Thursday 5 April 2018

Out of the depths of the sea - What are the mystery lights of Come-By-Chance? #FolkloreThursday

Come by Chance, Aerial photograph by Lee Wulff, circa 1955-56. The Rooms Fonds GN 186, Item NA 25250

In the early part of the twentieth century, the waters of Placentia Bay between Come-By-Chance and Sound Island, Newfoundland, were said to be the location of an unearthly red glow, which would appear under very specific weather conditions.

Towards the end of 1928, author Charles Jamieson recounted his boyhood experiences with the light for the Newfoundland Quarterly. He wrote:

“Only once were we privileged to see this light. It is now fifteen years or more since, as a boy, we stood and watched a peculiar light that seemed to burn with a dull red glow off Come-By-Chance Point.”

By Jamieson’s reckoning, he had witnessed the light sometime around or before 1913. As he had watched, the light had appeared, seeming to come up from out of the depths of the sea.

An old local gentleman had waited up with the author to see the light. As Jamieson “gazed with awe struck attention” at the strange gleam upon the water, the old man told him the story of the light’s origins.

Many years previously, three men had set out from Sound Island to go to Come-By-Chance. Folklore maintains that they were a happy crew as they set out, unaware as they were of the cruel trick Fate was about to play on them. Jamieson remembered the old man saying that the trio of sailors formed “a merry party, and sang as they sailed out of the Bay in their open boat.”

Just off Come-By-Chance Point, their luck ran out. A storm sprang up, and the three were overtaken in a gust of wind. The open boat overturned, and all three men were drowned. 

“Ever since, when a strong wind blows as it blew that night,” writes Jamieson, “this strange light rises on the spot where the three men were lost, and there are those who say that strange weird cries and groans are heard.”

This belief that the light appears in times of bad weather is tied to the Newfoundland tradition of what are known as “weather lights”, the gleam or flicker of light at sea thought to foretell a storm.

Sometimes these lights are simply small moving lights, as described by E. Coakes, of Head Bay D’Espoir, in the Dictionary of Newfoundland English. According to Coakes, “weather lights in the riggings of a schooner is the sign of a storm coming. The lights start at the bottom of the riggings and move gradually up to the top where they disappear.”

In some locations, such as with the Come-By-Chance light, weather lights are closely associated with specific tragedies at sea. This type of visual warning of an advancing storm system can even be associated with quite dramatic visitations, such as the ghost of the SS Bluejacket which appears in Conception Bay to presage storms.

Interestingly, it was also noted in 1928 that just behind Come-By-Chance Point was a swamp which also had a reputation for strange lights. The swamp was said to associated with tales of “Jack-o-lantern” fires, known in other places as the Will o’ the Wisp, a mysterious bobbing bit of fire known at times to lead the unwary to their doom.

If there was a link between the red lights off Come-By-Chance Point and the inland Jack o’ Lantern lights, it has never been explained. The two stories, while involving a similar type of light, are probably part of two separate traditions in the area. If you feel you can shed some illumination on the area’s mysterious lights, please let me know!

Dale Jarvis 


Jamieson, Charles. “The Ghostly Light Off Come-By-Chance Point.” The Newfoundland Quarterly 28.2 (1928): 28

Wednesday 4 April 2018

Exploring Canada's Haunted Golf Courses

Haunted Lakes Golf Club -

With its long history and vast geography, Canada has no shortage of strange tales. There are haunted coal mines in Cape Breton, poltergeists in Calgary, and even a pair of haunted boots in St. Vincent’s, Newfoundland. It is no wonder, therefore, that golf courses across the country are home to some extraordinary spirits.

Winning the award for the spookiest name for a Canadian course is the Haunted Lakes Golf Club in Alix, a town east of Red Deer, Alberta. Haunted Lakes Golf Club is a nine-hole course, with three sets of tees on every hole so golfers can alter the play of each hole if they choose. With water in play on four holes, the fairways range from heavily treed to open. Most important is the third fairway, where Haunted Lake hugs the front right of the green. It is here an ancient drama plays out every winter.

Before Europeans arrived, indigenous groups camped on the lake’s eastern shore. One winter, seven hunters camped there for the night. In the morning, they looked out across the lake and spied the magnificent head and antlers of a deer caught in the ice.

The seven headed off. Reaching the creature, they started to chop away at the ice. The mighty animal, very much alive, gave a great heave and smashed through the ice. It swam for the shore, breaking a path before it. The deer made it to shore and the safety of the woods, but the men were not so lucky. They plunged through the ice and drowned.

It is said the seven hunters haunt the lake, giving the spot its name. It is also claimed that every winter, a mysterious phenomenon can be observed. Each year a huge fissure appears in the ice along the path the deer travelled to the shore.

The village of Alix is no stranger to creepy things lurking about its lakes. In addition to the Haunted Lakes ghosts, Alix is home to a mysterious lake monster. In 1979, Robert Plummel saw a large dark object moving through the water, and numerous reports have been filed since. In July 2002, a group saw an object moving in the water 50 meters from shore. The beastie swam for about 30 seconds, submerged and then resurfaced. A month later, a resident complained about a large animal lurking near his back yard.  Locals speculate the lake monster is an alligator, released when the pet grew too large to manage. If it is an alligator, it could give the phrase “water hazard” an entirely new meaning to Alberta golfers. 

Glen Abbey Golf Club -

To the east, in Oakville, Ontario, Glen Abbey Golf Club may not have an alligator, but it does have a ghost. Glen Abbey is home to both the Royal Canadian Golf Association and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame and Museum. Karen Hewson, director of the Hall of Fame, filled me in on Glen Abbey’s haunted history.

“There is a house on the property that was built in 1937 by a mining engineer as his weekend retreat,” says Hewson. The engineer, Andre Dorfman, was a leading figure in the Canadian mining industry, involved with companies like INCO and Noranda.

In 1953 Dorfman sold the house to the Jesuit Fathers of Upper Canada as a retreat. The property was sold again in 1963 to businessmen who opened a golf club. In memory of the Jesuits, the course was given the name “Glen Abbey.” Soon after, a spectre made its presence known.

“Within ten years, they started talking about a ghost in the building,” says Hewson. “The story is that the ghost is in the mansion, and that it goes up the back stairs and down the main hallway towards the library.”

The mansion is a good example of the stately homes built in Oakville in the early twentieth century. It is constructed of stone with a red clay tile roof, and features a wood-lined library on the second floor.

“One of the rooms in the basement is actually made to replicate the ship in which the original builder came over from Switzerland,” says Hewson. Originally known as RayDor Estate House, the building has been designated as a heritage property. Before 1975 it served as a clubhouse.

“It became the offices for the Royal Canadian Golf Association, and it stayed the offices of the RCGA until 2001,” explains Hewson, “then we moved into a building that is adjacent.”

The ghost in the old mansion is said to be male, and eyewitnesses agree that it resembles a Jesuit father.

“People did see it, but the main thing was hearing it come up the stairs and walk down the hall,” describes Hewson. “Hearing it was more common than an actual visualization.”

Dean Baker was superintendent at Glen Abbey from 1989 to 2000. He started work there as a high-school student in 1977.

“A number of my friends worked in the club,” remembers Baker. “Anyone in that building always complained of the noises, the sights, and the sounds. You always felt that someone was behind you.”

One night a friend had a creepy experience.

“You had to take a spiral staircase up to the guest lockers,” Baker describes. “There were probably 50 lockers.”

The friend was cleaning up, and had closed the lockers. The phone rang, and he went downstairs to answer, finding a dead line. He went back up the winding staircase and found a number of lockers open. The friend scratched his head, closed them, and continued working. The phone rang again, and again the line was dead. When the young man went upstairs, every one of the 50 lockers was open halfway.  

The friend telephoned Baker, saying “Come and pick me up, and come and pick me up now.”

For eight years, Baker lived on the property, and was often the first to respond if the security alarm sounded. He would often take one of his Labrador retrievers along.

“If I could get the yellow Lab, Bailey, into the building,” says Baker, “her hair stood on end the whole time.”

A stone corridor in the basement led to a spot which once held the Dorfman safe.

“Trying to get the dog through the corridor was next to impossible,” Baker remembers. “She would crawl through the hallway. I’ve never seen a dog do that.”

I asked Karen Hewson if the ghostly legend was still alive. She told me the phantom was last seen about 1990, but a clammy draft in the basement, where Bailey had been so terrified, has been reported since.

“I’m in the middle of doing a project that is a tour of the area, and we mention the ghost, so I guess in a way we are keeping it alive,” she says. If the ghost is still there, he has not appeared visually in years.

“It is rented out now to some investment companies, and I haven’t heard any of them come screaming out, saying they saw a ghost!” Hewson adds with a laugh.

On the other side of the country, Victoria Golf Club boasts both an impressive course history and the odd ghost or two. The club is the oldest course in its original location in Canada, beautifully situated on a rocky point on the southern end of Vancouver Island.

The club dates to November 1893 when enthusiasts negotiated for permanent rights to play the rough fields of Pemberton Farm. Originally, golfers were prohibited from using the grounds over the summer, when cattle grazed what would become today’s fairways.

Like Haunted Lakes, the Victoria Golf Club may be haunted by early aboriginal inhabitants. One researcher suggests that some of its phantoms may be souls of native warriors killed in battle centuries ago. However, these spirits pale beside the club’s other resident, the late Doris Gravlin, possibly Victoria’s most famous ghost. 

John Adams -

The expert on Doris is John Adams. A historian and author, Adams is best known as the proprietor of the “Ghostly Walks” tour, which explores historic courtyards and spooky places where spirits like Doris make their presence known.

“Doris Thomson was born in Blackburn, Lancashire in 1906 and immigrated to

Canada with her parents,” recounts Adams. The Thomson family settled in Victoria where Doris’s mother worked at a private hospital. Doris became a nurse as well, until 1930 when she married Victor Gravlin.

Victor was a sports reporter for the Colonist newspaper, spending many happy hours golfing with his brother Walter, head pro at the Uplands Golf Club. The hours Victor spent with Doris would prove to be much less happy.

“When her husband began to drink heavily, Doris left him,” explains Adams, adding that Doris found work as a private live-in nurse.

“In mid-September 1936 Victor delivered a letter to Doris,” Adams says. “Its contents were unknown, but are believed to have been a request for her to meet him to discuss reconciliation.”

Doris stepped out for a walk at about 7:45 pm on September 22, 1936; Victor left his parents’ house shortly thereafter. One observer saw them together on Runnymede Avenue, but after that, neither was seen alive.

Doris and Victor were reported missing, a search ensued, and days later, Doris’s corpse was discovered. The Victoria Golf Course website states “her body was later discovered amid the driftwood on the beach near the 7th green by a caddy looking for lost balls.” She had been strangled, and her shoes, belt and felt hat were missing.  Gossips maintained that Victor had escaped. But they were wrong.

“One month later a fisherman found the body floating in the kelp beds off the ninth fairway,” describes Adams. “A length of rope was found in his coat pocket, along with Doris’s missing attire. The police concluded he had murdered his wife then committed suicide by walking into the water.”

The discovery of two bodies on the grounds gave rise to the notion the club was haunted, and many sightings have been reported since.

“Typical manifestations are a fast-moving figure in white, a feeling of doom, a cold wind and a globe of spectral light,” Adams describes. “She also plays havoc with motorists along Beach Drive, sometimes flying through open windows and even penetrating windshields as a cold mist!”

One night in 2003, two grandparents drove to the course with their grandson and granddaughter.

“Grandfather and the boy had been fishing off the rocky shore,” describes Adams, “but had left their tackle box there. As the two fishermen walked across the grass the misty figure of a woman suddenly rushed toward them and flew into the air. The scene was witnessed by the terrified grandmother and girl who were waiting in the car.”

Today, Adams incorporates the spook into his storytelling business.

“I conduct the ghost bus-tours for the Old Cemeteries Society at Halloween,” he explains, “and we always stop at the golf course for an update on sightings of Doris over the previous year.”

Club management takes all of these ghostly goings-on in stride, and has even incorporated Doris into some marketing activities.

“I was asked by the golf club to conduct ‘An Evening with Doris’ at the clubhouse for members and the public,” says Adams. “It consisted of dinner, with demonstrations of ghost hunting techniques, stories about Doris, ending with a walk across the fairways to the 7th where Doris is usually seen.”

Unfortunately for attendees, Doris refused to cooperate, remaining invisible. According to Adams however, this has not stopped some from working Doris into their own tall tales.

“Some of the club members claim they now have an excuse for why their golf balls veer off into the bushes or the ocean at that place,” he says.

All in all, Doris seems to have been accepted, with a bit of good-natured scepticism, as part of the club’s folklore.

“To this day, when word of a ghost search goes out across Oak Bay, young people gather in the spring moonlight along the 7th fairway,” reads the club website. “The bell (signifying golfers finishing 6) is rung three times and the crowd waits. The number of sightings is often directly proportional to the ‘spirits’ consumed by the crowd.”

Curious about all these golf course ghosts, I asked one golfer if he had ever experienced anything supernatural whilst hitting the links.

“No,” he said, without missing a beat, “Only the bogey man.”


An earlier version of this article appeared in Golf Canada Magazine.