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 firstname.lastname@example.org.