Thursday, 30 June 2016

Grandfather King - a strange ghostly Bigfoot story from Newfoundland. #folklorethursday

By Dale Jarvis
Originally printed in The Golden Leg

Grandfather King was a farmer. But back in the 1930s, in the height of the Great Depression, things were not very good for farmers. So, to help out his family and keep food on the table, Grandfather King turned to a much more lucrative business. He started to sell bootleg rum.

No matter how bad times got, it seemed people always had money for a bottle of rum. Perhaps it was because of the fact that times were so bad that people always wanted it. So Grandfather King helped them out, and made a few pennies doing so.

Now, it was hard to keep something like that perfectly quiet, and before too long the police started to hear rumours of strange goings-on down at the King family farm. Every so often they would stop by to visit Grandfather King, to see if they could catch him in the act.

But Grandfather King was too smart for the police. He never kept his rum anywhere they might find it. Instead, he started to carefully bury the bottles of rum up in the back garden, in different places, under the cover of darkness. No matter how hard they searched, the police could never find a thing.

One night, when it was nice and dark, Grandfather King went up to the back garden as usual to get a bottle of rum. He took his shovel, paced off the right number of steps from the fencepost, and started to dig. He had just reached the first bottle of rum when he saw a very bright light coming towards him.

Grandfather King's first thought was that the police had finally cottoned on to his tricks. The light came closer, so bright that he could not look at it directly. Grandfather King was not frightened, but he did not know what to do. The light was so bright it almost blinded him.

As the light came closer to where Grandfather King was standing, it started to dim. When it got dull enough that he could look at it, the man saw that it was not the police with a lantern, but something much more unusual.

The light was coming from the very bright eyes of what could only be described as a monster. In size it was taller than the tallest man, over nine feet in height. It was jet black and covered all over with hair an inch to an inch and half long, and its eyes were like two big saucers. It had no clothing whatsoever.

The Devil himself would not frighten Grandfather King, but Grandfather King had never seen anything like the monster with the two glowing eyes. He started digging again to see what would happen. The two great eyes grew brighter and brighter, and the monster drew closer and closer.

Grandfather King stopped digging. The eyes grew dim once more and the monster backed away, further into the shadows. In haste, he started shovelling dirt back into the hole, and as he filled in the hole the monster disappeared.

Grandfather King took up his shovel, put it over his shoulder, and hurried home. The next day he thought about what he was going to do. That precious rum was still buried up in the back garden, but he was not about to go dig it up during the day when people would be able to see. So he waited until nightfall. When it was dark, he took his shovel and ventured up into the back garden once more.

He found the fencepost, measured off the right number of paces, and started to dig. Just like the night before, as soon as he started to dig, the bright light returned. As he dug, the hairy monster with the two great eyes drew closer and closer. When he stopped digging, the eyes grew dim and the monster moved further away. He dug a bit more, and the eyes grew so bright he was almost blinded again. Eventually, Grandfather King had to fill in the hole and go back to bed.

Grandfather King became convinced that the monster was guarding something buried in the back garden. He was certain the monster was afraid he was going to find it, and this is why it appeared each night, warning him away.

Being a cautious man, Grandfather King decided to leave well enough alone. He had no desire to enrage a monster nine feet high, covered with black fur and with eyes that shone like headlights. So from that point on he gave up the bootleg rum business, and put his energies into more legal activities.

There are those who say the monster was guarding a great treasure. The treasure had been hidden by pirates, and they had left the monster behind to act as its protector until such a time that they could return. But the pirates never came back.

It is said that the buccaneers' treasure, along with a few bottles of well-aged rum, still lie safely hidden, buried deep somewhere up in the back garden of Grandfather King. If you don't mind nine foot monsters lurking in the darkness, covered in fur and with eyes as big as saucers, you are welcome to go and try and find it for yourself.

Note from the author: A version of this story can be found in Michael Taft's article “Sasquatch-Like Creatures in Newfoundland: A Study in the Problems of Belief, Perception, and Reportage” page 83-96 in “Manlike Monsters On Trial” (University of British Columbia Press, 1980). Taft gives the location of the story as “Battle Point” but notes that he changed the original name of the community. The description of the monster used here is based on two different accounts of Sasquatch-like creatures reported in Newfoundland, one from the late nineteenth century, and the other from the 1930s.

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 You can like us on Facebook, or better yet, come along and let us tell you a tale!

Monday, 27 June 2016

On Folklore - A public talk with Marissa Largo and Dale Jarvis

St. John's based author, storyteller and folklorist Dale Jarvis joins visiting scholar and writer Marissa Largo for a public talk in conjunction with MIRROR/MOTHER (fragments) exhibition

Wednesday June 29 7-9pm
Eastern Edge Gallery
Free. All welcome.

Folklore Reimagined: The Supernatural in Marigold Santos' Art and the Limits of Modernity. 

Marissa Largo is an educator, artist, and PhD candidate in the Department of Social Justice Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto. She holds a Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship for her PhD project, Unsettling Imaginaries: The Decolonial Diaspora Aesthetic of Four Contemporary Filipino/a Visual Artists in Canada (in which Marigold Santos is one of the four artists). Marissa is co-editor of the forthcoming book, Diasporic Intimacies: Queer Filipinos/as and Canadian Imaginaries (Northwestern Universty Press, 2017). She resides in Toronto with her partner, Sean and their two children, Carlo and Lorena.

Finding Folklore: Documenting the Mysterious in Newfoundland and Labrador

Newfoundland and Labrador may very well be blessed with more fairies, devils, old hags, phantoms, Jacky Lanterns, sea monsters, and other fabulous and frightening creatures than any other spot in Canada. Luckily, it is one of the only places in Canada to have a provincial folklorist. Dale Jarvis will discuss the work of the province's intangible cultural heritage program, and his own love of strange tales, in this talk on the weirdness that lurks at the edge of our perception, and those curious creatures that go bump in the night.

Dale Jarvis works as the Intangible Cultural Heritage Development Officer for the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, helping communities to safeguard traditional culture, the first full-time provincially funded folklorist position in Canada. Dale has been working for the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador since 1996, and holds a BSc in Anthropology/Archaeology from Trent University, and a MA in Folklore from Memorial University. He regularly teaches workshops on oral history, cultural documentation, folklore project management, and public folklore programming. By night, he is the proprietor of the St. John’s Haunted Hike ghost tour and raconteur of local tales. As a storyteller, he performs ghost stories, stories of the little people, tales of phantom ships and superstitions, and legends and traditional tales from Newfoundland, Labrador and beyond.

All media inquiries please contact:

Penelope Smart, Director
Eastern Edge Gallery

Thursday, 23 June 2016

The Horse Who Saw A Ghost - Black Duck Brook. #FolkloreThursday

With a history of European settlement that stretches back to the Basques in the 1500s, the Port of Port Peninsula has heard many a strange tale over the centuries. It has also produced a number of tale tellers, one of the best known being Emile Benoit.

Emile Joseph Benoit was born in 1913 at L'Anse-a-Canards (Black Duck Brook) on the Port au Port Peninsula, son of Medee and Adeline Benoit. He began playing the fiddle when he was nine, teaching himself to play on a home-made violin. By the time he was seventeen he was a well known local entertainer, and he went on to achieve national and international recognition. He was also a respected storyteller, both of personal reminiscences and the older traditional tales.

When he was a young man, Emile had a run-in with a ghost which was visible to horses alone. One weeknight in March he hitched up his one-horse sleigh and went to visit his brother Ben. Ben lived at Three Rock Cove, a fishing community on the northwest shore of the Port au Port Peninsula. Three Rock Cove was originally named Trois Cailloux, or "Three Boulders", by migratory French fishermen who used it as an outpost.

Emile stayed there for a spell and had supper. After he had dined with his brother he decided that he would go visit his sister, Yvonne, who lived about a mile away. He told his brother that he would be back at 9 o'clock and set out.

The wind was blowing from the north east as Emile made his way down the pathway. When he got close to his destination, he had to open a gate and go across a field. About two hundred yards further along was the sister's house, at the top of a rounded hill. He tied the horse up behind the house and gave it a feed of hay.

When he went into his sister's house he found her there chatting with some young women around his own age. Engaged in the pleasant company of the young women, he didn't notice the passing of time until he realized that it was already nigh on 9 o'clock.

It was a clear, moonlit night as he started back towards his brother Ben's house. By the time he hitched up the horse and turned the sleigh around., the wind had all but died away. He cut a plug of tobacco and started to make himself a cigarette as the horse plodded along. Then the horse stopped.

It was a good horse, and one of which he was proud. Tall and well built, its mother was a racer, and the horse had some of her character. When he bought it, he had paid out two-hundred and fifty dollars for the horse, a sizeable sum in those days.

Busily engaged in the work of hunting for a match for the cigarette, the driver simply told the horse to keep moving. Sure enough, the horse started to move, but not in the direction Emile had intended, for the horse began to back up along the path, retracing its steps.

He told the horse to go on again, but the horse continued to back up.

Puzzled, Emile started to look around to see what was frightening the horse but could not see a thing. He looked along the line of the fence, and could see nothing in either direction. It came to his mind that if he looked between the horse's ears he would see exactly what the horse was staring at. Therefore he got up on the board at the front of the sleigh and looked up over the ears of the horse, but could still see nothing.

With an oath, he reclaimed his seat, took a good hold on the reins, and delivered a blow to the horse with the whip. The horse reared up, turning the sleigh around like a top, and was off like a flash of lightning, back towards the house they had just left.

Completely startled by the horse's actions, he lost the reins. By the time he had taken them back into his hands, the horse was back at the gate they had pass through shortly before. Emile got out of the sleigh, took the horse by the halter, and started to lead him by hand

At this the horse pounded its hooves into the ground, stamping and whinnying, making it clear it would not set foot on the path. When it became obvious that the horse had no intention of returning home that night, Emile gave in and led the beast back to his sister's house.

Somewhat surprised to see him back so soon, his sister asked him what had happened. He related the story, telling her that the horse would not go back along the path. Emile then asked his brother-in-law Fintan if he would go back with him. Fintan refused to go and then told him a strange tale.

Apparently the mailman had also tried to move his horse along the same path the same night with the mail. And, at the same point, his horse had refused to move and had turned around the same way. The mailman was stuck, and had to find shelter for the night with one of the local families.

When Emile tracked down the mailman and asked him if he would go out and try again, the mailman refused. So two cows were taken out of the barn and turned out into the field for the night, and space was made for Emile's horse.

Eager to get home, Emile left around four or five in the morning the next day. The weather was the same as it had been the night before, with not a drop of wind and with a layer of frost on the ground. The horse once more plodded along, and Emile watched his ears, to see if the horse would act up when it reached the same spot.

When they reached the spot the two horses had refused to pass, the ears did not give so much as a twitch. The horse passed by as if nothing had happened, and maintained it usual pace all the way home. The frost on the path showed that nothing had gone before them.

ears later, in the style of a natural storyteller, Emile related the strange occurrence to the folklorist Gerald Thomas. In turn, Thomas included the tale in his book "The Two Traditions", which deals with the French language traditions of the Port au Port Peninsula.

Emile never uncovered the reason for the horses' fright. He was certain, however, that whatever the two horses had seen, it must not have been a pretty sight, nor anything pleasant, to have frightened them that much. In Emile's own words, "it wasn't God for sure he seen. No..."

According to the late Ferryland native Ray Curran, horses on the other side of the province had similar experiences. Mr. Curran told me that along the Southern Shore, there are a number of large rocks alongside roadways said to be possessed by the devil. There was one in Renews and another in Tors Cove. Horses would run away once they approached these sites and many people were injured as a result of these boltings.

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 is online at and you can like us on Facebook! Or better yet, come along and let us tell you a tale!

Photo: Emile Benoit, from The Telegram.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Phantom Dogs and Gallow's Cove - The Ghosts of Torbay. #FolkloreThursday

It had rained all day, leaving the world sodden with heaven’s tears. As I approached Torbay, it seemed for a moment that the sun would shine. For one brief, glorious moment, blue skies opened up and the sun poured forth its golden light. But as I slowly drove past the funeral home and the old cemetery, dark grey clouds obscured the sky and swallowed up the sun. The rain began to fall once more.

In a way, the dismal weather was appropriate for the journey. I had, after all, made the trip to Torbay in order to hunt down the story of one of Newfoundland’s saddest ghosts.

Torbay researcher, folklorist, and writer Lara Maynard volunteered to be my guide.  Lara herself has deep roots in Torbay and area. While the Maynard side of her family were originally from Flatrock, the Tappers on her mother’s side were some of the early settlers in Torbay. English planter Charles Tapper, for example, arrived in Torbay in 1764, and the family name is reflected in local place names such as Tapper’s Cove.

According to Lara’s research, Watson’s Cove, an area just north of Tapper’s Cove, is well known as the site of a local haunting.

“The story was that in that area, pirates had killed a cabin boy and buried his body with their loot so that is ghost would guard it,” says Lara. While the story may sound similar to many other pirate legends from across Newfoundland and Labrador, the Torbay story has an interesting twist.

“When they killed the cabin boy, the cabin boy’s dog attacked the pirates, so they killed the dog too,” she explains. “So now, the dog’s ghost also haunts the area. It is said to be a big black dog with red, glowing eyes, and makes chain shaking noises.”

“I’ve heard people claim to have actually come across the dog, and to have heard it, within the last few decades,” Lara states.

Another haunt for Torbay ghosts it the wonderfully named Gallow’s Cove. The origins of the place name are uncertain, though Lara has three different theories as to how the cove could have been named.

The first theory has to do with public hangings. “Some people maintain that it is because the Governor decreed that pirates or whomever would be hung in Gallow’s Cove,” says Lara. This theory was also one put forward by Robin McGrath in her book “A Heritage Guide to Torbay”. McGrath writes that the spot is “thought to be named in honour of the less successful pirates reported to have been hung there.”

Local rumours also link one specific non-piratical hanging to the site. Folklore states that a Chinese man had stolen a loaf of bread, and had been hung in Gallow’s Cove for the crime. Like many stories however, there seems to be little historical evidence to support it.

Lara’s second theory as to the origin of the name Gallow’s Cove has to do with the early settlement of the community. “When I was researching the history of Torbay,” Lara states, “the theory has always been that people from Torbay, England, in the Devon area, came to Newfoundland and called it Torbay after their home town. In the original Torbay, there are areas called Gallow’s Green, so the name may have transferred.”

The third theory has to do with the fact that the cove was a fishing area. The name Gallow’s Cove may have something to do with an old word for a structure used for drying nets. “I think it is because of the net drying contraptions that were called ‘gallis’, and the Dictionary of Newfoundland English backs that up” says Lara.

Sure enough, “gallows” are defined in the Dictionary of Newfoundland English as frames on which nets are spread to dry, a sort of 'horse' or trestle made of rough rails. The word, usually pronounced “gallis” refers to a frame of cleanly peeled poles 12-15 feet high used to drape nets and ropes over for drying or repairing. Interestingly, the local pronunciation of the place name is closer to “Gallis Cove” than “Gallow’s Cove”

Chances are, however, that the ghost of Gallow’s Cove cares very little for the history of the name, being more concerned with its own tragic tale.

Lara remembers that “there was a meadow in Gallow’s Cove that we used to go to when we were ten or twelve, and there was a mound in the meadow. Everybody said that was a Howlett’s grave. Phil Howlett and his family were buried there, and that they haunted Gallow’s Cove.”

“That was all I ever knew,” she says, thinking back, “that there was this poor unfortunate Howlett who used to live in Gallow’s Cove, who was buried there and now haunted the place.”

It was not until Lara was older and a student at Memorial University looking for a topic for a folklore research paper that she went and talked to some of the older people in Torbay. They told her that Phil had been at home with his young daughter while his wife Ellen was at mass. The Howlett family home had one of those big open fireplace hearths that people had in years past. Somehow, the child fell into the fireplace, was terribly burned, and died of her injuries.

For some reason, and here oral tradition is a little vague, Phil’s responsibility for the death of the young daughter was seen a terrible sin. “He could not be buried in the churchyard,” says Lara, “that was the story.” So instead of being buried in consecrated ground, the mournful father was interred on his property at Gallow’s Cove. Tormented with grief, the spirit of Phil Howlett was said to wander the spot of his burial and his daughter’s death.

“Maybe five years ago, that area was dug over as a farmer’s field, and I don’t remember any bones turning up,” recalls Lara. “But there were, in that area, old house foundations. You could see the old stone foundations. People definitely did live in that area. Now, whether it was Howletts I can not say for sure.”

From what Lara has been able to piece together from talking to other people, the Howletts lived on what is now called Howlett’s Avenue, which is on the north side of Torbay. Her archival research on the story yielded a few other clues.

“I hit the archives for a while, and I found there was indeed a Phil Howlett and that he married Ellen Pounden, and that they had four children. But I didn’t find their burial records and I didn’t find any record of this young child, but whether that is and indication of anything I couldn’t say. It could be that those records are missing.”

Today, there are no Howletts in Torbay that Lara knows of, but she has reason to believe that Phil and Ellen’s surviving children had moved to St. John’s at some point. Today, there may be St. John’s Howletts who were originally Torbay Howletts. If you are one of Phil and Ellen’s descendants, or know any more details about Torbay’s most tragic ghost, let me know!

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 is online at and you can like us on Facebook!

Photo: The Rooms, Newfoundland Tourist Development Board photograph collection, VA 15a-41.2, [194-?]