Sunday 29 April 2012

Of Moose and Men - Vet Jerry Haigh's tales about the world's largest deer

"In Canada, the ratio of moose to the number of Glasgow vets who are expert in moose is roughly 1,000,000:1. Roughly, because no one is sure exactly how many moose there are — there is no uncertainty about the number of Glasgow vets with moose experience. If you want to learn a lot about the 1,000,000, and meet the 1, this is the book for you." 
- Jay Ingram, broadcaster and former host of Daily Planet.

Jerry Haigh is a veterinarian who has worked with numerous species, including elephants, wild dogs, polar bears, and, of interest to those of us in Newfoundland, moose. He is also a fine storyteller and raconteur, who I met several years ago at the annual Storytellers of Canada-Conteurs du Canada conference. Some of you may remember his great night of nature stories in the Newman Wine Vaults a few years back, or his visit to CBC's Radio Noon Crosstalk.

I got an email a little while ago from Jerry, telling me his latest book was out, entitled "Of Moose and Men: A Wildlife Vet's Pursuit of the World's Largest Deer," now available on

I asked Jerry about about stories about the introduction of Newfoundland's moose population, and this is what he told me:

"The account [of moose introductions] mostly comes from the recollections of John Nowlan, who was raised by the nephew of the leader of the team that caught the moose. It begins when the Newfoundland government of the day, still a British colonial government, requested some moose. One John Connell, a well-known hunter, hunting guide, and fisherman in the Miramichi area of New Brunswick, who was also well known for his tame saddle-broke moose Tommy, persuaded some friends to get involved in the capture. John thought that the men who were involved were paid $50 for each moose. 'That was a lot of money in those days!'

The team set out on snowshoes in the winter of 1904 and surrounded a group of moose that were yarded up and more or less stranded in the deep snow in the vicinity of the Bartibogue River. According to Nowlan: “Then they lassoed them—just like cattle.” Six captured moose were tethered to sleds and taken to the town of Chatham where they were put on a train. Surprisingly four of the animals survived the trip all the way to their new home across the water."

You can find out more about Jerry on his blog or follow him on Twitter at @glasgowwildvet.

Friday 27 April 2012

A story of witch bottles from Colliers, Newfoundland.

Molly (née Murphy) Quinn was raised in Philadelphia, but her family comes from Colliers and Conception Harbour, and she has spent her summers in Newfoundland since she was a girl. Quinn’s grandmother, Alice McGrath Murphy, died in 2007 at the age of 92. During those Newfoundland summers, Grandmother Murphy told Quinn more than a few tales.

“My childhood was filled with stories of fairies, ‘Bloody Bones,’ and more stories than I can remember,” says Quinn.

I had posted a query online asking if anyone had any stories about “witch bottles” and it made Quinn remember one of her grandmother’s stories. It was the only story she remembered hearing about a witch bottle.

“My grandmother's mother was the midwife of the community,” she says. “Many tragedies occurred in childbirth and most were attributed to bad luck, the wrath of God, and some to a witch or bad person.”

If you thought your bad luck was due to a witch’s influence, you could make a witch bottle to break the curse.

“I know you were supposed to put things in them to remove curses,” she says.

Folklorist Barbara Rieti wrote about the tradition in her 2008 book “Making Witches: Newfoundland Traditions of Spells and Counterspells.”

“He did his pee in a bottle, corked it and stuck a big stocking darning needle down into and left it in the store,” is how one of Rieti’s informants described such a bottle. Generally, a witch bottle is made by filling it with symbolic items like pins or fabric hearts, and in some cases, with urine. By trapping these things in a bottle, the victim is meant to redirect suffering back on the witch responsible.

Quinn’s story involves a woman who had experimented with witch bottles, but who was unable to rid herself of whatever curse had attached itself to her and her family.

“Years ago, a young woman lost her husband rather tragically,” Quinn relates. “She was always dressed in black and, having lost all faith in God, was said to have dabbled with witch bottles, believing her husband was taken from her wrongly.”

Afterwards, the woman was never the same.

“She could always be seen near the large boulder in front of the cemetery, dressed in black and forever weeping for her lost love,” describes Quinn. “One evening a young married couple was driving across cemetery hill in their sleigh. The woman was at the rock weeping.”

“As the sleigh passed she leapt in, touching the young groom with her hand,” Quinn says. “Her icy touch immediately killed the young man. Because of her actions she was cursed to mourn forever at the cemetery, always seeking her husband's return."

“I get shivers just thinking of it now,” says Quinn, “especially because I visit that cemetery each summer to visit relatives’ graves.”

Witch bottles in that part of Conception Bay may have a long history. Archaeological work in the nearby community of Cupids has uncovered remnants of Bellarmine bottles - a type of pottery jug with a distinctive human face design on the neck of the bottle. In the 17th century they were sometimes employed as witch bottles.

While we may never know if the Cupids Bellarmine bottles were used as witch bottles, a similar bottle from the same time period was recovered from an archaeological site in Greenwich, England. Upon opening up the bottle, it was found to contain urine, 12 iron nails, eight brass pins, quantities of hair, a piece of leather pierced by a bent nail, fingernail clippings, and what could be navel fluff.

If you have heard of a witch bottle story from your community, send me an email at

Thursday 5 April 2012

Deciding the World Storytelling Day Theme for 2013

There has been some discussion about themes for the 2013 World Storytelling Day already. I am passing them along here to get things moving. Each year, the decision on WSD themes is made through the WSD listserv. To subscribe to the WSD email discussion list, send a message to:

Suggestions so far:
  • Home
  • Trouble
  • Poetry
  • Energy
What do you think? Join the discussion list to get in on the planning.

Sunday 1 April 2012

Ghost story search - looking for haunted tales of Cape Spear, Newfoundland

North America's easternmost point is certainly an atmospheric spot, as photographers well know.

Surprisingly, there is very little written about Cape Spear's ghostly history, though there are rumours of the building being haunted by William Shields, who installed the light and died in a gun accident.

I'm curious about your experiences. If you've had something paranormal happen to you at Cape Spear, of if you've heard of a ghost story for that area, please let me know. You can leave a message below, or email me at