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P.E.I. authors share their favourite supernatural tales in time for Halloween

These costumed characters represent a few of the supernatural creatures described in books by authors Marian Bruce and Julie Watson. In real life they are staff members from Repeats Quality Used Family Clothing and Costumes in Charlottetown. From left  are Nadine Ramsay, ghost, Dale Sentner, witch, Mary Matthews, fairy, Joy Gallant, black ghost, and Beverley MacDonald-O’Connor, witch.
These costumed characters represent a few of the supernatural creatures described in books by authors Marian Bruce and Julie Watson. In real life they are staff members from Repeats Quality Used Family Clothing and Costumes in Charlottetown. From left are Nadine Ramsay, ghost, Dale Sentner, witch, Mary Matthews, fairy, Joy Gallant, black ghost, and Beverley MacDonald-O’Connor, witch. - Sally Cole
CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. —

The arrival of the Halloween season puts many people in the mood for a few spine-tingling ghost stories.

With this in mind, The Guardian asked P.E.I. authors Marian Bruce and Julie Watson to share some of their favourite spooky tales 

Growing up in Eastern Prince Edward Island, Bruce was immersed in stories about the supernatural.

A descendent of 19th-century immigrants from the Isle of Skye, Scotland, she was raised in a community where stories about forerunners, ghosts, fairies and the dead speaking to their loved ones through dreams were common.

People would often sit at the kitchen table and talk about their experiences, long after the evening meal was over.

So, when Bruce started to do research for a book on P.E.I. supernatural beliefs and discovered there were hundreds of stories, she wasn’t surprised.

“That’s because I had grown up with them,” says Bruce, author of “Listening for the Dead Bells: Highland Magic in P.E.I.”

Author Marian Bruce holds her new book, Listening for the Dead Bells: Highland Magic in P.E.I. published by Island Studies Press.
Author Marian Bruce holds her new book, Listening for the Dead Bells: Highland Magic in P.E.I. published by Island Studies Press.

Published by Island Studies Press, the contains stories about everything from visions and dreams to mysterious lights, death ships, witches and more.

“What’s in the book is a sample. I could have gone on and on, but it would have become repetitive,” says Bruce, who grew up in High Bank, P.E.I.

There’s a story in the book about Malcom Sandy MacDonald who, concerned about his sick horse, went to see a witch in Grandview who offered him a knotted string to tie on the horse’s leg. When the remedy was applied, the horse regained his health.

“Witches were still talked about on P.E.I during the early 20th century.”

Many of her stories came from her own family’s experience.

Her father, John Bruce, had the gift of dreaming about someone and then having the person he dreamt about die.

Case in point was his cousin, Willie Peter.

“My mother and father were listening to the deaths on CFCY radio and it was announced that Willie had died. And my father, who hadn’t talked to him for years, said, ‘I knew it!’”

It turned out his cousin had come to him in a dream, shook his hand and, with a big smile, said, ‘Goodbye, boy, I’m leaving you.’”

In the dream, her father recalled that Peter had become young and vibrant again.

Another dream reported by many people in her community involved the death ship.

“They would see a ship coming along the Northumberland Strait and then head over land.”

Her next-door-neighbour described his dream as seeing a ship making a 90-degree turn and heading towards their house.

“As it turned out, one of the men from the house was from the merchant marine and was killed at that time. It was in the 1940s.”

Another forerunner that Bruce writes about in the book is ringing in the ear. Also known as the dead bells, the belief was passed onto her by her mother, Bertha Nicholson Bruce. “If she got a ringing in her ear she would say, ‘oh no, someone is going to die.”

Bruce had her own experience with this.

When she was 10 years old, she was playing in the barn with a friend and, all of a sudden, she heard a “strong, insistent ringing” in her ear. So, she stopped playing.

“My friend said, ‘what’s the matter? You look like you’ve lost your best friend. I told her I had this ringing in my ear,” says Bruce.

It worried her because, at the time, her mother was away from home. Later, that day, she received word that her grandmother had died unexpectedly.

“I’m sure that I had ringing in my ear since then, but I’ve never seen (a death related to it).”

Author Julie Watson holds a copy of Ghost Stories and Legends of Prince Edward Island Second Edition. Her first book, published by Dundurn in 1983, was so popular the publishing company asked to reprint it. Photography is by John Watson.
Author Julie Watson holds a copy of Ghost Stories and Legends of Prince Edward Island Second Edition. Her first book, published by Dundurn in 1983, was so popular the publishing company asked to reprint it. Photography is by John Watson.

Watson, author of “Ghost Stories and Legends of Prince Edward Island Second Edition", was also surprised by the number of supernatural stories she received when she put a call out.

“Most of them happened in homes. Usually it involved people buying a home that had someone who just wouldn’t leave.”

One woman, she interviewed, felt the ghost’s daily presence. “It was things like hearing walking, doors closing, that kind of thing.”

Then there’s the ghost of 177 Euston St.

Reports of an unhappy ghost inhabiting this charming Charlottetown house began as early as 1860 after George Simmons, a manufacturer of ginger beer, purchased the home.

The first time Watson heard about happenings in the house was in the 1980s when her photographer son, John Watson, was using one of the rooms as a darkroom.

“He saw a ghostly vision of a woman a couple of times. He also found out that the lady who owned the home had also seen her. So, they just accepted it as part of the home.”

There’s also the story about the annual visit from the Master at Macphail’s Homestead in Orwell. Told to her by Mary MacQueen Elliott, the image appears through the window of a downstairs room. It’s the ghost of William Macphail, the father of Sir Andrew Macphail, the physician/author who wrote “The Master’s Wife".

It’s just something that people who work at the homestead accept, she says.

“The homestead also has a story of evil fairies who would cause havoc because they would get the horses excited in the barn and do other little mischievous things.”

As for why people are fascinated by these supernatural tales, Watson says it’s because people long to have close encounters with spirits.

“I’ve never believed that we, the human species, could possibly be the only ones. There must be more. Some people believe there’s another dimension. That’s what spirits are. So, there might be some truth to it.”

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