Bitter Grounds

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Things that go bump in Canada

Written by catpaw

November 09, 2021

Last month I looked at the great ghost stories and folklore stamps from Greenland. They issued 2 series that have some of the most terrifying tales I’ve come across. Canada has it’s share of ghost stories & scary creatures as well. Canada Post issued a series titled Haunted Canada that ran from 2014 to 2016. The three sets were wonderfully designed by Context Creations. The team involved Lionel Gadoury, Terry Popik, Kammy Ahuja and Sam Weber. This is a series that I’d love to see Canada Post revisit. 

The creators of these stamps consulted with Joel A. Sutherland, the author of Scholastic’s  Haunted Canada books. They’ve just published the 10th in the series, Haunted Canada 10: More Scary True Stories. Although aimed at children, they are still thoroughly enjoyable, quick reads for any adult. 

The stories behind Haunted Canada 

Series One June 13, 2014

The Ghost Bride 

The Ghost Bride from scary Canada series one

The Ghost Bride was a young woman who died a tragic death on her wedding day sometime in the 1930s. Depending on which story you read, she either died when her veil brushed against a candle and whoosh, up she went in flames or fell down a set of stairs when her heels were caught in her bridal veil. Either way, it was a tragic veil induced death.

She’s said to still haunt the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel in Alberta along with about 4 or 5 other ghosts who wander about the halls, rattling door knobs, and making minor pests of themselves. Just what went on at the hotel that so many ghosts were created? 

War of 1812 – Ghosts of Fort George

Ghosts of the War of 1812 from Haunted Canada

This stamp highlighted a couple of ghosts from the War of 1812. They are a combination of angry dead British soldiers and family members who accompanied them to their posting at Fort George at Niagara-on-the-Lake.  

Count Frontenac

scary Canada series Count Frontenac

French Governor Louis de Buade, Count Frontenac, is the fine looking gentleman above who haunts the Château Frontenac in Québec. Despite his death in 1698, he still resides at his former residence. The Frontenac Hotel was built in 1893, so, not actually his home, but it was land formerly owned by the Count. On his death, he insisted his heart be sent back to his fiancé in France. She was too heartbroken to accept the “gift” and returned the gilded box containing his heart, unopened. The Count is said to wander the halls of the storied hotel, looking for his lost love. 

If you like ghosts stories, a stop at Creepy Québec is required. Hunter Copeman’s blog is a fun trip through La Belle Province.  Ghost of Château Frontenac – Creepy Québec (creepyquebec.com)

St. Louis Light Phantom Train

St. Louis Light Phantom Train

The 1920s Ghost Trainalso called the St. Louis Light Phantom Train, rides the rails in Saskatchewan along with it’s headless train conductor. This is one of two tales of rail decapitations. The conductor of this train was killed when he stuck his head out and an oncoming train took it with them. There are variations on this story, but that’s the one I first read, so it sticks with me. 

Despite the rail tracks being removed a long time ago, people in the community say they still see lights from the train running along the site of the old tracks.  Rolling through the night: The St. Louis Ghost Train | Globalnews.ca

Fiery Ships of the Northumberland Strait

Fiery Ships of the Northumberland Strait

… the mysterious ship has gathered many legends about it, such as that it is a portent of a coming storms and catastrophe, or that it will appear even when the strait is frozen solid, hovering above the ice below. The Mysterious Fiery Ghost Ship of Northumberland Strait | Mysterious Universe

The Fiery Ships of the Northumberland Strait is a fascinating tale from around Prince Edward Island. For about 235 years, 3 mast schooners make regular appearances in the fall months. They are said to be seen with their sails completely on fire, heading for parts unknown. This is another tale with many variations that include it being a pirate ship, pleasure craft or warship from the Napoleonic era.  Folklore has it, when viewed, the crew can be seen clambering up the sails, going about their duties until the schooner burns up or sinks.    

Series Two September 14, 2015 

The Brakeman

The Brakeman

The Brakeman, from BC. is another tale of rail decapitation. The rail station in Gastown, Vancouver has quite a few spooks, with some making afterlife careers scaring the life out of poor security guards. This stamp highlights a story from 1928, about brakeman Hub Clark. He was checking the tracks one wet night when he slipped and fell, knocking himself out, just in time for a passenger train to roar along, decapitating him. Yeah, two decapitations is quite a head count. Anyway, poor old Hub wanders about the station to this day, minus his head. No word on whether he’s still checking the tracks or hunting for his head. 

Red River Ox Car

scary Canada series

The Red River Ox Cart Ghost comes from the Fort Gary area. The Red River ghost dates to 1903 when it was first seen. Soldiers on duty at Fort Garry swore they saw a ghostly ox cart driven by a Métis couple, rumbling along streets.

The story was written up by the Morning Telegram. After a bit of archive searching, I managed to find the original article. 

1903 Newspaper article detailing ghost sightings

This is the first part of the article, from page 5 of the Morning Telegram, August 29, 1903, from the Manitoba Archives.  

Halifax Citadel’s Grey Lady

Halifax Citadel's Grey Lady

Heading back to the east cost, the Halifax Citadel has it’s own Grey Lady. She’s said to travel the streets of Halifax, dressed in 19th century clothing, looking for a lost love.  Who is she? Well, one tale has it that she was Cassie Allan, a young woman who was jilted at the alter by her soldier fiancé. Well, she wasn’t actually jilted. Her boyfriend committed suicide the day of their wedding. Turns out her husband-to-be was already married and killed himself to avoid the shame. Not quite sure how Cassie died, but she continues to wander the Citadel looking for her lost love. 

Marie-Josephte Corriveau 1733 – 1763

scary Canada series

Marie-Josephte Corriveau is a complex story tied to a documented execution that took place in the colony of Québec.  Initially, Corriveau and her father, Joseph Corriveau, were arrested and tried for the murder of her husband, Louis Étienne Dodier.  She was convicted of being an accomplice and sentenced to a flogging while her father was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. 

When faced with the prospect of hanging, papa Corriveau confessed to being an accomplice only. His daughter was the killer. Marie-Josephte Corriveau was re-arrested, tried and executed in 1763. Afterwards, British authorities suspended her body in a gibbet for the public to see. She remained on display for about a month, until locals, distressed at the sight of the decaying corpse, asked the local British commander to allow her burial. She was finally taken down and buried, along with the gibbet, at the Saint-Joseph-de-la-Pointe-Lévy graveyard. 

Ah, but the story doesn’t end there. In 1851, the church had the cage dug up and stored. It was stolen at one point and reappeared as part of  P. T. Barnum’s show. From there it changed hands and went to the Boston Museum for some years, until the Musée de la civilisation in Québec finally acquired it, where it is on permanent display.

Corriveau’s spirit wasn’t too happy with her execution and shenanigans after her burial and is said to continue haunting Lévis, Québec. Legend has it, Marie-Josephte stalks the area, still encased in the gibbet, terrifying the unsuspecting. Atlas Obscura has an interesting article on Corriveau that explores the historical and cultural aspects of the story, The Hanging Cage That Held An Infamous Québec Murderess – Atlas Obscura.

Ghost of Caribou Hotel

scary Canada series

A gold rush era spook takes centre stage with the Ghost of Caribou Hotel, Carcross Yukon. Former owner of the Caribou, Bessie Gideon is said to wander her hotel, putting the fright up poor patrons. She’s one of those ghosts who enjoy slamming doors, rattling pipes and staring out windows at people passing by.

Bessie died in 1933 and the hotel has been haunted by her ghost ever since—a spirit who enjoys slamming doors & creaking floors; putting bubbles in bathtubs; knocking on floorboards and looking out windows. Caribou Hotel in Carcross, Yukon Historic Hotel

As far as ghosts go, one who fills my tub with bubble bath isn’t that bad. To be honest, it seems terribly Canadian. 

Series Three September 8, 2016

Bell Island Hag 

scary Canada series

Newfoundland is home to the Bell Island Hag who haunts the island’s marshes. She’s either a beautiful siren or an archetypal old crone, again, depending on which tale you read. This one edges towards the cautionary tale territory. 

It begins with a young woman who loses her way, while walking through the dangerous marshes. Why she was traveling through them is unclear, because the locals avoided the area. They believed it was home to the “little people” who brought bad luck and curses to any who crossed their paths. The woman became terrified and hopelessly lost and cried out for help. Over and over she called out to her neighbours but no one in the town would venture out.  Despite screaming for hours, no one lifted a finger to aid her. Instead they closed their doors and windows to block out her cries.

She perished in the marsh, leaving behind a vengeful, banshee-like hag (or alluring ghost). She chases down the unwary who enter the marsh, trapping them. When caught, the victim is said to hear the hag repeat “No one came to help me when I died in that swamp. No one will help you.”  

Spooky Canada is a fun site to poke around if you are interested in looking into more ghost stories. I used their article, Hag of Bell Island and Mine Shaft 2 | Spooky Canada as a primary reference for this tale.

Dungarvon Whooperscary Canada series

Dungarvon Whooper (pronounced Hooper) hails from the Miramichi area of New Brunswick. This chiller of a tale involves the angry spirit of a young cook who worked the logging camps around the Dungarvon River area. According to the tale, an unnamed cook carried a lot of money with him to the camps, that he kept in a money belt. Either one lumberjack or a couple of them, decided they wanted the cash and killed the young man. That night, people in the camp began hearing blood curdling screams throughout the night. It was the ghost of the decidedly unhappy cook, looking for revenge.

The cook’s ghost tracked down the lumberjack(s) who killed him and either drove them insane or killed them for their crimes, depending on which version you hear.  He’s said to still haunt the woods where he was killed supplying locals with ghost fodder for the tourists. Dungarvon Whooper (mynewbrunswick.ca) 

Lavender Lady of the Winter Gardens

scary Canada series

Here’s one close to home – the Lavender Lady of the Winter Garden Theatre in Toronto. She’s said to be an Edwardian era woman who wanders the historic building, playing poltergeist games on theatre volunteers. The Winter Gardens has a couple of ghosts haunting the halls. Who is she? Her identity has never been pinned to a specific person. But she is one of four ghosts said to haunt the Winter Gardens.  

La légende de la Dame blanche

scary Canada series
Quebec has more than it’s share of wandering women. The Lady in White or La légende de la Dame blanche, dating to the Seven Years War, is the sad story of a young woman named Mathilde Robin, who was engaged to Louis Tessier, a local farmer and militia member. Tessier’s unit was sent to fight in what would be known as the Battle of Beauport at Montmorency Falls on July 31, 1759. Although the French won this battle, young Louis was one of the casualties. 

Mathilde, overcome with grief, threw herself into the falls. People have claimed to see and hear the woman tumbling into the falls over and over.  Creepy Quebec covers this story under the name Ghost of Montmorency Falls and is one of the more coherent retellings I’ve read. 

Phantom Bell Ringers

scary Canada series

As if bell ringing is bad enough, how about Phantom Bell Ringers. This is another from the land  of Anne of Green Gables, PEI and it’s a bit of an odd story. It takes place October 7, 1859.

In the early morning, the St. James Church bell began to ring. First one, then a second and finally joined by a third tolling. When locals, woken by the bells, went to investigate, they found nothing at first. On the sixth bell toll, the church doors swing open and 3  women in white stood in the doorway. Just as suddenly, the bells tolled for a seventh time and the doors slammed shut. The men who had gone to investigate tried to open the church doors, but they were locked. They looked in the windows and watched the women in white climb the stairs towards to bell tower and disappear from site. 

Soon the church sexton arrived and unlocked the doors. The men rushed in to investigate, searching for the mysterious women in white. While they were searching the church, the bell tolled for the 8th and final time, drawing the men to the bell tower. No one was there, but the bell were still vibrating from the ringing. 

And this is where the story takes on a twist. A local ferry was expected that day.  It never arrived. It sunk, taking 8 people with it. If you’d like to hear a fuller version of this story, check out Fireside Canada. They produced an excellent podcast about the Phantom Bell Ringers, Fireside Canada : A Podcast About Canadian Legends, Lies & Lore.   

Enough of the spooky tales? Want more? Let me know and I’ll explore other countries scary folklore on stamps.  This article started out as a newsletter article, and subscribers were able to peak at it first. If you like the idea of seeing some content before everyone else, sign up (free!) to my weekly newsletter. If the little pop up box on the right isn’t there, then use the sign up box on the front page.

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