Thursday, 2 February 2017

The Candlemas Day Token of Cobbs Arm. #FolkloreThursday


The name of Candlemas Day is derived from the tradition of blessing the annual supply of church candles on that date. According to the Dictionary of Newfoundland English, Candlemas Day is a day for festivities, with singing, dancing, drinking and a meal. There is also the tradition of the Candlemas Cake, which can be an actual cake, or the name for the party held on that special day.

In local folklore, February 2nd is a day which will foretell the weather for the months ahead. As the old Newfoundland saying goes, "if Candlemas Day be clear and fine, the rest of winter is left behind; if Candlemas Day be rough and grum, there's more of winter left to come."

One Candlemas Day in the community of Cobbs Arm was apparently rough and grum indeed. While the locals of Cobbs Arm were enjoying their Candlemas Cake and all the good fun that came with it, a heavy blizzard came on. All the people present decided to stay in the lodge where it was warm and safe, except one contrary soul who felt like going home.

By this time, the blizzard was so bad that it was impossible to see a hand placed in front of one's face. But this man's mind was made up in spite of the foul weather, and he would listen to none of the people who tried to dissuade him from his journey. He lit his lantern, stepped out the door, and vanished into the howling whiteness.

The next morning when everyone left the lodge, they found out that the man had not arrived safely home. A search party was pulled together, and the citizens of the community began to hunt for the lost man. Eventually they found his body out on the bog, frozen stiff in the icy grasp of death. The lantern was still clenched between his white fingers. General consensus was that he must have lost his bearings in the storm, and that he froze to death alone in the night.

Ever since, many people claimed to have seen his light, and it is said that his soul is still wandering the bog in early February. One typical sighting was reported in 1963. A young man drove from Summerford over to Pikes Arm to pick up his girlfriend. He was driving in his own car, a 1950s model Volkswagen. The twosome parked on a small road across from a bog. It was a very quiet, deserted little road, and there was not another car to be seen.

As the two sat talking to each other, they noticed a light out on the bog coming towards the car. As the light came closer, they thought that perhaps someone was lost. The light came right up close to the car and shone right through the windows.

The young man jumped out of the old Volkswagen and asked," Do you need help? Are you lost?" When he did this, the light travelled around to the back of the car and suddenly vanished. There was not a soul in sight.

The young man jumped back in the car and madly back to Pikes Arm. When they reached the girl's house, the scared couple related their tale, and both of them swore it to be true. After they had told their story to the young woman's family, her grandfather informed them that they were not the first to see the strange light, and shared the story of the Candlemas Day ghost, much as I have now shared it with you.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

The Mermaid Sisters of Beachy Cove, Newfoundland. #folklorethursday



Recently, I got a note from ceramic artist and art teacher Wendy Shirran. In collaboration with designer and illustrator Veselina Tomova, she is working with 22 Grade Three students in Paradise NL to create a series of ceramic relief tile murals based on a traditional Newfoundland folk tale, song, or poem.

Wendy was looking for a story about selkies, mythological creatures who live as seals in the sea but discard their skin to become human on land. While the stories are popular in Irish, Scottish, and Faroese folklore, selkies are not a common part of the folklore of Newfoundland and Labrador, so I suggested a mermaid story instead.

Mermaids have a long history in this part of the world, though the stories often do not end happily ever after. I took a couple different versions of traditional Newfoundland stories and put them together, hopefully in a format to inspire a new generation of young ceramic artists and designers! My story is below, and you can download a pdf version here.


The Mermaid Sisters of Beachy Cove, Newfoundland


Once upon a time, there were two mermaid sisters. They lived in a place called Beachy Cove, in Conception Bay, not far from St. John’s.

The sisters were very beautiful creatures, half woman and half fish. From the waist up, they looked like human women. But from the waist down, they had long tails like fish. Their faces and arms were lovely, and they had long blue hair hanging down their backs.

The mermaids would rest on the beach at night and comb their hair. With one hand they would comb out their long blue hair, all the while admiring themselves in the mirrors they held in their other hands.

One night, a fisherman went for a walk along the beach. As he walked along, he saw two mermaids sitting on a rock as plainly as he ever saw anything in his life. He tried to get closer to get a better look. But as he did, he kicked a pebble and it clattered along the stones, making a noise.

The sisters heard the noise, and were startled. They turned, and saw the fisherman. Then, with a splash of water and a flick of two great fishy tails, the girls dove down to their crystal caves below the sea, and were lost to sight.

From that day on, the fisherman went back to the beach, hoping to see the mermaids. Eventually, the sisters became curious about this man who came every day. When the fisherman would go past in his boat, they would come up by the side of the boat and talk to him.

These mermaids were the daughters of the sea and would bring him both good luck and bad luck. The older sister was bad and would cast magic spells to play tricks on him. But the younger sister was good, and would work her magic to cancel out the evil of her sister.

One day, the older sister used her magic to sing up a great storm. The fisherman’s little boat was caught in huge waves, and was about to crash into the rocks. But just when it looked like the fisherman would die on the rocks, the good mermaid appeared, climbed over the side of the boat, and steered the boat safely through the waves to the shore.

After that, the fisherman never saw the mermaids again. But he lived to be an old man, and told his grandchildren about the two sisters, and how the good sister had saved his life. And now it is your job to go and tell that story to someone else.

Adapted from several traditional Newfoundland mermaid legends by Dale Jarvis.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Friday, 25 November 2016

"Red Eyes" - Glovertown's glow-in-the-dark #UrbanLegend. #amwriting



Down at the end of Angle Brook Road in Glovertown is the impressive ruin of an old pulp and paper mill. It is also the site of a creepy local urban legend about a mysterious figure known as “Red Eyes.”

You can read about the history of the mill and see more great photos on the Hidden Newfoundland website here



For locals, it is a creepy spot, tall and still, empty, and dark even in the daylight. “The Plant” became an after-hours hangout for teenagers, and before long, rumours began to circulate that the old mill was haunted by a spirit known as Red Eyes. It got to the point that many people would not dare go there at night by themselves.

“Eyes are seen in the tower,” one woman told me “The red eyes are said to be from a man that died while building the mill.”  A second woman told me that people used to hang out at the mill, and “would see a worker’s daughter who died there in one of the towers.”

“I heard that apparently it was a man killed during construction,” a third woman told me, who had heard the legend in the late 1980s or early 1990s. “He fell into the cement mixer or something like that, and I think he was built into the place. At night people would say ‘Be careful of Red Eyes!’ It was just an eerie place to be around, even in the daytime. I was only up there once at night, and not for long.”

A Glovertown man who also heard the story in the 1990s told me much the same thing: “He was a worker that fell in the pour when they poured the concrete for the tower. They never got him out. He stuck in the walls, and he still there.” Yet another man told me the spirit was that one of the construction workers who was blown of the top of the building while the mill was being built. “You can see his red eyes glow from the top once a year on the date it happened,” he added. “Some people say he was pushed.”

I posted a request for information on social media, and was almost immediately contacted by someone on Facebook, who wished to remain anonymous.

“I'm born and raised in Glovertown, and spent my teenage years in ‘the plant’ as we like to call it,” he told me. “I've heard of the story and I'll tell you what I know, if you want some info?”

Of course, I wanted more info. I called him up to get his version of the Glovertown urban legend, which he too had learned in the 1990s:

“Most of my teenage years were spent at The Plant, the old sawmill. There is a swimming hole next to it. As a teenager, that is where we went. It is only a couple minutes off one of the roads, so it was just tucked away enough that your parents couldn’t see you drinking. The story has been passed down from the older kids to the younger kids, to scare the crap out of them. When I was a kid, the story was that when the mill was built by a Norwegian company, safety was non-existent. One of the construction workers did not show up at the end of the day. They found his body where had fallen down through one of the towers. He died there. They say that to this day his red eyes haunt the plant. If you were there by yourself, you would see these travelling red eyes following you around.”

Do you have a story about Glovertown's Red Eyes? Send me an email at dale@dalejarvis.ca or comment below!


Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Meet "The Webber" - Newfoundland's creepiest #UrbanLegend. #amwriting #nlunexplained



One of the most intriguing and creepy contemporary legends I have come across from Newfoundland is the story of The Webber - a terrifying, woods-dwelling creature with webbed hands, who loves to catch and devour children, campers, and canoodling teenagers. Like you would, if you lived in the bush and had hands like the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

The Webber seems to be a largely west-coast legend, and several of its older origin stories place it around the Harmon Air Force Base in Stephenville, which operated between 1941 and 1966.

The legend has migrated north and east, with versions found along the Great Northern Peninsula and Labrador, and with one outlying variant told about the Heart's Content Barrens area between Carbonear and Heart’s Content. The stories incorporate tropes found in other contemporary and urban legends like The Hook Man, but there are similarities between many of The Webber’s origin stories -- he is born with webbed hands (and sometimes feet) and then is either abandoned, lost in an accident, or murders his unfortunate parents. It then goes on to live in the wild, and terrorize (and/or eat) innocent passers-by.

The Webber made a special guest appearance (stories of The Webber did, at least) on the Hallowe’en edition of the “Sunday Night Geek” podcast for Oct 30th. 2016. Folklorist John Bodner of Memorial University's Grenfell Campus stopped by the podcast to share some tales, and you can hear a fantastic archival version of the creature’s origin story at about the 20 minute mark.




I’ve been collecting other Webber stories, and have condensed some of them below. If you know about The Webber, and have a different version, PLEASE let me know!! Send me a note at dale@dalejarvis.ca or post to social media with the hashtag #NLunexplained.

And now, prepare to meet The Webber:

Version One
The Webber was a man-like creature covered in hair who migrated between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland every seven years. The creature had webbed hands and feet which enabled it to swim to and from Newfoundland.
Version Two
An American couple were living on the base in Stephenville during WW2. They had a baby boy, and to their horror he was born with webbing between his fingers and toes. They decided to fly back to the States to have the webbing removed, but their plane crashed just outside of town and the parents were killed. The baby survived, and grew up to hunt children who go out wandering around the woods after nightfall.
Version Three
A family was involved in a car accident along the highway near Pasadena. It happened at night and the car went far enough into the woods that no one noticed it for a few days. A kid survived the crash, but a bunch of birds attacked him and injured his hands as he defended himself. He couldn't find the highway and went into the woods and raised himself. His injured hands healed into duck-like webs, and he ate whatever he could find.
Version Four
The Webber was born deformed with webbed hands and webbed feet, and lived in isolation near Pasadena with his unwed mother, who was embarrassed by his appearance. He was feral and lived outside, and when his mother passed on he continued to live in the woods. He was said to feed on the children who attended the camp built on his mother’s land.
Version Five
A man and woman in their 50s found out they were going to be first-time parents. Unlike most newborns The Webber Baby was grotesquely deformed, with webbed hands and feet, an unusually large head, and long claw like fingernails They decided to raise him at home and keep him inside at all times, so no one could make fun of him. As grew, he was unusually strong and too hard for them to handle. They decided to bring him to Carbonear to a home for people who needed special care. They put him in the car and headed away from home. Later that night on the Heart's Content Barrens, their car was found flipped over in the woods. The couple was torn up and dead, and the roof was slashed apart as if by a wild animal. 

Got your own Webber story? Do versions of this legend occur outside of Newfoundland? Get at me, true believers! dale@dalejarvis.ca 

PS: Want a pair of those sweet, sweet Deep Spawn silicone gloves shown above? They can be yours for only $569.95 and are perfect for terrorizing sleep-deprived campers. Start rolling your nickels and dimes, kids.

Friday, 4 November 2016

Do you know about the two headless ghosts of Fogo Island? #amwriting #NLunexplained #NaNonFiWriMo


In 1999, Fogo Island Literacy Association published a small book called “Tales of Fogo Island,” compiled and edited by Della Coish. The publication was designed as easy-to-read book about local life and culture, for use with adult learners in literacy programs.

The book includes references to two (presumably) different Fogo Island headless ghosts.

The first headless phantom was spotted by a man named Lynch, of Island Harbour. Lynch was on his way from Payne's Harbour to Butt's Point when he met a man on the road, dressed in a black suit of clothes. When Lynch spoke to the stranger, he got no reply, probably because the figure was missing his head.

On a different occasion, a woman from Fogo was walking home, when she became aware of a man walking in front of her. Thinking it was her brother, she called out to him, and found out that he too was headless.

I'd love to know if there are more recent encounters with these ghosts, and would like to gather more details about either of the stories, or other stories of hauntings from Fogo Island. If you have info for me , drop me a line at dale@dalejarvis.ca.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Hand Shot Off - News from Trepassey, 1918. #NLunexplained #NaNonFiWriMo

I'm working away at my National Non Fiction Writing Month project, #NLunexplained, and I found this little gem of a story from the St. John's Daily Star, 1918-12-11:
HAND SHOT OFF 
Mr. Wm. Bulger who was hurt at Trepassey in a gunning accident was brought in from there by train at noon to-day, and was taken in the ambulance to the Hospital. He was in the act of drawing a charge of powder and shot from the weapon when the cap, which he had forgotten was on the nipple, was hit by the trigger which was accidentally pulled. His left hand was practically blown off from the wrist. He lost much blood and suffered great pain, but bore it with stoicism.



Tuesday, 1 November 2016

My November writing project is #NLunexplained! #NaNonFiWriMo #WNFIN



It is November 1st, All Soul's Day. Hallowe'en is over, the St. John's Haunted Hike and my "Haunted at Leaside" show has been put to bed. This is when normal people would say, "I'm going to take a break." Well, I'm not doing that.

Today is also that day when aspiring fiction writers gallop madly off as part of the National Novel Writing Month. Well, I'm not doing that, either.

Instead, I've decided to take on the 2016 Write Nonfiction in November Challenge! As part of National Non-Fiction Writing Month, this annual challenge is to complete a work of non-fiction in 30 days. You can learn more on Facebook.

My last book of NL paranormal stories was Haunted Waters (available on Amazon.ca, Kobo, iTunes, Nook, and Kindle) back in 2010. So I'm overdue for another book.

So as of today, I'm officially starting on my next book project on local folklore, true hauntings, and supernatural stories!  Follow along with the #NLunexplained hashtag on social media, and stay tuned! I'll be posting updates on my projects and on the various creepy and mysterious stories from NL folklore I'm in the process of researching.

Got a story of your own you want to share with me? I'm always looking for new stories of hauntings, fairies, strange creatures and the unexplained, from anywhere in Newfoundland and Labrador. Drop me a line at dale@dalejarvis.ca.



Thursday, 1 September 2016

Jack the Lantern in Shoe Cove Bight - A Will o' the Wisp for #FolkloreThursday



By Dale Jarvis
The sighting of mysterious lights is part of a great and honoured tradition here in Newfoundland and Labrador. There are stories too numerous to count of an eerie light that will appear in times of danger or which is followed by a tragic incident. They also often appear specifically to lead foolish or unsuspecting travellers astray, into bog holes, or over cliffs.

These strange lights are not always evil or dangerous, neither do they always lure travellers into treacherous areas nor to their doom. In one documented case, one such light actually led the Reverend Canon Noel and his good wife to safety during a blizzard outside Harbour Grace. Sometimes these mysterious apparitions appear for no reason at all, content to merely flit, gambol and cavort in the dark shadows of the Newfoundland night.

There are those in Newfoundland and elsewhere who will tell you that these strange lights are a type of fairy or possibly even a spirit. In the United Kingdom the phenomenon is known as a Hinky-Punk, a Hobby-Lanter, or a Joan-in-the-Wad. Another English name is the Jill-Burnt-Tail, who is deliciously said to be a more flirtatious, female version of the light. In Newfoundland it is known as a corpse candle, a Will o' the Wisp, or a Jacky Lantern. Around La Scie the otherworldly glow is recognized as no one less than Jack the Lantern.

Not far from La Scie is the community of Shoe Cove. It is about ten km southwest of Cape St. John, the western headland of Notre Dame Bay. The Cove itself is a steep-sided, open bight about two km wide. Today the Cove is a much different place than it was before Confederation. Before the days of Joey Smallwood and the pains of resettlement, there were many smaller settlements including Stage Cove, The Bight, The Brook, Caplin Cove and Beaver Cove. Since Confederation most these sites have been abandoned. One of these abandoned sites, The Bight, was said to be a favourite stomping ground of Jack the Lantern.

Growing up in Shoe Cove Bight in the years before Confederation, the young men of the settlement heard the old fellows talk about Jack the Lantern. Skeptics to a man, the youngsters never put much faith in any of the stories. One of the older men who kept the legends alive lived down by the shoreline, and he claimed that he had met Jack the Lantern first hand.

Years earlier, this gentleman had seen a light coming in from the water. Thinking it was a boat coming in to land on the beach, he went down to meet it. He watched the light come in, but when it came close its forward movement slowed. In fact, the light did not land on the beach at all. Instead it chose to move parallel to the shore, just the same as if it were a man with a lantern in his hand, walking on the water.

Time and again they heard the tales. But the young men considered the stories told around hot stoves and in the camaraderie of the fishing sheds nothing but old foolishness, and they paid their elders no heed. If they thought of Jack the Lantern at all, they must have figured they just were as likely to meet the Man in the Moon himself, with his own lantern, dog and bush of thorn.

One night around September, a group of three or four of the boys were over in La Scie. The terrain between La Scie and Shoe Cove Bight made overland travel all but impossible, so the boys were used to taking a punt and rowing home.

The boys set off in the punt. When they looked up along the shoreline, they all saw a light upon the water. Just after they came out into the water a little further, the light started to come down closer to them. When it got down closer alongside of them it shone dimly in the night, like the low glimmer of a dull flashlight.

The light came close to the bow of the rowboat. And there it stayed, matching the speed of the vessel. One of the fellows, more brave or more foolish than the rest, tried to reach it with the paddle. No matter how hard the lad tried, he could not get handy to the glow. The light remained tantalizingly out of reach, silently hovering only about five or eight feet away, bobbing out of striking distance of the paddle.

When the boys reached the Bight, they turned in towards shore and the more familiar lights of home. At that time there was no wharf, and the locals of the Bight were accustomed to tie their craft off on the collar, a place near shore where boats were moored for safety.

The light was persistent in its attention, or perhaps it was curious as to what would take a punt full of young men all the way from La Scie to Shoe Cove Bight so late in the evening. For whatever reason, the light followed the punt to where the boats of the settlement were on the collar. As they turned in towards land the light thought better of its bold advance and turned out.

Where the light had been small and dim all the time it had followed the punt, it now started to change and swell. As it moved off into the distance it got both bigger and brighter. When it reached a spot approximately half a mile off shore, it had grown significantly in size and luminescence.

Looking back, the boys were witnesses to an unbelievable sight. The tiny flame-light glow had metamorphosed into a burning mass of light. As the watched, the light changed into something that looked all the world like a ship all lit up, or like a schooner sailing past with its lights lit, and lights all up along the masts and rigging.

They tied up the boat and made their way to their respective homes, minds awhirl with the events of the evening. Much later, the boys spoke of what had happened and of their meeting with Jack the Lantern. And if they themselves were not believed at the time, that perhaps was their reward for their being so disbelieving at the start.

A version of this story was originally published in Downhomer, April 2002, Vol. 14(11), pp. 70-71. Photo of Shoe Cove Bight courtesy of KevinGMartin.




Dale Jarvis is an author, storyteller, and professional folklorist who splits his time between St. John’s and Clarke’s Beach, Newfoundland, Canada. The proprietor of the St. John’s Haunted Hike ghost tour, Dale tells ghost stories, supernatural stories, legends and traditional tales from Newfoundland, Labrador and beyond. The Haunted Hike runs every Sunday to Thursday during the summer, and is online at www.hauntedhike.com. You can like us on Facebook, or better yet, come along and let us tell you a tale!


Saturday, 20 August 2016

Blood luck - a strange superstition from Harbour Deep, Newfoundland. #folklore

I came across this paragraph about folk belief and superstitions from the community of Harbour Deep, located on the east coast of Newfoundland's Great Northern Peninsula:

The settlers had many superstitions and were obsessed by a belief in the presence of ghosts. It was common to hear of a man, who, while rowing across the harbor, had seen a phantom French ship, with many soldiers aboard, also crossing. Others had seen an Indian ghost following them from one settlement to another. Their superstitions were legion and I shall mention only one. During the seal hunt if a successful hunter saw anybody throwing blood out of his boat into the boat of another, a fight was sure to follow because the hunter believed that his luck was being stolen. 
- J. Morgan, "Recollections of Harbour Deep." September 1957, page 5. Atlantic Guardian Vol 14, no 9

Has anyone come across the idea of someone using blood to break someone's luck? If you have, I'd love to hear about it! You can email me at info@hauntedhike.com.




Dale Jarvis is an author, storyteller, and professional folklorist who splits his time between St. John’s and Clarke’s Beach, Newfoundland, Canada. The proprietor of the St. John’s Haunted Hike ghost tour, Dale tells ghost stories, supernatural stories, legends and traditional tales from Newfoundland, Labrador and beyond. The Haunted Hike runs every Sunday to Thursday during the summer, and is online at www.hauntedhike.com. You can like us on Facebook, or better yet, come along and let us tell you a tale!



Thursday, 18 August 2016

Pirate Gold! The Man in the Mountain & Corner Brook's Treasure Island. #FolkloreThursday


By Dale Jarvis

I've been in the Humber Valley this week, talking about local stories and history. So it seems fitting that this week's contribution to #FolkloreThursday be about one of the region's most enduring and well known legends: that of the Old Man in the Mountain, a strange face which can be seen in the cliffs outside of the town. The Old Man himself is located just east of the city and is best seen when traveling east to Steady Brook. About two minutes outside of Corner Brook is a rocky cliff known as Breakfast Head. If you slow down and look up, the Old Man in the Mountain can be seen on the rockface overlooking Shellbird Island in the Humber River.

It is often said that the face is hard to locate, but patience and a bit of imagination is all it takes to find it. In the photo above (from A Place To Call Home) you can see the face in the lower left quadrant of the image. The image in rock resembles the face of a fisherman, or pirate, or Beothuk, depending on who you talk to. The face leers out over the Humber, looking down on Shellbird Island from his lofty, rocky perch. Legend has it that the old man was carved into the mountain to serve as a marker for an undiscovered treasure.

Shellbird Island is situated in the Humber River Valley, the main arterial route between the granite hills surrounding Corner Brook and the only transportation link for east to west land traffic in the area.  Captain Cook explored this river valley in 1767, and found Corner Brook to be an excellent base of operations for his work in charting the coastline. Cook was marine surveyor of Newfoundland from 1763 to 1767. Cook's maps were the first to use accurate triangulation. Much of his work was so accurate that many of his charts could still be used today. He went on to explore much of the Pacific and was killed in Hawaii in 1779. If only he had stayed in Newfoundland!

Although Cook was probably familiar with Shellbird Island, there is no indication that the legendary treasure is his. Indeed the legend states that the treasure was buried by the Spanish or by pirates, and that it was one of them who carved the mysterious face.

The theory that the treasure has Spanish origins may have some basis in reality, as the Spanish were frequent visitors to the west coast of Newfoundland long before Captain Cook started his chart making work there in the eighteenth century. The Spanish fishery in Newfoundland and Labrador, especially that originating from Basque ports, peaked between 1570 and 1580.

In 1578 Anthony Parkhurst, an English explorer and merchant, reported 100 Spanish fisherman working in Newfoundland. Tensions between England and Spain however contributed to a decline in the industry, with Spanish ships becoming targets of pirates and privateers. As English and French ships came to the Island more often, the Spanish abandoned the Avalon Peninsula in favour of the south and west coasts.

Spain's involvement in the Newfoundland fishery was fated not to last. Harassment of Spanish vessels by pirates and the English meant that by 1597 Spain relied on the French Basques for supplies of Newfoundland cod.

The busy fish trade, and the even richer fur trade between New France and Europe, proved to be an excellent hunting ground for pirates. And Newfoundland's long unprotected coastline, with hundreds of hidden bays, made the island a perfect spot for pirate hideouts.

The west coast, well away from the more densely settled east coast, was ideal hideout territory. Several years before Cook arrived, the west coast was the base of operations for one of piracy's most legendary and bloodthirsty couples, that of Eric and Maria Cobham. In 1740 the pair arrived near St. George's, within easy striking distance of the St. Lawrence River trade routes. The Cobhams were mainly interested in furs, which brought a high price on the black market.

Legend maintains Maria was part of her husband's expedition to Newfoundland and lived here from 1740 to 1760. It is claimed that she was the first European woman to have lived on the west coast of the island. She was also a ruthless pirate. Maria and her husband made a point of sinking every ship they captured, and killing everyone on board to be certain there would be no witnesses. Shipowners assumed their ships had been lost at sea with all hands due to natural disasters.

While the Cobhams may be more myth than history, their buccaneering enterprise is linked to an established history of piracy on the west coast. But is the Shellbird Island treasure theirs? Other researchers have argued that the treasure is related to the most famous pirate in Newfoundland history, Peter Easton.

In 1989, authors Frank Galgay and Michael McCarthy published a book entitled "Buried Treasures of Newfoundland and Labrador", now sadly out of print. In the book, they devoted a short chapter to the Shellbird Island treasure.

Peter Easton, well known on the east coast of the island for his pirate fort at Harbour Grace, was also active on the west coast. Like the Cobhams, Easton was well aware of the riches to be gained by plundering the merchant ships engaged in the fur trade of New France. Easton intercepted several merchant ships from Quebec City and Montreal, and made quite an impressive haul before being sighted by a French warship.

Easton and his crew realized they were outgunned by the French ship, so they quickly set sail back to Newfoundland. Easton made his way to the mouth of the Humber River to hide from the French. According to legend he decided to bury his treasure, just in case.

The gold was divided into three chests, and Easton entrusted a mate to take the gold and another sailor in a small boat to Shellbird Island to bury it. In one version of the story, the Old Man in the Mountain was already there, and Easton decided to use it as a marker to remember where the gold was buried.

The mate and sailor buried the gold on the island. As the sailor started to fill in the last of the three pits, the mate drew his flintlock pistol and fired! The sailor slumped dead over the chest, and he was quickly buried by the mate in order to provide a ghostly guardian for the gold.

Tragedy struck the mate on the way back to Easton's ship. At a section of the Humber called the Devil's Dancing Pool, the boat was swamped. The mate drowned, taking the exact location of the gold with him. Easton, it was said, later returned to Shellbird Island. He left empty-handed, the gold still buried deep beneath the earth, the spirit of the dead sailor left to protect it.

Over the years, rumours have circulated that portions of the treasure have been found. In the late nineteenth century it was said that one of the three chests was uncovered, and that the gold doubloons inside were shared in secret. Then, around 1934, word spread that a second chest had be uncovered. Once more the finders shared their gold in secret, leaving one last chest just waiting to be found. Such is the stuff of legends.

There are many who feel the entire story is just that, a legend. These skeptics argue that the image on the cliff is the result of the natural erosion of the cliff, with the "face" just a random collection of rocks and hollows. Certainly, there are many naturally occurring rock formations all across the island, and indeed, all over the world, that are said to look like people, animals or other objects. There is even another "Old Man in the Mountain" in Hawaii, and another one in New Hampshire.

But what about the legend of the buried gold? If you discount century-old rumours, no gold has ever been found on Shellbird Island. David Cordingly, a naval historian and world renowned expert on historical pirates, has argued that the whole idea of buried pirate gold is a nineteenth century invention. Cordingly writes, "although buried treasure has been a favourite theme in the pirate stories of fiction, there are very few documented examples of real pirates burying their loot."

The idea of buried treasure was made widely popular by the publication of Robert Louis Stevenson's novel "Treasure Island" in 1883, and it has also been a firm part of Newfoundland folklore for generations. Perhaps it has remained such a fixture in our legends and storytelling traditions because of the slim chance that the gold might be real after all. And as long as the Old Man in the Mountain looks down over Newfoundland's own Treasure Island, there is still a chance that one of us will strike it rich.




Dale Jarvis is an author, storyteller, and professional folklorist who splits his time between St. John’s and Clarke’s Beach, Newfoundland, Canada. The proprietor of the St. John’s Haunted Hike ghost tour, Dale tells ghost stories, supernatural stories, legends and traditional tales from Newfoundland, Labrador and beyond. The Haunted Hike runs every Sunday to Thursday during the summer, and is online at www.hauntedhike.com. You can like us on Facebook, or better yet, come along and let us tell you a tale!