Betting on ghosts

Colin MacLean
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Local couple hoping their future lies with the paranormal

It’s a bustling Thursday lunch hour at this Tim Hortons in St. John’s and dozens of people are cramming themselves into the small lineup area for their midday caffeine and sandwich fix.

Suddenly a confident voice pipes up from the back of the line.

“Colin? Hi! Ronnie is back in the corner.”

The person giving the warm greeting is a young woman of average height, long, jet-black hair, a friendly smile on her lips and a Newfoundland lilt in her voice.

Around her neck lies a necklace with a pentagram, an ancient symbol of magical protection. These symbols are not uncommon but in this case wearing it is the equivalent of slipping on a hard hat before going to a construction site.

You hope you don’t need it but at some point you’re glad you did.

It’s also the only outward clue that, in this case, its wearer is a paranormal investigator or ghost hunter.

Ronnie and Erin Sonley are the founders/producers/directors and stars of their own homegrown TV show titled “Newfoundland and Labrador Paranormal.”

The Sonleys are at the coffee shop to talk about their project. And talk they do. Filming this show has been consuming their lives since 2009.

After retrieving her coffee Erin returns to her corner bench table with her husband Ronnie.

Ronnie is a slim man of above average height, he’s got his light brown hair tied back into a ponytail and his retro Batman symbol T-shirt exposes the myriad of tattoos working up his left arm. He’s also wearing a pentagram pendant around his neck.

His greeting is a firm handshake and a mischievous smile.

He’s a roofer by trade, he explains, but his first love (aside from Erin) has always been TV and film. He’s enamoured with the idea of creating something for broadcast, and has been since he was 18.

“I just love it. It’s like a painting coming alive. This ghost show is different. But for the most part you’re just telling a story,” says Ronnie.

But it’s been a challenging road and not without its heartbreaks.

The Telegram featured the Sonleys in a previous story in 2003. At that time they were working on an animated kid’s show titled “The Wonderbees.” After years of work into that project it eventually faltered, leaving the family out money and countless hours of work.

A grimace crosses Ronnie’s face at the mere mention of that project and he talks about it from behind half-gritted teeth.

But that’s in the past, he manages. He’s already well into his next idea, what he calls a “catalyst for us.”

 “It’s so hard to break into the industry down here,” said Ronnie. “But this is where this ghost show comes in. It’s low budget, we can do it ourselves...”

Erin jumps in. “We don’t need government funding, and we’re footing the bills ourselves. And it’s going to give us that broadcast experience that we need to carry on...”

“This is just the start for us,” finishes Ronnie.

The concept is akin to a variety of other shows airing on major networks. A group of investigators track down locations rumored to be haunted and spend some time trying to expose whatever spooky things might inhabit the space.

But while these shows are shot in far off locations the Sonleys and their band cohorts are doing their thing right here in this province. The show has even found a local home as the Newfoundland Broadcasting Co. Ltd. (NTV) has agreed to air a run of episodes later this year, though exactly when has yet to be determined.

Since they started filming their adventures they’ve visited dozens of locations in the St. John’s and the surrounding areas and hope to eventually be able to branch out farther. They typically show up at a location at suppertime and film until daybreak.

Their crew varies in size from shoot to shoot, but usually consists of at least 10 hardcore volunteers. Erin and Ronnie spend countless additional hours reviewing tapes, cutting scenes and generally piecing the show together.

The format of the show is similar to other programs of this type, explains Erin. They go in to a location, interview the owner/manager, do their investigation and then present what they find to the same person.

Their goal is to present the facts and nothing more, adds Ronnie.

“We don’t push it on anyone. We let them decide,” he says.

“We’re totally unbiased. We just go in, collect the evidence and present it as we find it,” adds Erin.

“If you see me crying — that’s a sign,” chuckles Ronnie.

“We like to have fun. We don’t take ourselves too seriously ... you can go in and have a laugh,” she adds.

The crew members have seen a lot in their investigations that they have been unable to explain, adds Ronnie, but whether that means the location is haunted or not — they’ll leave that up to the viewer.  

The Sonleys are betting the success of their show on a rising tide of interest in the paranormal and of the interest Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have for the history and culture of their own province.

And bottom line — people are interested in what comes after death, says Erin.

“There’s so little that is not understood. This is something that is a mystery people are fascinated by it. And it would bring a lot of comfort to some people if they knew there was something coming after they died,” she says.  

Anyone who would like to contact the Sonleys about “Newfoundland and Labrador Paranormal” can do so by sending them an email at nlparanormal@mail.com.

cmaclean@thetelegram.com

Organizations: The Sonleys, Tim Hortons, Newfoundland Broadcasting Co. NTV

Geographic location: Newfoundland

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  • Arcangel Michael to Erin Again
    April 02, 2012 - 20:02

    It may have been used by Christians at one point, but the use was rare and is now even more rare. Sure, you can find symbols in any religion or culture that are common with other symbols of other religions or cultures but have different meanings. For example, the swastika is found in Buddism, Hinduism, Jainism, some Native Americanism, and Falun Gong. However, its use is much more associated with Nazism. When most people see or use the swastika they think of Nazism and not any other use. Likewise, when most people see or use the pentagram they think evil and not good. I will say a prayer for myself as I pray for you and I hope you will do the same. It is nice to see you being concerned with blasphemy, esp since you call Christianity chistanity which sounds alot like a mockery to me.

  • Arcangel Michael to Erin
    April 02, 2012 - 15:59

    Erin you are wrong on two counts. The pentagram is not always one point up nor is it nota sign of the devil. Do a google image search of pentagram and read the wikipedia article and see the demonic references. Wikipedia: "The Neopagan pentagram is generally displayed with one point up, partly because of the "inverted" goat's head pentagram's association with Satanism; however, within traditional forms of Wicca a pentagram (no circle) with two points up is associated with the Second Degree Initiation and in this way differs from the encircled pentacle inverted of Satanism. Because of a perceived association with Satanism and also because of negative societal attitudes towards Neopagan religions and the "occult", many United States schools have sought to prevent students from displaying the pentagram on clothing or jewelry." I'll pray for you. Thanks for playing though "WIZ" Erin.

    • Erin
      April 02, 2012 - 18:19

      If you use Wikipedia for a "reliable" source...there is no hope. Wikipedia...the encyclopedia that ANYONE can edit. They have some great FALSE info on a host of subjects. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pentagram I however did lower myself to look to wiki for a definition, and it totally backs up what I am saying. A pentagram...not an INVERTED pentagram has been used by many different religions. EVEN CHISTIANITY when they used it to symbolize the 5 wounds of Christ. Say a prayer for yourself "Arcangel Micheal" blasphemous much ?? :)

  • Archangel Michael
    April 02, 2012 - 11:25

    The pentagram (an upside down five pointed star), is not an ancient symbol of magical protection, it is a demonic symbol. The bottom point being the snout or mouth of the devil. The two side points being his jowls or ears. The two top points being his horns. The middle being his face. So, people be careful around this sign less you fall into his trap. When you are handling a five pointed star, like hanging one up for Christmas or as a hub cap on spare tire the back of your jeep, keep it right side up and not upside down. Steer clear of anyone using this demonic symbol unless you are trying to convert them and you have your guards up, so you will not be traped. Missus with this show with the pentagram and those around her willingly cooperating should be prayed for and not believed.

    • Erin
      April 02, 2012 - 14:23

      The Pentagram is a symbol of a star encased in a circle. Always with 5 points (one pointing upward), each has its own meaning. The upward point of the star is representative of the spirit. The other four points all represent an element; earth, air, fire, and water. All these things contibutite to life and are a part of each of us. To wear a pentagram necklace or other form of jewelry, is to say you feel the connection with the elements and respect the earth. Thanks for playing though "WIZ" Archangel Micheal

  • DON II
    April 02, 2012 - 08:55

    For centuries people in Newfoundland were the product of very poor education or lack of any formal education, myth based religious influence about people being raised from the dead, folklore and outright lies. Despite the entertaining stories, there are no fairies, ghosts, goblins or hags! The story says: "....people are interested in what comes after death." The answer is: "NOTHING!" It is not what comes after death that we should be concerned about, only what happens to us or what we do to others in life that should concern us. Ghost hunting is entertaining but don't expect to come face to face with a ghost anytime soon. Any entity that has no brain, vocal cords or physical strength can hardly be expected to make noises, speak or move things around. Fear of the unknown makes everyone open to believing any sort of story, tale or myth as an explanation for our unanswerable questions. Every so called paranormal activity has a logical explanation if one has an open mind and is capable of seeing the forest beyond the trees. As Sherlock Holmes said: "Having eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."

  • Mom
    April 02, 2012 - 08:28

    Sounds very interesting! I look forward to seeing the show!!

  • Brenda
    April 02, 2012 - 07:18

    Best of luck on this venture. Sounds interesting for sure as Newfoundland is so rich in its history, folklore and ghost stories. I can't wait to watch the shows on NTV.