were the single and most important gifts they could offer. In fact, they sacrificed to ensure they provided that gift to their own children. My parents believed that the public library was the crowning glory of our community and they made sure we didn't take it for granted.

When I was finally offered a job in one of our public libraries I had an idea of what my role would be. I had substituted for a while and understood that everyone who walked in the door wasn't looking for the magical experience I had been looking for, though many of them were. But it took working in my library for a few years before I really understood the role libraries play in this province. It's not always about Knitting Groups, Seniors' Days, Adult Colouring and Storytimes. It's not about checking TV Series and movies out to people who can't afford cable, or watching people come in day after day to check Facebook and job listings. It's not the ones who print off resumes and fax them to prospective employers. It's not the people who come in desperate to read the latest James Patterson, or Nora Roberts or Clive Cussler book or the kids looking for Butterfly Fairies or super hero books.

I am devastated for the children in this province, the ones like me who will read every children's book we have and then start on the adult collection. They still exist, and they need to be nurtured, because some of those children who are turned on to art, literature and imaginary worlds will be the ones who are just imaginative enough to run this province in the future, or maybe they'll be part of our vibrant and resilient arts community. Perhaps they'll be entrepreneurs who create jobs for hundreds in this province, or the teachers who inspire future generations. What they probably won't be, are librarians, and that makes me ache.

Still, they're not the ones my heart aches for the most. In my years in the public library, I've had the privilege of serving patrons from all walks of life. Indeed, the ones I see the most of are the marginalized; people who are ignored, looked over and treated by many as though they don't exist. These people need our libraries, and they need the kind treatment they receive in them. Some people visit my library, and I know for certain that I'm the only person they speak to on a regular basis. This means something to me, and I know it means something to my colleagues all across this province. I've had seniors spend nearly every hour we're open at our library, and after getting to know them I discover it's not because the library is a place filled with books and imagination, it's simply because they get a little conversation, they can read the newspaper, maybe a book and surf the Internet in a room that is warm. The truth is, they can't afford to heat their homes, so they turn their own heat back and head to the library for the day, every day they can, to save money.

I've had two women come in to hide from abusive situations, and gave them information about shelters and hotlines, and prayed I'd see them again in a better situation. I've welcomed new Canadians and assisted where I can with information about our services, offering books and DVDs to help them with their English and conversation.

I've done storytimes to rooms full of kids, and I can always pick the ones out who aren't read to at home, they carry themselves differently, they're shockingly easy to pick out. They only showed up at the library that day because mom or dad needed the computer to print off forms for a Home Heating Rebate, or fill out their EI or look for work. The real magic happens when I help those kids find some books to take home, and mom or dad look around the place and see everything we might have for them as well and everyone leaves with bags filled with library materials for free; parents and children in awe of what we have to offer.

"I've had people come to me looking for information about addiction, mental illness, grief, bankruptcy, cancer, divorce and custody issues, and I know they're experiencing the worst times of their lives. Perhaps the information I help them find will them will give them clarity, perhaps it won't, but I've spoken to the ones who want to talk and cried with more."

I've had people come to me looking for information about addiction, mental illness, grief, bankruptcy, cancer, divorce and custody issues, and I know they're experiencing the worst times of their lives. Perhaps the information I help them find will them will give them clarity, perhaps it won't, but I've spoken to the ones who want to talk and cried with more. Hopefully, if nothing else they remember the kindness, because I'll never forget the trust they offered to me by sharing their stories. I'll never forget the way they've touched my own life. We all have our struggles, no one is immune, and when troubles come for me I hope I can have somewhere like the library to go for information, and a little kindness. I am not alone, librarians talk, we all do these things and share the same heartbreaking stories over and over again.

In truth, I was Pollyanna. I'm not ashamed to admit it; I wore those rose-coloured glasses proudly. And some days I have to force myself to put them on to go to work, because it's not always about the magic and the imagination of books, some days it's about lessening someone's burden and remembering just how lucky I have been, and how lucky I am now. More than anything, our patrons touch our lives, they become a part of our families and create a magic for me I could not believe existed at the library until I worked at one.

I read MHA Scott Reid's comments about his library's closure, and it gave me pause. After really examining what his library offered to his constituents, he had a change of heart. People of privilege often cannot grasp what we do everyday, because they may not need us the same way, or understand the small, but important difference we make. I don't blame them for that, in fact I'm happy for them, I'd love for everyone to have that experience. Sadly, right now that's not the case, and it's only going to get worse before it gets better in this province. I understand the hole we're in, I understand it may take drastic measures for the province to recover and I'm personally prepared for that. I don't place blame on the Newfoundland and Labrador Public Libraries Board for the decision to close 54 of our libraries; their already impossible budget was decimated last month and I know they had difficult decisions to make. I don't envy their position. The only comfort is that it appears the public outcry is being directed at the Provincial Government and not our board who fully believes in what the libraries offer to the people in this province, and share a commitment to keep that service going the best way we are able. We may be reduced, but we will continue to do all we can to bring the best service possible.

I'd love to encourage all MHAs in the province to spend some time with local library boards, or better yet, to spend a good chunk of a day browsing the stacks, and reading a book just to see exactly what we do each day, and who we see. The people we try to help, and the community we serve. That's the real magic of the library. A magic I didn't understand as a life-long, card-carrying habitual library patron. The Public Library System is so much more than I could have ever imagined, and whatever happens, I'll carry that with me and be proud that I was a part of it. Doing what I love doesn't put a lot of money in my bank account at the end of the day; at times it seems like the work is too hard to bear and I cry on my drive home more often than I'd like to admit. But there's nothing else I'd ever want to do. My job is more than just my paycheque, it's fulfilling on a much larger scale.

It's not important if my library is one of the 54 to be closed, or one of the lucky 41. The truth is that my library isn't special, or remarkable in any way. The truth is that this is just what happens in every library in this province. And knowing that 54 towns will lose this, permanently, is too much to bear.


Want to assist? The Newfoundland and Labrador Library Association could use your help. 

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Public libraries, UNESCO, and building a brighter path. #nlpoli

In 1942, the world was in a terrible state, with the globe engulfed in a conflict the likes of which humanity had never seen. Yet in the midst of that chaos, the governments of the European countries met in the United Kingdom for a conference of Allied Ministers of Education. The war was years away from ending, but those countries were already looking for ways to rebuild their systems of education once peace was established. By the end of the war this idea had grown and expanded, and in November 1945, forty-four countries, including Canada, came together to create an organization that would embody a culture of peace. That organization was UNESCO - the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

For the past six years or so, I have been involved with the work of the Canadian Commission for UNESCO. I originally got involved through the work of my colleagues Gerald Pocius, Laurier Turgeon, and Richard MacKinnon, and their interest in seeing Canada ratify the 2003 UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. I currently sit on the Sectoral Commission on Culture, Communication and Information, and as member of the Membership Committee. I sometimes get asked to explain what UNESCO is all about, and it generally ends up being a complicated discussion. But in a sense, the goals of UNESCO are simple:
At a time when the world is looking for new ways to build peace and sustainable development, people must rely on the power of intelligence to innovate, expand their horizons and sustain the hope of a new humanism. UNESCO exists to bring this creative intelligence to life; for it is in the minds of men and women that the defences of peace and the conditions for sustainable development must be built.
Last week, I was at the annual general meeting for CCUNESCO in Winnipeg. Amongst the regular meetings, there was a visit to the new Canadian Museum for Human Rights and a trip to the Hudson Bay Company Archives (which is inscribed on the UNESCO International Memory of the World Register), as well as discussions on global citizenship and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

It was, like many of the meetings I have with UNESCO, inspiring and forward-thinking.

And then I flew home to a province determined to tax books and close more than half of its public libraries.

I have already written about how that decision makes me feel, but since then I have been thinking about how the work of public libraries fits into the goals and ambitions of UNESCO.

Only four years after its formation, UNESCO created what is known as their Public Library Manifesto. It was approved by UNESCO in 1949 and then was updated in Paris in 1994. The Manifesto proclaims UNESCO's belief in the public library as a living force for education, culture and information. It also argues that public libraries are an essential agent for the fostering of peace and welfare.

Over the past week, I have seen arguments made on social media and by our politicians that public libraries are somehow old-fashioned, able to be replaced easily by e-books or the internet, or that they are simply not being used by the general public. I have watched people boast about how many years it has been since they have been in a library, and have seen suggestions that those bemoaning the cuts to libraries do not themselves use them. In most instances, these arguments are false, weak, or misdirective.

And so, in response to this, I want to take a moment to share UNESCO’s Public Library Manifesto and its view of the key missions of our public libraries. Information, literacy, education, and culture are at the core of public library services, and according to the Manifesto, libraries have a role to assist in:
  1. creating and strengthening reading habits in children at an early age;
  2. supporting both individual and self conducted education as well as formal education at all levels;
  3. providing opportunities for personal creative development;
  4. stimulating the imagination and creativity of children and young people;
  5. promoting awareness of cultural heritage, appreciation of the arts,
  6. scientific achievements and innovations;
  7. providing access to cultural expressions of all performing arts;
  8. fostering inter-cultural dialogue and favouring cultural diversity;
  9. supporting the oral tradition;
  10. ensuring access for citizens to all sorts of community information;
  11. providing adequate information services to local enterprises, associations and interest groups;
  12. facilitating the development of information and computer literacy skills;
  13. supporting and participating in literacy activities and programmes for all age groups, and initiating such activities if necessary.

We do this. Public libraries in Newfoundland and Labrador actually do all of these things, and they have been doing them admirably in a system which, for decades, has defunded them, reduced their hours, cut away at their services, and which now threatens to eliminate them entirely in some of our rural towns. This is not the way to build the sustainable communities we need, today more than ever, in our beleaguered province.

Today, after more than half a century of existence, UNESCO functions as a laboratory of ideas. This is what we need, now, in this place we call home - a laboratory of ideas. We need more ideas, better ideas, creative ideas, if we are going to save rural Newfoundland and Labrador.

Libraries are a key piece, and a vital tool, in making sure that happens. If politicians and ministers of education in the midst of the horrors of World War II could see a brighter, smarter path, surely we can do that today.

     - Dale Jarvis, 3 May 2016
The Newfoundland and Labrador Library Association could use your help.
You can read their open letter to Cathy Bennett here,
or click here to take action to save our public libraries.
Here is the list of the 54 libraries on the chopping block.

Photo credit: Buchans Public Library, slated for closure in 2016-17.