Known to the masses as the creator of the St. John’s Haunted Hike, author and folklorist Dale Jarvis discusses his latest collection of spine-tingling tales of Newfoundland and Labrador, Haunted Ground, in our latest Q&A.
Why does Newfoundland and Labrador consistently seem to be to be such a rich place for folklore, urban legends and the paranormal? It seems every nook and cranny of this place has a story to tell.
Newfoundlanders love to tell stories, and ghost stories have always been a part of that. We have a great tradition of folk beliefs here in the province, and there are a lot of great stories waiting to be found and shared. Our oral traditions, and the stories that link us to specific locations, remain very strong today. Our history and our geography have helped with that sense of being from a special (and often haunted) place.
Take me through your piecing together of Haunted Ground, where did you begin and how did you go about accumulating stories, either historical or urban legend? I’d imagine you’ve had many of these at your disposal for years.
I’ve been collecting Newfoundland and Labrador ghost stories for over 20 years. Some of those have gone into previous ghost story collections I’ve written, or have ended up being part of one of my ghost tours or storytelling shows.
Sometimes I’ll hear a fragment of a story, and hold onto it for safekeeping until I have time set aside to do proper research. Some of the stories from this book were like that — little pieces of stories that needed more digging. I hear stories orally, on social media, or find references to intriguing tales in old newspaper clippings or archival accounts, and then poke around a bit more in the historical material until I find more details.
In the extent of your research, were there any stories that came to you you were previously unaware of? Any hidden gems that demand a look?
I love when I come across a story that I’ve never heard before, but which are well-known in their home communities. One example is the story of Red Eyes from Glovertown, a creepy local legend that I’d never heard before. A woman who grew up in Glovertown told me that story, but she did not know a lot of the details. When I started to ask questions, it unleashed a little avalanche of tales, and I found out that there were many different local variations of the Red Eyes legends. It’s about an abandoned mill in Glovertown, which stands to this day, and which is said to be haunted by the ghost of a man who died during the early days of its construction, his red eyes still shining in the shadows.
Were there any stories or legends or familiar favourites of yours you knew you had to include in the book? Perhaps even some patrons of the Haunted Hike are familiar with?
For the past several years, I’ve been running the Ghosts of Signal Hill program with Parks Canada, and so I knew I wanted to include a Signal Hill ghost story. Thousands of people visit the Hill every year, and many of them don’t know much about its haunted history.
One of the stories I included in the book is about a couple who were driving down the hill, and who were surprised to see, in front of their car and in the middle of the road, a man barely visible through the fog. He was wearing a long, dark grey coat and a salt and pepper-style cap. He turned to face the side of the road, took a few steps, and vanished before their eyes.
Speaking of Haunted Hike, I understand there is congratulations to be had. Twenty years is quite the milestone. Are there any special plans for this particular season of The Haunted Hike, given that it is such a big anniversary?
2017 marked the 20th anniversary of the St. John’s Haunted Hike, and at the start of the season, I ran a special behind-the-scenes tour exploring the history of the Hike since 1997. I walked people through the research and the background of the stories that have gone into the Hike over the past twenty years, talked about stories which have been changed or replaced, and answered questions about local folklore, paranormal activity, and supernatural belief. It was a fun way to share some of my own personal history, and give fans something special. I had a great turnout for that, so if there was a demand, it might be something I do again!
Being in the throws of the Halloween season presently, do you personally feel this is a particularly rich time of year for the paranormal on the island? Or is that just a load of hokum.
According to tradition, Hallowe’en is the time of year when the veil between this world and the next is at its thinnest. Ancient people thought this was the time of year when spirits could pass through, from one side to the other. It was the Celtic pagan festival of Samhain, a celebration of the end of the harvest season, and Halloween also marks the day before the feast of All Saints Day where people would honour the saints and pray for spirits who hadn’t yet reached heaven. It is a holiday with a rich history. It’s also the time of year when the nights get longer and colder, which is perfect for getting together to share stories that make you shiver. I don’t know if people believe in the old stories as much as they once did, but lots of people absolutely love Hallowe’en. I think it is great to have a time of year, in the midst of our modern lives, where we can still celebrate mystery and magic.
What would you say to readers and observers interested in the darker side of Newfoundlands history and lore that may be interested in picking up Haunted Ground?
I’ve really tried with this book to explore the history and folklore behind some of our local legends, so it is a book that will appeal to lovers of ghost stories, but also to people who are just curious about local history and traditions. You can be a true believer or skeptic, and still find something fascinating in the stories I’ve pulled together.