The Baccalieu Trail is alive with the sound of ghost stories.
In the fall of 2012, Tricon Elementary School in Bay de Verde began an ArtsSmarts project, with ghosts as the subject, the goal being to involve the students in creating a book. The idea originated with Charis Cotter, a Torontonian now living in Newfoundland.
The principal, Wendy Clarke-Tizzard, explains: "Charis felt that the students had a lot of stories that needed to be explored and shared."
Charis conducted workshops at the school, then edited a book, "The Ghosts of Baccalieu," which she published under her company, Baccalieu Books.
"From Baccalieu to Job’s Cove, from Grates Cove to Hant’s Harbour," she writes, "ghosts haunt the water, the shore, the barrens, the roads, the houses and, of course, the cemeteries."
The word "ghost," she adds, "spoken to a child, opens the door to a rich world of imagination, creativity, and delicious, spooky delight. Every culture in the world has its ghosts, and the fascination with spirits starts early as children struggle to understand life and death."
The students went on a veritable spree of collecting ghost stories.
"We struck a rich vein of ghost stories," Charis comments. "The images they leave with the reader are not easily forgotten."
Some students drew illustrations of ghosts, including a ghost dancing on water; a ghost under a bed; ghosts walking upstairs to their bedroom; a ghost in an attic, hiding from other ghosts; ghosts looking for candy, because noone feeds them; a ghost climbing a tree... The ghostly designs are limited only by the students’ imagination.
Other students told ghost stories, many remembered by their families and friends. The tales, which are not restricted to the Baccalieu Trail, are set in such places as Bay de Verde, Lead Cove, Job’s Cove, Duntara, Port au Bras, Old Perlican, Baccalieu, Winterton, Kelligrews, Sagona Island, Grates Cove, St. John’s, Gull Island, Sibley’s Cove, Heart’s Content, Capelin Cove, Shearstown, Keels, Pushthrough, Hant’s Harbour, Bison Cove, Tizzard’s Harbour, even Niagara Falls, Ont.
The story from Hant’s Harbour immediately grabbed my attention, as my paternal forebears came from this Trinity Bay village.
"One night my mom woke up in the middle of the night to see a man staring at her. His face looked kind of puzzled, as if he was wondering who she was." When he turned to walk towards the closet, she couldn’t help but notice he had no feet.
The story from Shearstown drew me in because I lived there as a teenager.
On Dec. 31, 1920, "a dark, rainy, foggy, windy, stormy night," the best kind of night for ghosts to put in an appearance, an elderly man had just let his big black Newfoundland outside.
"The dog went to the brook to get a drink, and his big silver bell or collar got stuck in the branches from the tress and twigs, and he was drowned....
"For some time after that, members of the community would say that when it was a dark, rainy, stormy night, if you stood by the bridge where the Newfoundland dog drowned, you would hear the big silver bell on his collar rattle."
Charis Cotter is no stranger to ghost stories. She grew up in downtown Toronto beside a cemetery, the spooky location where her fascination with ghosts began. Since then, most of the books she has written have ghosts walking in and out of them. Today, in Western Bay, she lives at the end of a road near two cemeteries and, it should be noted, she sleeps with a nightlight. She can see Baccalieu Island from her livingroom window, something else that makes her very nervous.
A word to the wise from the editor of "The Ghosts of Baccalieu": "don’t read it after dark!" The principal concurs: "be careful! You never know what ghosts may await you, especially in this very spooky corner of Newfoundland!"
Part of the proceeds from the sale of "The Ghosts of Baccalieu" goes to Tricon Elementary School, which currently caters to 105 students from kindergarten to Grade 6 and hailing from Bay de Verde, Red Head Cove, Grates Cove, Old Perlican, Sibley’s Cove, Lead Cove, Brownsdale and Low Point.
Readers interested in "The Ghosts of Baccalieu" can check out the editor’s website (http://www.chariscotter.ca/index).
Charis’ next book, "The Swallow: A Ghost Story," is due to be published in September. Her first novel is set in Toronto, but is inspired by the Newfoundland folksong, "She’s Like the Swallow." She is also completing a collection of original stories, "Spooked: Ghost Stories for Children from Haunted Newfoundland."
— Burton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts. His column appears in The Compass every week. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org