Friday 5 July 2024

A Digression Both Winding and Overblown on the Origins of Windgap Road, Flatrock

A Digression Both Winding and Overblown on the Origins of Windgap Road, Flatrock

By Dale Gilbert Jarvis published 5 July 2024

The toponym “Windgap” occurs in several places in in Atlantic Canada. There is a Windgap Brook in Kings, New Brunswick, and a Windgap Tarn in Torngat, Labrador.  There are also references to a Wind Gap or Windy Gap near Petty Harbour-Maddox Cove. 

The name may originally have meant a path that winds through a hilly or rocky spot. An article in the Newfoundland Quarterly from 1935 describes such a entranceway to the community of Perry’s Cove, Conception Bay:

Through a “windgap” the road leads down the side of the valley, past pretty little lakes and scattered houses, and trees all green or russet and gold, until the river is crossed as the road to Perry's Cove turns off to the right.

This sense of the word is conveyed in a report by the Newfoundland Hiking Club, who made a trek from Rennie’s Bridge to Pouch Cove and back (in an admirable 9 hours and 5 minutes) in 1932:

After stopping here [Pouch Cove] to buy refreshments we carried on to Flatrock and had tea at the top of the Windgap which we made by 5:10. 

The group made the same hike again in 1936, with one participant writing:

This afternoon’s long trek brought us through Pouch Cove and Flatrock, and up through the Windgap, the origin of which name set us speculating. While climbing that tortuous ascent awinding its way up towards its gap in the hills we decided upon its meaning; but on meeting the gale that charged down on us as we entered the gap, we wondered whether it meant “Winding Gap” or “Windy Gap.”

A 1982 article in Decks Awash notes, “‘Wind’ is still pronounced in the old way, to rhyme with ‘find.’” Folklorist Lara Maynard, who grew up in the area, told me the name is pronounced “Wind as in wind up. But the d is hardly pronounced. So ‘Winegap.’” 

There are print references to both “Wind Gap” and” Windgap” for Flatrock (or “Flat Rock”) in the 1830s, and there are also early references to a “Windgap Route” in the location of the current roadway.  By 1833, work had begun on opening up a pathway along this route. The Journal of the Legislative Council of the Island of Newfoundland for 1833 notes the following for Flat Rock Road:

The Road between Flat Rock and Torbay has been opened, but no part of it has yet been made; it is, consequently, in a very rough and imperfect state. On approaching Flat Rock from the Torbay side it will be impracticable to follow the old line. At the top of the hill which overlooks Flat Rock, it will be necessary to keep further from the shore, and to sweep the high ground which, immediately to the South and West of this Settlement, joins the Pouch Cove Road to the North and West of the Cove. To trace out and level this part of that line only, the sum of £200 will be required, and until this shall have been done, the whole line of Road beyond Flat Rock to Pouch Cove will be comparatively unavailable for Horse and Cart work.

In 1841, a petition to the House of Assembly was made by Michael Wade (who had settled in the area around 1838), James Burke, and other inhabitants of Flatrock, “praying the house to grant such sum as may be necessary for  making a road from Flat Rock to Torbay.”  The path at that point was described as “partially opened” and it was noted that the line “which has been marked and opened passes through private property. The Journal of the Assembly went on to state:

At Flat Rock it is difficult to bring the road convenient to any of the Rooms of the Inhabitants, except by the line of road which has been made by Mr. Michael Wade. His would be the most level line to Flat Rock ; but it would much increase the distance for those persons resident on the North side of Flat Rock, in Pouch Cove, &c. Mr. Wade has made a tolerably good road here at his own expense.

Several calls for tenders were made in the 1840s, funds were allocated, and work progressed. In 1846, another petition to the Assembly was made by William Bulger and others of Flatrock, “praying for a grant to repair and complete the roads from Windgap to Gallows Cove pond, and from Flat Rock to Windgap in said settlement.” That year, £30 were disbursed for construction along the Windgap section of the road.

Trouble, however, was brewing. 

The Wade family had been involved in the early construction of the road, but were apparently unhappy about the allocation of funds.  In 1851, they had their case presented to the House:

Mr. Parsons, with consent of His Excellency the Governor, presented a Petition from Michael Wade of Flat Rock, and the same was received and read, setting forth,—That in 1845 he opened a road from his farm to Wind Gap, about two hundred and seventy-seven perches, a considerable portion of which had, since that time, been used as the public road. That it had been surveyed by the Road Surveyors, and the cost thereof estimated ; and praying that he may be indemnified for his outlay, in accordance with that estimate.

The petition was put to a vote, and was declined.  The decision did not sit well with the Wades. In protest, they built across the portion of the road that traversed their property, blocking access. 

In 1852, things had escalated to the point where another petition was presented to the government of the day.  Traffic along the route was described as “proportionably great,” due to the numerous settlers living along the line, so interruptions were a serious matter. The road, “in every point of view is the most important bye-road within the district,” stated the Journal of the House of Assembly. Notice was brought to the House by Mr. Parsons, who,

…presented a Petition from Thomas Dee and others, of Flat  Rock, Torbay, and Pouch Cove, setting forth,— That a part of the main line of road extending from Windgap to Waterman House, near the beach at Flat Rock, has been claimed by a resident there as his private property, and the public prevented using the same as a public road ; and praying that such proceedings maybe adopted as will enable them to have the benefit of this road.

Local oral tradition presents a more colourful version of the dispute.  As Decks Awash reported in 1982, 

After they had completed their road, the Wade brothers built a house across it with a gate. The first winter, they freely let local people pass, in order not to arouse any hostility in the town, while they waited for some authority figure to happen by. One summer day, the Anglican priest from Torbay came along on a sick call to Pouch Cove. They had their victim, and the boys refused to let him pass. After loud protest, the priest turned back, vowing to have James Wade arrested by the British authorities on the man-of-war anchored in Torbay harbour. When Wade appeared before the captain of the man-of-war, he claimed that he owned the road because he had built it, and would only open it as a public thoroughfare if he were paid back the money he had spent on it. The captain thought this a reasonable point, and after receiving Wade's promise that the house and gate would be removed if payment were received, he reimbursed the settler, adding that the King of England certainly did not expect his people to work for nothing.

The official website for the Town of Flatrock tells another version of the history, stating, 

After a period of time a Michael Wade obtained permission to build a road but when he wasn’t paid for it he built a house across the road and refused to allow anyone to pass. When the government finally paid him, he removed the house. Great difficulties were met in building the new road which is called Wind Gap today.

Michael Wade continued to make petitions for funding for various projects till the 1870s. 

The road was eventually completed, though it seems the 19th-century Wade family had acquired a taste for property-related drama. The Evening Telegram newspaper reported the following in 1888:

A DISPUTE between two brothers named Wade, belonging to Flat Rock, about their respective rights in certain property, was a subject of investigation before Judge Conroy this morning, and he settled the quarrel by sending one of the two to prison for two months. But does this settle it? Some say it tends to make bad worse. Both are sons of one of the most respectable pioneers of the suburban villages—the late Michael Wade, of Flat Rock. 


“About Us - The History of Flatrock.” 

A DISPUTE.” Evening Telegram, 1888-12-12 P4

Flatrock.” Decks Awash, vol. 11, no. 01 (February 1982) Page 8-9

“Flatrock.” Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador, volume 2 [Extract: letter F] Page 210

Flat Rock Road.”  Journal of the Legislative Council of the Island of Newfoundland 1833. Page 95

Down the Trail.” Daily News, 1936-11-07. Page 14

Journal of the House of Assembly of Newfoundland 1841 (6th session) (With Appendix). Page 79, 185

Journal of the House of Assembly of Newfoundland 1846 (4th Session) Page 15, 136

Journal of the House of Assembly of Newfoundland 1851 Page 64, 299

Journal of the House of Assembly of Newfoundland 1852 (4th Session) Page 61, 234

Journal of the House of Assembly of Newfoundland 1865 (5th Session) Page XXX

Journal of the House of Assembly of Newfoundland 1866 (1st Session) Page XXXIV

Maynard, Lara. Personal Communication. 5 July 2024. 

Newfld. Hiking Club.” Daily News, 1932-06-08. Page 6

Tenders.” Patriot, 1844-05-15 Page 3

Saturday 8 June 2024

An Urban Legend from Baie Verte, Newfoundland


I wouldn’t turn down $150, but I’m not sure I’d return from the great beyond to watch over it. 

When I hear a story about a ghostly guardian protecting some kind of treasure, it is usually about a chest of gold or something of substantial value.

The community of Baie Verte, just to be contrary, has a local urban legend about a cheap ghost haunting the old Roman Catholic cemetery on Barn Hill.

Children in the town were told to stay out of there because it was haunted by an old man who was buried there years earlier with $150 dollars in his pocket.

It was claimed he haunted the place to protect his money.

- Dale Jarvis

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Wednesday 15 May 2024

Ghosts of the Majestic

Tell us your tale!

A local landmark, the Majestic Theatre has a colourful (and possibly supernatural) history. The Majestic opened in 1918 as a movie theatre, and later was one of the first to play talking pictures. It was also the birthplace of a famous political riot of April 1932, when two thousand people gathered there to march on the Colonial Building. 

Said to be built on haunted ground, visitors to the building have reported poltergeist-like activity, sounds of screaming, and objects moving on their own. Employees have left items in one place, only to find them in another when the building was unlocked the next morning. 

“We used to hear people running around upstairs when no one was up there and the toilets would flush on their own,” one former worker stated on Reddit in 2023. 

We want to hear your stories! Did you work (or party) in the building? What strange things did you see or hear there? Have you had an encounter with one of the Majestic’s resident spirits? We are dying to find out….

Share with someone who knows the building, comment here, or answer anonymously with our Ghosts of the Majestic questionnaire!

Photo of the Majestic by Leona Rockwood Photography, courtesy TerraBruce Productions.

Thursday 14 March 2024

Cressie of Crescent Lake - Robert’s Arm, Green Bay, the Loch Ness of Newfoundland

A model of a lake monster in front of the town sign for Robert's Arm, NL

The monster surfaced, its skin shiny and slick under the summer sun. Water poured from its gaping mouth. It was long, about twenty feet in length, and it swam silently across the top of the lake before diving down into its cool depths once more. A passenger in a passing car shrieked at the driver, and the two of them watched in amazement as the creature vanished from sight.

The amazing part of the story is that it actually happened in July of 2003 in the community of Robert's Arm, "The Loch Ness of Newfoundland." The creature, known as Cressie, is a long-time inhabitant of Crescent Lake

“I was just screaming, We saw Cressie, we saw Cressie!” the eyewitness later told radio reporters. 

The 2003 cryptozoological sighting was only the most recent in a long list of reports, as sightings of Cressie date back to the start of the twentieth century. One of the first residents of the community, a lady remembered today as Grandmother Anthony, was startled from her berry-picking by a giant lake serpent.

The monster seems to have been fairly active in the late 1990s. In the late spring of 1990, a resident of Robert's Arm saw a slim, black shape rise five feet from a patch of churning water before sinking out of sight. On July 9, 1991, Cressie was spotted once more, and then again on September 5 of the same year. There were several sightings in 1995, and while a summer student crew was working on the boardwalk around the lake in 2000, they too spotted the local wonder.

In a 2003 interview CBC Radio, Robert’s Arm town clerk Ada Rowsell noted that reports of monster sightings had been flooding in over the first week of that August.

“I've had several reportings of sightings - people sighting some kind of a huge monster or sea serpent or some kind of a fish," Ada told CBC radio, following the well publicized July 2003 sighting. 

Locals described the creature as looking long and shiny, and having a fish-like head. It was reported that one man even hit the monster with his boat. Cressie, apparently, chose not to retaliate.

One eyewitness was reported as exclaiming “Oh my, that's big, that could eat four or five people if they were swimming. I wouldn't trust it around kids, I tell ya - no, not tiny kids. I wouldn't say tiny kids could beat it off. I wouldn't say anybody 10- or 12-years old could beat it off either.”

Wednesday 7 February 2024

The Case of Matterface: A legendary ghost story from St. Lawrence, Newfoundland and Labrador

Legend holds that around 1835, an English clerk by the name of Matterface, working at the Newman and Company’s plantation at St. Lawrence suffered an untimely demise. 

Embalming was impossible, so the mortal remains of Matterface were preserved inside a barrel of rum until the body, by that point well pickled, could be taken back to England for burial. 

When the barrel was opened, it was found to be drained of its liquor. Locals, unaware of the barrel’s true contents, had been sneaking drinks of the tainted rum. 

Some say the barrel, with Matterface still in it, was buried in Little St Lawrence, down in the cove on Turpin’s Island. 

Folklore claims Matterface’s ghost haunts the island. 

Cousins spending the night in a tent on Turpin’s Island heard something scary circling the tent, round and round.  

Suddenly their campfire, which had been left burning, was snuffed out, like someone blowing out a candle. 

They all took off screaming.

If you visit today, you might find signs of a rock covered grave. Remember the legend though: don’t go at night. And be careful what you take along to quench your thirst. 

Tuesday 6 February 2024

The Brass Button Man - an urban legend from Burnt Islands, Newfoundland and Labrador

By Dale Jarvis

Stalking through the fog near Burnt Islands is a strange figure, with an insatiable, supernatural appetite for a rather ordinary object. 

The Brass Button Man is a possibly murderous spirit who haunts the southwest coast of Newfoundland on foggy nights. 

If you’re out in the fog he will sneak up on you, tap you on the shoulder, and ask for brass buttons. If you have one – you’re safe. If you don’t, he will snatch you up and take you away in his dory, never to be seen again.

The origins of the Brass Button Man legend are murky. The expression “brass button” referring to a soldier or officer was well-known in North America by the 1860s, appearing in ballads in the 1870s.

In 1935, the Western Star newspaper, Corner Brook, printed a children’s story about a dog named Shadow, who was accidentally abducted by a “brass button man” - the uniformed driver of a passenger bus. At the end of the story, Shadow’s poor little paws were sore and bleeding, and the dog had still not found his way home, ensuring local children were unlikely to trust any brass button men they might come across. 

Brass button men are often associated with pirate ghosts guarding their treasure. One northern Newfoundland story tells how Aunt Et repeatedly had a sailor dressed up with brass buttons come to her in her dreams. The man told her there was money buried in a spot called Dane's Bight, and to visit at midnight. When she eventually approached the spot, she was frightened off by the sights and sounds of phantom sword fighting.

In 1990, Newfoundland folk musician Eric West produced his own version of the legend, sending shivers down kids' backs as he sang about a strange fellow lurking on Duck Island.

Another version of the Brass Button Man is found in a ghostly legend from Shalloway Brook, located between the appropriately named Deadman’s Bay and Musgrave Harbour.  A local man was surrounded by a whirlwind, when there wasn’t a draft of wind anywhere else. Then, he saw a figure materialize out of the  whirlwind: a man with one wooden leg, wearing a uniform with brass buttons down the front. The ghost was wearing a three cornered hat and carrying a cutlass in his right hand, with a great wound in his head.

Old legends fade slowly, and the Burnt Islands story is still told and retold today as an urban legend. If you should be out late in the fog, and come across a man asking you for a brass button, you best be prepared to tear one off your jeans, lest you become the most recent victim of the Brass Button Man. 

Monday 5 February 2024

Haddock: The Fish the Devil Touched

Would you eat a fish that had been marked by the Prince of Darkness himself? You may have, without knowing it. 

Haddock is one of the most valuable food fishes of Europe, both fresh and smoked.  The fish has long been popular due to its delicate flake and tender texture. Early cookbooks mention “rizzared” or sun dried haddock, as a popular fare on breakfast tables. After the Industrial Revolution, English fishing vessels travelled far and wide for haddock in order to satisfy a booming demand for fish and chips.

One of the identifying features of the haddock is its large blackish spot above each pectoral fin. Because of this mark, the haddock has the unfortunate reputation as being the fish the Devil touched, a belief brought to Newfoundland with English settlers. This spot is known in Newfoundland as the devil's thumb-print, which the Dictionary of Newfoundland English describes as being “black marks on haddock's back - from a belief that the devil once grabbed the fish, which then got away.” 

One version of the legend says the mark was created when St. Peter and the Devil were fishing.  The Devil caught a haddock, but St. Peter freed the fish.  As it swam away, the Devil tried to grab it. The black mark represents the Devil's fingerprint, and the dark lateral line along the side of the fish represents the scratch marks from his devilish nails as the fish slipped out of Satan’s grasp.

More righteous souls claim that the marks were left by the finger and thumb of St Peter when he opened the fish’s mouth to take out a coin. It is another good story, but the humble haddock is a salt water fish, and could not survive in the fresh water of the Sea of Galilee. 

So was the mark on the haddock burned there by infernal powers? 

Only the haddock, and possibly the Devil, know for certain.

Tuesday 31 October 2023

Hallowe'en Night, 7pm (NLT) tune in to the Haunted Hotline on VOCM with Dale Jarvis

It's Open Line for the Undead!

Tonight, Hallowe'en Night, 7pm-9pm (NLT) VOCM will open up the Haunted Hotline. Dale Jarvis, storyteller, author, folklorist, and the proprietor of the Haunted Hike ghost tour, will be on the other end of the line. We want to hear your ghost stories!

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Saturday 9 September 2023

The Haunting of Rohan's Cottage, Harbour Grace, NL

If you had a horn that could summon spirits from the underworld, would you risk blowing it? 

One gentleman in Newfoundland claimed to have done it frequently.

This is the story of Rohan’s Cottage.