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Author Dale Jarvis offers new book, visiting storytellers

Once upon a time, in a city, very much like this one, there was a young man who liked to collect ghost stories ...

Dale Jarvis, is the author of "Haunted Shores," "Wonderful Strange" and "The Golden Leg." "Haunted Waters" is his latest collection of spirit tales from Newfoundland and Labrador.

Once upon a time, in a city, very much like this one, there was a young man who liked to collect ghost stories ...

Dale Jarvis, is the author of "Haunted Shores," "Wonderful Strange" and "The Golden Leg." "Haunted Waters" is his latest collection of spirit tales from Newfoundland and Labrador.

The new release includes stories of spirits of Newfoundland dogs standing on shorelines, a phantom nun wandering the bowels of the Arts and Culture Centre in St. John's and a warning out of Bonavista Bay to beware "the lone mummer." It will officially be launched in St. John's on July 26 at the Martini Bar on George Street at 8 p.m.

Jarvis holds an undergraduate degree in anthropology from Trent University along with a graduate degree in folklore from Memorial University of Newfoundland. He currently works with the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador. He is also a professional live storyteller, a host with the St. John's Haunted Hike since 1997, as "the distinguished Rev. Thomas Wyckham Jarvis, Esquire." Having heard and told as many stories of the city as he has, as well as learning the history behind them, Jarvis said he has developed a different view of the place.

"I find it fascinating that there is kind of an invisible landscape that we live in," he said, "that places have stories and I walk around and I see places that I know the stories of and I find for me that that adds a certain richness to me just walking around the city or going anywhere in the province where I know there's a story. I love knowing that someone else has had an experience here or has told a story about this particular place."

Jarvis said stories of all kinds reveal something about an area and people. Tales of ghostly encounters and the unexplained just happen to be among the most popular type of stories passed on in the oral tradition.

"Storytelling is kind of a human art and ghost stories in Newfoundland are one of those things everyone does, not so much as a performance, but just as something that people love to do. Everyone has a little quirky story about something weird that happened to them and I'm really fascinated with those types of stories even if they're not polished stores I still like to hear them," he said.

Jarvis refers to the story sharing common in the province as "informal storytelling" or "traditional storytelling," as opposed to theatrical or professional storytelling.

"The old hag is a pretty good example of that type of informal storytelling. I've been in crowds of people where the topic of the old hag has come up and everyone kind of chips in. 'Oh I remember this time when this happened to me' and I love that type of storytelling. There's a certain honesty to that type of storytelling. Sometimes when stories are really polished, and really performed, I sometimes believe them less. There is a bit of a distance there. I like the personal stories, the personal narratives where people have strange things that happen to them and they're telling them not because they want to perform a story, but because they have a story that they want to share with somebody else."

In "Haunted Waters," Jarvis relays such a piece of informal storytelling shared with him by a former resident of Lime Street in St. John's. While living on the street, the woman told Jarvis, she would be awakened nightly by the spirit of a young girl who would be at the foot of her bed. It was just one of the ghosts in the story of "The Lime Street Phantoms." Jarvis writes the woman's family believed yet another entity was responsible for more eerie acts.

"I would put my daughter to bed with a couple of teddy bears ... in the morning they would be sat up in the chair next to her bed," the woman is quoted as telling Jarvis.

Ultimately, the living family would be scared from the home by even more aggressive actions.

"I've been to places where no one tells a story about a ghost or a fairy or a sea monster or anything like that, where local mythology doesn't seem to matter in quite the same way. And I don't know what it is in Newfoundland, but that type of informal storytelling is just something that people do here," Jarvis said.

"I think it's part of the culture - where the original settlers came from, you know, there's that real strong west country England sort of belief in jackylanterns and fairies, mixed with that kind of Irish storytelling, that gift of blarney."

The province's storytelling is set to be highlighted in the upcoming Storytellers of Canada national conference, scheduled to begin July 28 and being organized, in part, by Jarvis.

"The Storytellers of Canada ... is the national guild of storytellers in Canada and it's made up of people who are either professional storytellers or people who use storytelling in some way, like an educator or a librarian, or people who just love storytelling. And it's been together for many years, this is the 18th annual conference."

The conference is scheduled to include professional development sessions for the registered storytellers - on successfully organizing events, vocal warm-ups, etc.

"Storytelling is one of these arts that kind of starts off informal and the it becomes a bit more polished, a bit more formalized, a bit more of an art than a tradition. So we've subtitled the conference this year 'International Perspectives on the Art and Tradition of Storytelling,'" Jarvis said.

As for the conference's setting, "it's generated a lot of buzz and we've had an incredible interest. The conference generally averages about a hundred people at the conference, conference-goers. This year we had to cap registration at 150. We have storytellers coming from all over Canada, but we have a great number of storytellers coming from the United States and we have storytellers coming from Europe and the Middle East, we have a storyteller coming from as far away as South Africa, coming to the conference, which is sort of a first, really, for the conference."

Outside of closed professional events, there are also daily events scheduled for the public, he said. There will be storytelling concerts, a storyteller from Italy performing at The Rooms, storyteller Margaret Bennett from Scotland will be hosting a Folk Night at The Ship, "stuff for families and stuff for adults."

The conference will run until Aug. 1. Meanwhile, Jarvis' book titles -"Haunted Waters," "Haunted Shores," "Wonderful Strange" and "The Golden Leg" - are all available through Flanker Press.

"This is my fourth book that I've done with Flanker of ghost stories and I really believe I'm just scratching the surface of the stories that are out there and I'm always interested in hearing more stories from people," Jarvis said.

"I'm always eager for people to contact me through the website or wherever to just let me know their story."

His column "Newfoundland Unexplained" appears every second Monday in The Telegram.

Send In Your Stories

Dale Jarvis

70 Fleming Street

St. John's, N.L., Canada

A1C 3A5

WWW Weblinks

18th annual Storytellers of Canada Conference Events Music and Stories at the Ferry Last Stop Cafe Sunday, July 18, 2 p.m.

Ferry Last Stop Cafe, Portugal Cove

$5 for adults, $2 for children and $7 for a family (adult + 3 children)

Book Launch for Haunted Waters by Dale Jarvis

Organizations: Trent University, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador The Rooms The Ship Flanker Press

Geographic location: St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, Bonavista Bay George Street Canada England United States Europe Middle East South Africa Italy Scotland Portugal Cove

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Recent comments

  • Frank
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    Another great masterpiece Dale.
    looking forward to reading it..I have written over 300 ghost stories collected over the years. There are many never told by elders and ancestors found in scribblers and wrieetn on brown paper bags. My latest article ..Ghostly Features Of A Gone by Era is an example of what's to come.
    The big problem with ghost stories, it is the works of others, not yours and mine and we need to acknowledge that more by making a contribution to the arts.
    Good Luck
    Frank Blackwood