Newfoundland and Labrador is blessed with more fairies, devils, old hags, phantoms, Jacky Lanterns, sea monsters, and other fabulous and frightening creatures than any other spot in Canada. Author and researcher Dale Jarvis, creator of the award-winning St. John's Haunted Hike, has pulled together a compendium of strange tales about the even stranger spectres, sprites, and curious beasties that inhabit the province's shores. From Signal Hill's headless ghost to the Northern Peninsula's Isle of Demons to the fairy paths of the Southern Shore, Wonderful Strange is your guide to encounters with the unexplained.
The Phantom on the Path
Gower Street, St. John’s
One memorable St. Patrick’s Day, I spent a delightful afternoon with Ms. Margaret Dunn at her home on Kingsbridge Road. She shared with me a ghostly tale that she had learned from her father, and which dates to the 1940s.
At that time, her family lived in a house on Gower Street, in the block of Victorian row houses on the south side of the street, between Bulley Street and Church Hill. Her mother and father had friends who lived just off Gower Street in one of the houses on Masonic Terrace.
Masonic Terrace is one of the most delightful hidden treasures of old St. John’s. It can be accessed either by climbing a series of steps off Cathedral Street, just south of the Masonic Temple for which the terrace is named, or by entering via Willicott’s Lane, which runs off Gower Street. Masonic Terrace and Willicott’s Lane are some of the remnants of the original laneways of St. John’s. Author Jack White in his Streets of St. John’s books has argued that the lanes are amongst the oldest remaining in the city.
With such a long history, it is not surprising that the area has acquired a ghost story or two throughout the years. The Masonic Temple itself boasts a ghost, and one of the nearby houses on Gower Street is home to a mysterious phantom fire, but the spectre which Ms. Dunn’s father met haunted the street itself, and did not seem to be tied down to just one location.
In the summertime, young Margaret’s mother and father would walk over from Gower Street to their friends at Masonic Terrace for a visit. Their daughter went with them a few times, but the family friends owned a huge black dog which the girl did not like, so more often than not, the couple walked to Masonic Terrace on their own.
After their visits, the couple would then walk back home, as it was only a short distance. Even though the distance was not great, the girl’s father always felt uncomfortable. For some reason, he always felt that someone was walking along with them. At times, he said, one would feel someone swish on by, like they were walking on ahead, but there was nobody there.
One night in particular as they were making the return journey home, the man felt as if someone’s hand had been placed on his shoulder. He suggested to his wife that they pick up their pace, saying “let’s walk a little bit faster.”
They walked across Church Hill and drew close to their house. As they did so, the man could feel the pressure on his shoulder increase. By nature, he was not a man to be fooled with and was far too practical to believe in anything like ghosts or spirits. In spite of this, he was certain that something was there, and whatever it was, he was determined not to let it into his house.
He turned the key in the lock, opened the door, and then almost pushed his wife inside.
“Go ahead now,” he said to her.
He hurried in after her and swiftly made to shut the door. As he did so, he turned white with fear. There was no one visible on the street, but something pushed back on the door. An invisible weight pressed against it, as if someone was intent on gaining entry.
Putting his shoulder to the door, the man forced it shut, and locked it from the inside. Still oblivious to what was happening, his wife turned and asked, “What was that all about?”
At the time her husband did not tell her, not wanting to scare her. Sometime later, he told his family what had happened. Years afterwards, as sceptical a person as he was, he remained convinced that something had walked them home and had tried to get inside.
Fifty years later, it seems the strange presence could still be felt. Around 1993/1994, a local man was living in a property near the intersection of Gower Street and Willicott’s Lane. “Several times—nighttimes—I felt something as I entered the house or as I approached, starting at the corner of Gower and Cathedral,” claims the man.
“I remember that it wasn’t a good feeling—a little creepy. I would look around but see nothing. It didn’t always happen—just a few times—and it was noticeably quiet each time.”
Next time you walk down that section of Gower Street, you might want to pick up your pace and pass quickly by.
Wonderful Strange is a very well-written, entertaining and informative book and will provide an excellent guide for anyone wishing to explore the ghostly experience in many Newfoundland and Labrador communities.-- The Telegram --
A valuable contribution to the folklore of the Canadian maritimes.-- Fate magazine --
. . . I wouldn\'t dare pick up his [Dale Jarvis\'] book past a certain hour in the evening.-- Downhome magazine --
[Dale Jarvis\'s] skillful blending of local history, folklore and some very good storytelling results in a book worth more than just a casual reading.-- Canadian Folk Music --
Told with a flair that will entice young and old alike . . .-- The Newfoundland Herald --
Frightening (but fascinating) mysteries . . .-- Canadian Book Review Annual --