Thursday 31 May 2012

Daring escapes, ghost ships, and buried treasure: Ghosts of Signal Hill opens June 1st

Daring escapes, murdered pirates, ghost ships, buried treasure, tragic drownings, and headless phantoms: it is all in a night’s work at Signal Hill National Historic Site.

From the creator of the award-winning St. John’s Haunted Hike comes an evening of ghost stories and strange adventures by lamplight inside the historic Queen’s Battery. Find out what happens on Newfoundland’s most historic hill, after the lights go out.

June 1st to September 15th, 2012
Every Friday and Saturday Night at 8pm

Tickets $15 ($10 for kids 12 and under) Cash sale only
Buy your tickets and meet your guide at the Visitor Centre.

For more info, visit or look for Ghosts of Signal Hill on Facebook

Tuesday 29 May 2012

Man in the Meadow: A Ghost Story from Fogo Island, Newfoundland

Recently, I came across an old story from Fogo Island which concerns a spot named Banks (or possibly Banks’s) Meadow.

Fogo native Barry Penton informs me that Banks was a Fogo name in the 1800s. According to the Anglican Church Diocesan Records, William Banks, a bachelor of Fogo, married spinster Jane Waterman at St. Andrews Church in Fogo on the 14th of April, 1844.

“The last record I have of is John Banks in 1883, who was a planter in Back Cove,” says Penton. Near Back Cove, there is also a Banks Cove. And given the family was in that area, it is likely the meadow was named after a member of the Banks clan.

“It's the field down below Brimstone Head,” says Penton. “Locals refer to it as Second Field.”

One evening in the early part of the twentieth century, a girl and her aunt were going to a meeting. Flashlight in hand, they followed the path up through Banks Meadow.

When they got part way across the meadow, they saw a man. He had a little short coat on, like men wore at that time. As it was a cold night, he had the collar turned up.

“There’s a man there,” said the girl, pointing him out to the aunt.

“Yes,” she said.

When they drew near him, the girl spoke to the man.

“Good night, sir,” she called out, but he did not answer. The girl made to step one way, and he stepped back. The women passed by, and the girl looked behind them. The man was still there, standing still. She looked back again, and he was still there.

When the girl looked back a third time, the man had vanished from the middle of the meadow.

“Aunt Liz, that man is gone!” she cried.

“Oh no!” said the aunt.

“Oh yes he is, he’s gone,” said the girl. At that point, the two women made their way through the meadow, as fast as they could.

At that time, many people in the cove claimed to have seen the man in the meadow. It was said that he was more like a shadow than a man. Even those who got close to him could not recognize any features.

One night in winter the same girl was heading home, alone. The snow lay crisp and undinted. As the girl came up to the meadow, there was not a footprint to be seen in the snow.

She could see the lights in the houses of the cove, and could hear dogs barking, but for some strange reason, she couldn’t find the path to get home.

No matter which way she turned, she couldn’t seem to find the path across the meadow. She turned around and went back to the place she had started from. Then she set out a second time, with the same result. When she got to the meadow, there was not a footprint anywhere, and no matter what she tried, she couldn’t find the path.

The girl went back down to her cousin’s house instead.

“You’ve got to go home with me tonight,” she told the cousin. “I can’t get home!”

The cousin walked her back up to the meadow, and when they got there, they found that the snow was all trampled to pieces, just to one side of the path.

When the girl looked, she saw a set of man’s footprints alongside her own.

“It don’t look like I’m the only one out tonight,” said the girl. “There’s someone gone astray there.”

The cousin got the girl home safely, and she put the incident out of her mind. A week later, however, she was visiting the home of the only woman in the cove to have a radio. A group had gathered to listen to the radio, and were telling stories.

The group started talking about a man who got lost coming up across the meadow the week before. He had crossed it many times, but nothing strange had ever happened before.

The girl asked when he had gotten lost, and discovered he had tried to cross it just before she had.

“He wasn’t the only one,” she told the crowd, and then shared her strange tale.

“There was something there,” she said. “I couldn’t get home.”

The girl’s father told her that there had been a grave there on the meadow at one point, but that nothing remained to mark it.

If you know a story about Banks Meadow, or have heard of the ghost on the path, write to me at

Monday 28 May 2012

Look out! Storytellers with guns! Ghosts of Signal Hill black powder training.

The St. John's Haunted Hike, in partnership with Parks Canada, is pleased to be running "Ghosts of Signal Hill" for its second season.

"Ghosts of Signal Hill" is an evening of ghost stories, historical tales and strange adventures, all recounted by the dashing Lieutenant Ranslaer Schuyler by lamplight inside the historic Queen’s Battery. Find out what happens on Newfoundland’s most historic hill, after the lights go out! The show opens this Friday, June 1st, at and runs every Friday and Saturday at 8pm until September 15th. Check out the website or Facebook page for more details.

This year, our brave storytellers (that's Jed Baker above, on the left) took part in a black powder training workshop led by Parks Canada's Robin Martin (on the right). It gave us a more familiarity with the weapons of the age, and a better sense of the challenges faced by the soldiers of yesteryear.  It was a particularly windy day on the Hill the day of the training, which made firing the flintlock muskets in particular a little more tricky than usual.

To see Chris Hibbs in action with the Snider-Enfield, check out the video on YouTube. Turn your speakers down unless you want to experience what the wind was like that day!

Friday 25 May 2012

The St. John's Haunted Hike - 15 years of spooking tourists

This Sunday, May 27th, 2012, the St. John’s Haunted Hike returns to the streets of the capital city. When I look back, it is amazing that 15 years have passed since I started the Hike. We’ve already had a few group bookings this year for visiting conferences and student groups.  Fingers are crossed that the good weather continues, though the Hike is one of the only businesses in town that benefits from dismal, foggy weather!

New this year, I am expanding the “Ghosts of Signal Hill” show to two nights, Friday and Saturday. We sold out almost every night of the show last year, so this year the number of shows has been doubled. Our final performance on September 15th will commemorate the 250th anniversary of the Battle of Signal Hill.

We’ve had some great storytelling talent on the Hikes over the years.  Steve O’Connell and Dave Walsh return with yours truly for the Sunday to Thursday night walks, while Jedediah Baker and Chris Hibbs will join me on Signal Hill. The Haunted Hike alumni include Dr. Mark Scott, Gabriel Newman of the Ghost Tours of Vernon and Danielle Irvine, who this summer will be directing “Pride and Prejudice” on Prince Edward Island (still no word on if it will feature zombies).

If you are on twitter, you can now follow the Hike @sjhauntedhike 

Wednesday 23 May 2012

Funding approved to support storytelling in Newfoundland.

The Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council (NLAC) has awarded $125,000 to 14 professional festivals from across the province through its Professional Festivals Program.

The program supports festivals of all artistic disciplines. Grants help support costs related to artist fees, technical costs, venue rental, administration costs, workshop sessions and travel expenses. This year, the festivals that received funding include two which celebrate the role of storytelling in Newfoundland culture.

The first is the St. John's Storytelling Festival, a week-long festival celebrating the art of storytelling in our province. Activities will include workshops for artists and the public, school visits, evening concerts, and free public performances.

The NLAC also funded Trails, Tales, and Tunes in Norris Point. The festival's primary mandate is to promote the arts, culture, and heritage of the Gros Morne area and the province. This is accomplished through numerous events that include music, dance, writing, craft demonstrations, music workshops, storytelling, and more.

Tuesday 15 May 2012

Newfoundland folklore of May snow: a cure for sore eyes and freckles

This year, at least in the St. John’s area, the month of May started with snow. Not overly welcome this time of year, it did get people talking, and one topic of conversation was the use of May snow as a sort of charm or cure.

“May snow is good for sore eyes,” one old saying goes. The idea is that if you collect some snow that falls in May and keep it in a glass jar, the water can later be swabbed on a sore eye to make if feel better. 

It was a tradition found in many corners of the province, from Joe Batt’s Arm, to Branch. “May snow was gathered and bottled for a remedy,” states a 1955 brochure printed by the government of Newfoundland and Labrador, which has been reprinted on the “Newfoundland’s Grand Banks” website. “Many old people testify to the efficiency of this strange cure.” 

John Drover’s grandmother Baker was raised in both Terra Nova village and Windsor, Newfoundland. Drover remembers hearing about the May snow eye cure from her. 

“I don't recall that there was any specific way to collect it,” says Drover, “just that it was supposed to relieve sore eyes. A co-worker from Mortier told me her grandmother collected May snow and always kept pill bottles of it for sore eyes.” 

This belief in snow as a cure for sore eyes is not limited to Newfoundland. “Bottled snow water is good for sore eyes,” wrote Dr. Daniel Lindsey Thomas and Lucy Blayney Thomas in their 1920 folklore book “Kentucky Superstitions,” published by Princeton University Press. Daniel Thomas was the founder and president of the Kentucky branch of the American Folk-Lore Society, while Lucy Thomas was a teacher of English at the Ward-Belmont School in Nashville, Tennessee. 

I suspect snow in any quantity in Kentucky is decidedly more rare than Newfoundland snow, especially in May. Perhaps it is unsurprising then that Kentucky folklore opts for slightly earlier precipitation; the Thomases noted that in Kentucky, March snow is said to do the trick instead. 

May snow had other semi-medicinal uses. Janet Butt’s grandmother (from Carbonear, by way of the North Shore) told her that while May snow was good to take away a stye on the eye, it was also good for your complexion. “I seem to recall having it applied to freckles,” Butt says. 

This was a folk belief found in other Conception Bay communities. In a recent article in a local newspaper, Elizabeth Jerrett of Bay Roberts writes, “a snowfall in May, which was not unusual, we believed to take freckles away.”

My favourite description of this May snow freckle cure tradition is from J. K. Crellin, in his fabulous book “Home Medicine: The Newfoundland Experience.” “Few specific suggestions concerning external applications for the ‘complexion’ have been found in the Newfoundland oral record,” writes Crellin, “apart from soaking in the first snow in May (or ‘May snow’) or wiping the face with a urine-soaked diaper.” 

If you are having a problem with freckles, I would stick with the May snow water, if I were you, given the other option.

Tuesday 8 May 2012

Actor Chris Hibbs joins the Ghosts of Signal Hill storytelling crew

The St. John's Haunted Hike is pleased to announce that local actor Chris Hibbs will be joining the cast of "Ghosts of Signal Hill" for the 2012 run. Hibbs will join storytellers Dale Jarvis and Jedediah Baker for the season, with shows running every Friday and Saturday night from June 1st to September 15th.

Oft' described as an "old soul," Hibbs feels it quite fitting to personify this characteristic through his role in the Ghosts of Signal Hill. Theatrically speaking, he has conspired with the likes of the Shakespeare by the Sea Festival for the past decade in a variety of capacities, though enjoys the extraneous pursuits of photography and writing. He is a local of St. John's by choice, and is continually inspired by the richness of its historical depths and the artisans that thrive within.

Wednesday 2 May 2012

The exploding Lion, and other mysteries of a lost ship

The SS Lion was one of the first wooden-wall steamers to be used in the Newfoundland seal fishery, making her first voyage to the ice in 1867. The ship went to the annual seal fishery for fifteen years,
sailing under such masters as Francis Ash and Alexander Graham, and brought in a total of 170,125 pelts. (See Shannon Ryan's history of the vessel here.)

Sometime around Old Christmas Day, January 6, 1882, the ship disappeared. All hands vanished into the sea, never to been again, with the exception of one lone body.

A small amount of debris was found near Baccalieu Island, and popular explanation of the day was that that her boilers had not contained enough water and, as a result, had exploded

The will of one Amelia Power from September 1883 directed that “the sum of eighty dollars be reserved from my estate for the purpose of supplying a headstone to the memory of late husband Charles Power, lost on the steamer ship “Lion” January 1882 with suitable text or inscription for myself and him.”

Even visitors from away, years later, were struck by the sadness of the disaster. The Hon. John Macdonald, a Canadian senator, wrote the following for the Globe newspaper after a visit to Newfoundland and Labrador in 1888.

“Approaching Trinity we came to the celebrated island Baccalieu, where on a lovely, clear night in January, 1880 [sic], the steamer Lion, with a large number of passengers on board was lost, a clergyman and his young bride of a week being among the number. The circumstance gives a melancholy interest to the island, which has become identified with the disaster from the fact that a body, that of a Mrs. Cross, whose husband I saw at Trinity, was found there, but whether the vessel blew up or struck the bold coast and instantly went down is to the present moment enveloped in mystery.”

While many shipwrecks are associated with ghostly tales, the wreck of the Lion seems, for some reason, to have attracted strange tales in abundance.

One of the stories was written up by Michael Francis Harrington in the Atlantic Advocate, in February 1960. In his article, Harrington references a letter which was written by a resident of Catalina just after the loss of the vessel. The letter concerned a dream that a relative of the captain had experienced before the wreck:

“On Old Christmas morning, about half-hour before daylight my wife woke me in a fit of crying, telling me she was dreaming that she saw the Lion steaming along very slowly in Baccalieu Tickle. She was as she thought looking at her for some time going along very slowly. All of a sudden she saw her blow up and sink immediately. She fancied she heard a noise like a cannon in her head. She also saw at the moment of the explosion, her cousin, [Capt.] Patrick Fowlow, knocked off the bridge with his head gone from his body.”

Other strange tales include that of a man who was warned by a fortune-teller on St. John’s harbourfront not to book passage on the Lion. The man heeded the warning, and gave up his ticket, saving his own life.

Newfoundland writer P.J. Wakeham, writing in 1974, included references to two separate sightings of a ghost ship believed to be the Lion. In one sighting, fishermen “met the steamer Lion crossing the Bay and saw her cabin lights aglow as they changed their schooner’s course to avoid collision. The phantom ship bore down on them and then as silently and as suddenly, she altered course and disappeared into the darkness.”

Announcing the themes for World Storytelling Day 2013 and 2014

World Storytelling Day is a global celebration of the art of oral storytelling. It is celebrated every year on the spring equinox in the northern hemisphere, the first day of autumn equinox in the southern. On World Storytelling Day, as many people as possible tell and listen to stories in as many languages and at as many places as possible, during the same day and night.

Every year, many of the individual storytelling events that take place around the globe are linked by a common theme. The selection of the theme is a global event in itself: themes are suggested by storytellers from around the world through the worldstorytellingday listserv and the World Storytelling Day Facebook page.

This year, Dutch storyteller Melanie Plag and Canadian storyteller Dale Jarvis collected the various suggestions into a list, and an online poll was created and shared. Close to 400 storytellers and story lovers from far and wide voted for their top two favourite themes, to set the topics for both 2013 and 2014.

The votes have been cast, the numbers have been crunched, and the themes have been selected!

2013 - Fortune and Fate

2014 - Monsters and Dragons

The voting results for the top ten theme choices are presented below. For more information about World Storytelling Day, visit the website at