Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Sunday June 16th - Sinners & Spirits go Steampunk!

Calling all steampunks, Victorian explorers, mad scientists, Tesla aficionados, and lovers of a bit of Gothic entertainment!

This Sunday, the St. John's Haunted Hike is pairing up with Steampunk Newfoundland for our regular Sinners and Spirits Tour, hosted that night by the ever-debonair Dave Walsh.

Listen in terror to tales of murder, intrigue, duels to the death, false love, prostitution, torture and more! Descend into the dark underbelly of St. John’s and explore its sordid past. This tour highlights the murderous history of the capital city, and its paranormal legacy.

The Tour starts at 9:30 pm and costs a mere $10 per soul ($5 for kids 12 and under), with tickets cash sale only. There is no need to book in advance, just show up and pay as you go. The hike starts from the stone steps at the west entrance of the Anglican Cathedral on Church Hill.

Members of Steampunk Newfoundland are meeting in advance of the tour,  at 9:00pm at the Cathedral, with have enough time for a chat before the event.

If you have any steampunk, Victorian, or Gothic attire, feel free to come in costume, to add to the atmosphere of the event. The tour is open to all, so even if you don't feel like dressing up, come along anyway! It promises to be the best-dressed Haunted Hike in St. John's history.

Check out the Facebook event listing here.

Goggles on, adventurers!

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Charis Cotter and the Ghosts of Baccalieu

Students at Tricon Elementary in Bay de Verde can brag that they live in one of the most haunted places in Newfoundland. While some some might be frightened of dead fishermen seeking revenge, shipwrecked sailors, or mysterious figures appearing on the highway at midnight, for the kids at Tricon, they are old friends.

This is because every student from Kindergarten to Grade 6 at the school have contributed either drawings or ghost stories to a new book called The Ghosts of Baccalieu. The book is part of an ArtsSmarts project led by local children’s author Charis Cotter, which pays tribute to the rich tradition of ghost stories in the province.

Cotter is an award-winning children’s writer, editor and storyteller based in Western Bay. She has a very particular interest in ghosts and makes an annual “Ghost Tour” of Newfoundland schools every fall with her book about international spooks, A World Full of Ghosts. In 2010, she was the celebrity judge for the St. John’s Ghost Story Writing Contest, sponsored by the Newfoundland and Labrador Public Library.

Cotter conceived the project and worked with the students to produce the book with help from the staff at Tricon Elementary. Work began last fall when students were asked to collect ghost stories from their families and friends. The community responded, sharing traditional ghost stories which had been passed down through the generations.

“One of my favourite stories is Ghost on the Gander by Brianna Barrett,” says Cotter. “It's about a young man who goes away to work in a lumber camp near Gander in the 1940s to help support his family. His father is dead and his mother has other children at home. One night he saw his mother standing at the foot of his bunk, just looking at him. The next day he got a telegram that she was sick. By the time he got home she was dead.”

“I like it because it reflects so much about what was hard back then about growing up in Newfoundland,” says Cotter, “and it's also really spooky the way she just appeared to him.”

Students were able to experience the entire process of bookmaking, from storytelling, to writing, editing, proofreading, design and publishing.

“I felt it was important for the students to experience everything that goes into making a real book—the fun, the creativity, the hard work—in order to better understand its value,” says Cotter. “I hope that this process will encourage a love of books and reading, by making it all very personal.”

The book will be presented to the community on Thursday, June 13. Appropriately, a special guest “ghost” will make an appearance from beyond the grave to greet visitors. Student artwork will be on display and selected authors will read excerpts from some of the scariest stories.

“Another favourite is The Longboat by Zander Doyle, about fishermen who heard men rowing a ghostly longboat in the fog in Baccalieu Tickle,” describes Cotter. “They heard them clearly, talking and calling and rowing, but no boat was there.This phenomenon reoccurs often before a big storm. I like it because there is something very creepy about ghosts forever rowing a boat, trying to get to shore and never getting there. And what could be more ghostly than a ghost boat in the fog?”

As a writer, Cotter likes ghost stories because they have an immediate appeal to kids.

“Ghost stories are fun to listen to and fun to write,” she states. “Ghosts blur the boundaries between what is seen and unseen, and children are accustomed to crossing back and forth between those two worlds.”

Copies of the book are available for sale at

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Announcing the 2015 World Storytelling Day Theme: Wishes

Every year, storytellers from around the world get together electronically to select themes for World Storytelling Day, a global celebration of the art of oral storytelling. It is celebrated every year on the spring equinox in the northern hemisphere, the first day of autumn equinox in the southern.

For the past little while, we've tried to plan two years in advance. Following conversations on the World Storytelling Day listserv and Facebook page, Dutch storyteller Melanie Plag and I compiled a list of all the suggestions for 2015, and I set up an online poll where people could vote.

And now, the votes are in! The theme for 2015 is "Wishes."

Let the ideas for stories and events begin!

Thursday, 6 June 2013

A ghostly knocking at the door

Recently, I had the opportunity to share ghost stories with a visiting group of Grade 7 and 8 students from St Michaels Elementary School, Stephenville Crossing. One of the students had done a heritage fair project on a ghostly legend from St. John’s, the story of the Foran’s Hotel. She asked me if I was familiar with the story, and I said that I was.

It is an interesting tale, and the story of the ghostly knockings of the Foran's Hotel is one of the oldest, and continuously repeated, ghost stories in St. John's.

I use the word legend to describe the story, because while it is often presented as a true story, its origins are a little vague, and there is some historical debate over the exact location of the hotel itself. In 1883 an elaborate four storey hotel named the Atlantic Hotel was established by John Foran on Water Street across from King's Beach. The building was at the time one of the grandest in the community, and it remained that way until the Great Fire of 1892 destroyed most of St. John's and gutted the hotel.

Oral tradition on the other hand firmly places the building known as "Foran's Hotel" at the intersection of Water Street and Queen Street, a good six blocks to the west. Folklorist and writer R.J. Kinsella wrote in 1919 that the Foran's Hotel was "situated where the General Post Office now is", which would place it at the second location.

One night after all the hotel guests were asleep, a violent knocking noise was heard coming from a vacant room at the top of the building. So persistent was the noise that soon everyone in the building was woken, but an investigation of the room revealed nothing to account for the clamour. The noise was not repeated that night, but the next night at the exact same time, the hotel was wracked with the same violent knocking. Nothing was found, and the third night, the knocking was renewed, causing great turmoil amidst the guests and lodgers.

With the reputation of the hotel close to ruin, the guests were persuaded to stay, and a party was organized to stand watch, with a double guard placed at the room door. That night, mysteriously, the knocking ceased, and was not heard again. The room was closed to the public, memory of the incident faded, and life and business returned to normal.

Several months after the disturbance, and unknown stranger arrived in St. John’s, and made his way to the Foran’s Hotel, where he demanded lodging for the evening. At that point the establishment was full, with every room occupied except one. Rather than send the mysterious gentleman to a rival hotel, the staff gave the man the room which had been the centre of the psychic disturbance months before. The stranger retired to the room, and later that night, the entire hotel was aroused by the old knocking, this time in a long and insistent outburst of wrath.

Guests and staff rushed to the bedchamber, and upon breaking in found the new lodger, lying on the bed, fully clothed, and cold in death. As the corpse was removed for burial the next day, a distinct rapping noise could be heard throughout the apartment, which persisted until the very instant the body was removed from the premises. The man was never identified, and his body was buried quietly.

The room was boarded up, and never used again, but the legend survived. Stories were in circulation in the late 1990s that the Canada Post building was haunted. In 1998, it was reported that strange, unexplained knocking noises were heard by postal workers on one of the upper stories.

Ghostly knockings are a theme repeated many times in Newfoundland stories of supernatural belief. Often, knocks at a door are seen as a token, a foreshadowing of someone’s death. One example of this was said to have happened in Buchans in 1949. A miner by the name of John Mullowney perished when an accident occurred underground in the Oriental mine.

Topside, back at the family home, no one yet knew of the disaster that had transpired beneath them. Suddenly, there were three knocks on the door of the family's house. Someone answered the door, but there was no one standing on the step.

Shortly after that, a worker from the mine came to the door, and asked for Mrs. Mullowney. He informed her that her husband had been killed in the mine.

If you have a story of strange knocking noises, let me know by email at