Monday, 11 November 2019

Things That Go Bump In The Basement, Livingstone Street, St. John’s

Things That Go Bump In The Basement
Livingstone Street, St. John’s

By Dale Jarvis

Winter nights seem made for the sharing of spooky tales.  Wind swirling ‘round the gables of old houses and the tappings of skeletal branches against attic windows would certainly set the stage for many a ghost story.

In his book, Streets of St. John’s, author Jack White quotes newspaper columnist, J.M Byrnes. Byrnes reminisced of a particular poplar tree from his youth on Livingstone Street in the 1880s, “its stark branches now in the sleep of winter and ghostly with bandages of falling snow, sprawling over the gables of the adjoining houses and stirring restlessly with the ever increasing wind which tapped and swirled against the attic windows.”

Livingstone Street is more that just atmospheric, however. Indeed, it seems to have attracted a fair share of local legends.

It was not that long ago that there was a woman living on Livingstone Street with her young son. The boy, like many young children, was possessed of an imaginary friend.  In this particular case, it was an imaginary dog.  The boy would often go down into the basement to play with his invisible friend, and the mother thought nothing of it.

The basement was only roughly finished, and not the most comfortable of spaces. So the woman hired a contractor to come in, tear up the old broken concrete floor and pour a new one, in order to finish the basement and make it more liveable.  When the workman pulled up the floor, there, underneath the old concrete, he found the skeleton of a dog.

Or so the local legend goes, anyway. Like many ghost stories, it is one that I have come across through second-hand sources, so it difficult to judge its accuracy.  What is interesting, however, is that it is a story which does not seem out of place on Livingstone Street.  Haunted basements, in fact, seem to be a recurring theme in the neighbourhood.

Around 1972, a family with several children was living in a house on that street. By and by, several family members started to experience strange things.  One of the eldest boys saw a strange face looking in at him through a window.  The mother started to hear heavy footsteps coming up the stairs in the middle of the night.  But it was the two youngest children that witnessed the most terrifying event, down in the basement of the property.

“Caroline” was only a young girl at the time, about six years old. Over 30 years later, she still has a vivid memory of what she saw in that basement.

“Me and my brother were down in the basement playing,” remembers Caroline. “He wanted me to sit on top of an old oil barrel that was in our basement. I was afraid to sit on the barrel because I was afraid I would fall off.  I reluctantly agreed to go up there only after he went first.”

Caroline’s brother started to climb up the barrel when the girl looked across the room.

“There in the middle of the basement was the most terrifying sight of my entire life,” she says, thinking back on the events of that day. “There was this giant head and face staring at me.  It had black hair; the face was very ugly. The lips were the scariest part, and were snarled up and sneering at me.”

“It was horrifying,” she remembers.

The image was in the middle of the basement, with an evil smirk on its face, about three feet high. Both Caroline and her brother saw the apparition.

“I ran out of the basement screaming, my brother ran after me,” Caroline describes. “I ran upstairs and told my older brother, he went downstairs to check out what I had seen”

When the family went downstairs, the head had disappeared. The basement light, which had been on when the children had fled, was now turned off.

“I guess the darkness hates the light,” says Caroline

Originally printed in Haunted Waters, published by Flanker Press. 
Map: Insurance plan of the city of St. John's, Newfoundland

Saturday, 2 November 2019

The Ghost Dory of Cape St. Mary’s - Was it a Mirage or Phantom?

The Ghost Dory of Cape St. Mary’s

In 1999, John Lou Ennis of Placentia released a book about the changes that have taken place in Placentia Bay over the centuries. Ennis, the son of John Louis Ennis and Leah Best of Merasheen, included in his book one example of a ghostly encounter which he explained as being caused by a mirage.

Ennis’ father was a fisherman out of Merasheen, and would often fish off the coast of Cape St. Mary’s. One night while anchored near Cape St. Mary’s, the man saw what he believed to be an optical illusion.

“Looking out through the thick fog, he suddenly spotted a dory coming towards his boat, rowed by two men,” writes the witness’ son. “He had no idea who the men were although he could dimly see their faces.”

The first thought of the fisherman was that the men in the dory must have gotten separated from their schooner, or that they were in need of something. He called to another man on watch, who could also see the dory approaching them.

Together, Ennis Sr. and the man on watch ran to assist the small vessel. The two rushed forward to catch hold of the thrown rope as the dory came closer to them. As they did so, the dory vanished before their astonished eyes.

“Mirages are a fairly common sight at sea and I’m sure sailors still get a shock when one occurs,” writes Ennis.

While visually startling, the concept of a mirage has been well understood for many years. This natural phenomenon may explain some ghostly sightings from Newfoundland and Labrador. The 1915 edition of The New Practical Reference Library defines a mirage as “the appearance of an object in the sky, due to the reflection of rays of light by a layer of atmosphere of different density from that in which the object is situated.”

One type of mirage presents the appearance of ships and icebergs, sometimes inverted and suspended in the clouds. This particular type of mirage is frequently observed at sea in the northern latitudes. It occurs when the lower air is very much colder and therefore denser than the air immediately above it, causing distant objects to appear in the low sky.

This type of mirage is known as a “superior mirage” and is most common in the Arctic and Antarctic. One phenomenon commonly associated with superior mirages is a repeat sunset. In this, the sun appears to set, reappear, and then set again some time later. This was witnessed in 1915 on a Antarctic expedition led by Sir Ernest Shackleton.

Shackleton encountered many mirages, and in January of 1915 he wrote, “From the mast-head the mirage is continually giving us false alarms. Everything wears an aspect of unreality. Icebergs hang upside down in the sky; the land appears as layers of silvery or golden cloud.”

The ghost dory of Cape St. Mary’s may have been a mirage of an event occurring at some distance. Or could it have been a phantom boat doomed to row for all eternity? Optical illusion or true haunting? You will have to decide for yourself.

- by Dale Jarvis, originally printed in "Wonderful Strange" published by Flanker Press. Photo credit: Three men in dory, circa 1930s. George W. Bailey fonds, Item B 22-3, The Rooms. Inscription: To Geo. W Bailey from [Eben] A Ayers for The Associated Press

Thursday, 6 June 2019

Holographic fairies and giant teacups - Introducing NewfoundlandLand!

Experience a Holographic Fairy and a Giant Teacup.
Meet the Fairy Rescue Professors. Learn About the Giants of Placentia Bay.

NewfoundlandLand is a magical and interactive storytelling event that includes family-friendly attractions based on the legends, lore and popular culture of Newfoundland and Labrador. This touring attraction has officially launched in St. John’s and will be visiting communities across the province throughout the summer and fall.

This interactive exhibit combines today’s cutting-edge technology with traditional Newfoundland folklore, is designed for all ages and is composed of three unique pavilions:

  1. Dark Night of the Ugly Stick: Puppet/stop animation film and installation. 
  2. Fact or Fiction: The Talls: Fairy Rescue Professors will lead a storytelling session based on historical NL “tall tales”. Experience giant artifacts like a larger than life lunch box and teacup.
  3. NL Fairy Rescue: Guests will be invited into the Fairy Research Centre where they will learn about the history of fairies and meet a fairy! 

Theodore Thales Laxity, Founder of the Newfoundland Fairy Rescue and Research Laboratory says, “Newfoundland is a place of wonder and magic deeply rooted in the tradition of storytelling. Growing up in a small community, my parents and grandparents passed down stories of fairies and other marvellous tall tales. I wanted to create an interactive exhibit that is portable and can be easily toured to small communities across the province, as a way of engaging both young and old by sharing traditional stories in a contemporary way. Myself and the rest of the Professors will also give people an opportunity to have a hands-on experience with artifacts like a giant tea cup, as well as an enormous lunch box, and provide an up-close-and-personal visit with a real-life fairy!”

How does it work? Guests can decide which pavilions they would like to visit for a small fee. There’s also lots of fun activities to keep guests entertained in the general area including:

  • Performers entertaining guests as Fairy Rescue Professors
  • Children’s colouring and drawing centre 
  • Popcorn and fairy cloud (cotton candy) 
  • A mini-documentary starring local historian Dale Jarvis about fairies and its ongoing impact on Newfoundland culture 
  • Merchandise table with fairy colouring books and special giveaways for kids 


David Keating as Professor Theodore Thales Laxity | Paul David Power as Professor Rocky Earle | Chris Adams as Professor Conroy Bowman | Matthew Dawe as Professor Popcorn |
Richard Short as Professor Hot Dog

Booking NewfoundlandLand
NewfoundlandLand utilizes technological and entertainment approaches to engage our young population in our cultural heritage. From the rich tradition of fairy lore to showcasing how people in our outport communities used material on hand for entertainment - NewfoundlandLand is committed to complementing the educational curriculum when it comes to learning about and appreciating traditions. On a school and or community visit we provide all or any of our attractions to engage youth.

For more information about bookings please contact: |

Monday, 22 April 2019

Burial, Cemetery, and Death Ritual articles by Dale Jarvis

Someone asked for these today, so I've decided to put them all in one blog entry!

Jarvis. Dale Gilbert.

Jarvis, Dale Gilbert; Drover, Kelly.

Jarvis, Dale Gilbert; Barrett, Terra; Elliott, Heather; Li Xingpei.

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

List of Folk Horror and Supernatural Literature Titles in Newfoundland and Labrador

I've been having a chat tonight with the October Witch about Newfoundland supernatural, dark folklore, and folk horror literature, and I've gone down a bit of an eerie rabbit hole. I've started to compile a list of all the published fictional work that I can think of with distinctly Newfoundland and Labrador paranormal/supernatural themes and motifs.

This is a work in progress, so if you can think of anything not here, leave a comment or email  I'm specifically including fictional work, so no non-fiction collections of ghost stories (that rules out most of my own stuff!), and I'm excluding things like science fiction, speculative fiction, books written by NL writers but set elsewhere, or straight up horror. To get on this list, the piece should be: published; based in Newfoundland and Labrador; have characters/themes/motifs that are clearly linked to "traditional" local folklore in some way. I have made a short list at the bottom of this list of works that are set in the province but which deal with more contemporary paranormal themes (vampires, werewolves, etc). I'm not sure if all of the stage plays have been published, so let me know that too.

Stage plays

Barry, Frank. Wreckhouse.
Chafe, Robert. Butler’s Marsh.
Chafe, Robert. Isle of Demons.
Pinsent, Gordon. Corner Green.
Pittman, Al. West Moon.
Stapleton, Berni. The Double Axe Murders.
Sullivan, Joan. Wolf in the Fold.


Barbeau, Melissa.  The Luminous Sea.
Butler Hallett, Michelle.  Deluded Your Sailors.
Butler Hallett, Michelle. Double-blind.
Collins, Gerard. Finton Moon.
Cotter, Charis. The Ferryland Visitor.
Crummy, Michael. Galore.
Dawe, Tom. The Loon in the Dark Tide: Old Newfoundland Ghost Stories.
Dawe, Tom. An Old Man's Winter Night: Ghostly Tales.
Dawe, Tom. Spirited Away: Fairy stories of old Newfoundland.
Harvey, Kenneth.  Town that Forgot How to Breathe.
Hynes, Joel Thomas. Say Nothing Saw Wood.
Kavanagh, Ed. The Confessions of Nipper Mooney.
Pilgrim, Earl. Curse of the Red Cross Ring.
Pilgrim, Earl. The Ghost of Ellen Dower.
Rowe, Bill. The Monster of Twenty Mile Pond.
Steffler, John. The Afterlife of George Cartwright.
Story, Kate. Blasted.
Tilley, Sara. Skin Room.


Dalton, Mary. Merrybegot.
McGrath, Carmelita. Ghost Poems.
Rogers, Nico. The Fetch.

YA/Children’s Fiction 

Abbott, L. M. The Riddle.
Baird, Alison.  The Hidden World (The Tales of Annwn #1)
Baird, Alison.  The Wolves of Woden (The Tales of Annwn #2)
Cotter, Charis.  The Painting.
Cotter, Charis.  The Ghost Road.
Davis, Harold. The Starrigans of Little Brook Bottom.
Dinn, Philip; Jones, Andy.  Peg Bearskin.
Falcone, Lucy M. The Mysterious Mummer.
Jarvis, Dale.  The Golden Leg.
Jones, Andy. The Jack Series (Running the Goat Press).
Kennedy, Patti. The Fairies of Billy's Gully.
McNaughton, Janet. Brave Jack and the Unicorn.
McNaughton, Janet.  Catch Me Once Catch Me Twice
Obed, Ellen Bryan. Borrowed Black: A Labrador Fantasy.
Pierce, Nicola. Spirit of the Titanic.
Reed, Don C. The Kraken.
Story, Alice.  Beneath the Barrens: A novel
Wallace, Ian. Hansel and Gretel.

Newfoundland-based contemporary horror/paranormal fantasy

Dunne, Brad. After Dark Vapours.
Frost, Tanith. Immortal Soulless series.
Gosse, Douglas. The Celtic Cross.
Labonté, Amanda.  Call of the Sea series.
Meikle, William. The Green and the Black.
Meikle, William. Home From The Sea.
O’Keefe, Charles.  The Newfoundland Vampire series.
Osmond, Candace. The Dark Tides series.
Peddle, Geoff. The Atonement of Jack Fowler.
Ryan-Lush, Geraldine. Hannigan's hand: the ghost woman talks.
Sora, Kit. The Artobiography.
Sullivan, Shannon Patrick. The Dying Days.
Traverse, Tina. Destiny of a Vampire.
Traverse, Tina.  Scarlet Desire: Covet.

Anthologies/Short Stories/Songs

Chillers from the Rock (Engen Books)
Fantasy from the Rock (Engen Books)
Great Big Sea. “French Perfume” on Sea of No Cares
Nelson, Kou K. “Safe Upon the Shore” in Specter Spectacular: 13 Ghostly Tales. Edited by Eileen Wiedbrauk.
Power, Colleen. “Taken Away By The Fairies” on Lucky You Are
Zombies on the Rock (Engen Books)

Last updated 30 January 2019

(see also Engen Books for additional straight-up horror titles)

Got more for me? Let me know!

And because Bob Hallett suggested it, a song for you:

Thursday, 25 October 2018

The Ghost Ship of the Bay of Islands - A Hallowe'en tale for #FolkloreThursday

The Ghost Ship of the Bay of Islands
By Dale Jarvis
Ghost ships have a permanent berth in the folklore of Newfoundland and Labrador. They sail out of the night or emerge from stormy seas in countless harbours across the province. Yet while many a port boasts a ghostly galleon of its own, they are few phantom ships as mysterious as that of the Bay of Islands.

The vessel was first spotted several generations ago. Along the shores of the bay lived an old Native American woman in a small cabin. She lived alone, far from the nearest settlement, and was more than content with her life of solitude.

One evening, the woman's peaceful stretch of shoreline was disturbed by a strange series of noises. The night was filled with the sounds of a ship close by. The woman could hear the sound of men shouting orders, the sound of water lapping against its hull, the sound of ropes twisting under strain.

Amidst these noises she could make out another noise. This was a sound more troublesome: the echo of clanking chains, of men in iron fetters. A slave ship had taken shelter in the bay.

Certainly the Bay of Islands is no stranger to sailing ships. Captain Cook charted its waters, finding the bay an excellent base when he visited the coast in 1767. Cook was marine surveyor of Newfoundland from 1763 to 1767. His detailed charts made life safer for mariners, and he made maps so precise they were usedby generations of seafarers afterwards. Pirates too had ventured into the bay, seeking safety from storms and from those who sought to bring them to justice.

But a slave ship was something rare, and unheard of in the woman's lifetime. Years had passed since the last slaver had made its run between Africa and the New World. The appearance of such a ship now bode no good.

The woman opened the door to her small cabin and stepped out onto the beach. From there, the sounds of the ship were louder. She looked out onto the waters of the bay and was startled by what she saw.

The evening sky was clear, and a sliver of moon and twinkling stars shone down on a empty bay. No ship graced its waters. For as far as she could see in any direction, she was alone.

The noise did not stop however. It was as if a ship lay at anchor just in front of her, but was hidden behind some invisible veil. Clearly, a ghost ship had sailed into the bay from points unknown.

Such a dramatic and eerie haunting would no doubt provoke a feeling of great terror in the hearts of many. But the old woman had lived a long life of self-sufficiency, and had seen much in her day. No ghost ship was going to scare her. After the initial surprise of the encounter wore off, she took matters firmly and decisively into her own hands.

She disappeared back into the sanctuary of her cabin for a moment, only to re-emerge holding in her wizened hands an ancient shotgun. She marched down to the edge of the beach without any sign of fear. Raising the gun to her shoulder, she took aim at the general area where the slave ship seemed to be, and fired a mighty volley into the nothingness.

The shot reverberated throughout the night, and then died away. The air resumed its normal stillness, and the clanking and groaning of the slave ship could be heard no more.

Satisfied at the outcome of her attack, the woman slung the shotgun over her shoulder, and marched back into the cabin. She bolted the door behind, and hung the weapon in its usual place from the one of the cabin's exposed beams. She then extinguished the oil lantern she kept by the bed, and went to sleep, untroubled by any further ghostly troubles, phantom ships or mysterious noises.

When the sun rose and spread its warm light across the waters of the bay, the woman rose as well. She left her cabin and once more made her way down to the water's edge.

The water was as calm and as devoid of ships as it had been the night before. She stood still for a moment and tilted one ear to the water, but no noise out of the ordinary could be heard. Soft waves licked the smooth stones which defined the curving line of the beach. Looking into the water, the woman noticed something peculiar within easy reach. She stooped down, and thrusting her hand into the coolness of the bay, withdrew the object from its watery bed.

Rusty and weathered, with weak links and missing pieces betraying its venerable age, was a set of iron manacles.

While the slaving vessel was not seen again, the woman held on to the physical proof its visit for many a year. She would share the story with those rare visitors to her cabin, and would pull out the old manacles as an indication of her honestly.

Forty or so years ago, the woman, grown ancient with the passing of time, told her story to a young boy, and showed him the manacles.

The boy grew in a man, but never forgot what he had seen or heard.. Years later, he told they story to his son. In turn, his son told the story to me, and now I have passed it along to you.

When the wind dies down and the night grows quiet over the Bay of Islands, and the moon has diminished till it is just a sliver of its former self, listen carefully.

photo courtesy Old Book Illustrations.

Monday, 1 October 2018

The Harbour Grace Corpse Light - Friend or Foe?

Mysterious lights have a great tradition in Newfoundland and Labrador. There are numerous stories from around the province of an eerie light that would appear in times of danger and was usually followed by a tragic incident.

This pale flame, known in the Latin as ignis fatuus, has been ofttimes reported flickering over marshy ground, and, it is said, over churchyards. It often appears specifically to lead travellers astray, into bog holes, or over cliffs.

This strange phenomena is known most commonly in Newfoundland as the Jacky Lantern, the West Country England name for the Will o' the Wisp. However, it was also known as a Corpse Candle around the capital city of St. John’s, and as a Corpse Light in the picturesque and historic community of Harbour Grace.

Harbour Grace is one of Newfoundland's oldest outport communities, and one with a rich and colourful history. As early as 1550 Harbour Grace was a thriving fishing community, with the majority of fishermen arriving from the Channel Islands. In the early 1600s, oral tradition holds that fortifications were established at Harbour Grace by the famous English pirate Peter Easton, who plundered fishing stations, stole provisions and munitions, induced men to join his fleet, and generally wrought havoc along the eastern coast of Newfoundland.

The community is no stranger to the stuff of legends, and the corpse candle has a firm place in local folklore. In Harbour Grace, however, these strange lights were not always evil or dangerous, nor did they always lure travellers into treacherous areas. In one documented case, one corpse light actually led the Revered Canon Noel and his wife to safety during a blizzard just outside the community.

That event took place at the very beginning of the twentieth century. The Reverend and his wife had taken their horse and sleigh to a blacksmith, several miles distant. Delays meant the couple had to leave during a storm. Their horse was soon bogged down in high snow, and they realized they were completely lost.

A bright light began moving around. Believing it to be rescuers, the couple shouted for help. The light approached them and passed by, but there was no sign of a person carrying it.

The frozen pair walked in the direction of the light. This led them to a stone fence, which in turn led them to a house where they found shelter for the night. When the owners of the house were told of the strange light, they expressed no surprise. The corpse light was no stranger to the citizens of Harbour Grace. It had been seen many times before, generally before some terrible tragedy. For whatever reason, the ghostly glow had decided to protect the Reverend and his fair wife, instead of leading them to their doom.

Photo: A 14-65.3; Harbour Grace. Aerial photograph by Lee Wulff,
c1955. Fonds GN 186, The Rooms.

Friday, 20 July 2018

Tombstones and Tea is sold out? What can I do?

I am currently sold out for all the summer dates for the 
Tombstones and Tea walking tour of the General Protestant Cemetery. 
But if you'd like to be notified about future dates for Sept/Oct, 
you can subscribe to the mailing list here:

Monday, 25 June 2018

Tea and Tales with tea lady Kelly Jones and storyteller Dale Jarvis

Tea and Tales
The Annex,  365 Old Placentia Rd, Mount Pearl

Join tea lady Kelly Jones and storyteller Dale Jarvis as they celebrate their love of tea with stories, tastings, and treats. As you listen to stories of missing eyelids, wise dragons, haunted tea plantations, and the Iron Goddess of Mercy Herself, you will sample four varieties of tea. Learn about proper brewing techniques, and take away tips to make a perfect cup.

Tuesday, July 17th
7:00 p.m.
Tickets: $35.00

Friday, 25 May 2018

Let sickness blast, let death devour: Died in Diptheria, Grand Bank, 1884

Recently, this stone caught my eye in the Old Methodist Cemetery in Grand Bank, Newfoundland. The stone reads:

HARRIET PATTE [broken, possibly PATTEN]

Yet these now rising from the tomb
With lustre brighter far shall shine
Revive with ever during bloom
Safe from diseases and decline.


There are several markers from the 1880s in the cemetery noting that the individual interred died of diphtheria. Archivist Larry Dohey has noted, "A diphtheria epidemic raged throughout Newfoundland from 1888 -1891, medical officials identified at least 3,183 cases and it had resulted in at least 624 deaths."

The phrase "died in diptheria" is intriguing. Other markers in the cemetery use the phrase "died of" rather than "died in." Also, the spelling of diptheria (without the first "H") seems to have peaked in the 1860s, and then was surpassed and largely replaced with the current spelling of diphtheria.

Below: Uses of the words diptheria vs diphtheria, 1800-present

The "Yet these now rising from the tomb" epitaph is taken from Hymn 46 "The morning flowers display their sweets," published in "A Collection of Hymns, for the use of the people called Methodists" by the Rev. John Wesley, 1790, and is attributed to Samuel Wesley, Jr.:

THE morning flowers display their sweets,
And gay their silken leaves unfold
As careless of the noontide heats,
As fearless of the evening cold.

Nipt by the wind's unkindly blast,
Parched by the sun's directer ray,
The momentary glories waste,
The short-lived beauties die away.

So blooms the human face divine,
When youth its pride of beauty shows;
Fairer than spring the colours shine,
And sweeter than the virgin rose.

Or worn by slowly-rolling years,
Or broke by sickness in a day,
The fading glory disappears,
The short-lived beauties die away.

Yet these, new rising from the tomb,
With lustre brighter far shall shine;
Revive with ever-during bloom,
Safe from diseases and decline.

Let sickness blast, let death devour,
If heaven must recompense our pains:
Perish the grass, and fade the flower,
If firm the word of God remains.

The stone carving itself is attributed to J. McIntyre, and is most likely the work of the Standard Marble Works, a St. John's-based firm under the direction of James McIntyre, as advertised below in the Evening Telegram  of 1892-09-05. A high percentage of the monuments of the same period in the cemetery bear the maker's mark McIntyre or J. McIntyre. The stone is somewhat damaged along the top and top right, but it could have potentially been topped with a carved lamb, a common motif for the markers of children, and a motif seen on similar monuments in the cemetery.