It’s a ship! It’s a sub! Nope, just a light

Dale Jarvis
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Last week, I was in Old Bona-venture to present a series of historic plaques to registered heritage buildings. One of the plaques, for St. Luke’s Anglican Church in Old Bonaventure, was presented to Garland Bailey of the Trinity Historical Society.

Afterwards, in conversation, Bailey told me of a ghost ship that was once said to appear sailing up Trinity Bay. What made the story intriguing to me was that the ship was said to only have its wooden ribs, missing its planking.

Every part of Newfoundland and Labrador has its own tradition of strange nautical tales, and Trinity Bay is no exception. A number of local spirits were recorded for posterity in 1925 by William White (1860-1949). A native of Trinity, Trinity Bay, White devoted much time in his later years to the collection and recording of local and church history. His 1925 article documented a number of ghost stories, including a ghost ship seen by a local man nicknamed “Crusty Harry.”

According to White, another apparition was seen by many people, starting around the year 1916. A very brilliant light was seen just a few miles off Trinity narrows. The light had not been seen before, but was soon a regular occurrence. When it was first seen, the strange light was initially believed to be the lights of an approaching ship.

It was written that when the Fort Point lighthouse keeper first observed the glow, he was convinced it was the SS Prospero. The lighthouse keeper, convinced the ship was making an unscheduled stop at Trinity, rowed all the way across the harbour "in great haste" to the public wharf. He reached the wharf to wait for the arrival of the SS Prospero, but discovered no sign of an approaching ship.

The ghostly light became very much talked about. Unlike other phantasms, this one was viewed by hundreds of witnesses. It also displayed astonishing regularity. The light was seen frequently, and usually from 9 o'clock to 11 o'clock at night.

When the light showed no sign of vanishing, the population of the town became very excited, fearing it to be a German submarine attempting to cut the Atlantic cable or preparing to attack the town. Perhaps strange today, at the time it was a very real fear.

In the early 1920s a fisherman on the fishing grounds off Trinity after dark had a close encounter with the light. He saw the light a few hundred yards distant, but as he drew nearer, it vanished.

While not a ghost ship as such, Trinity can also boast the phantom of a ferryman.

One evening in February, in the early part of the 20th century,  a local girl was out with a flashlight, going to meet her aunt. Around 7 o’clock, she came to the house with a white picket fence where her aunt had stayed for tea. As soon as she came in through the gate in the fence, she heard a little noise, and she turned the light onto the fence.

On the other side she saw something like a man’s face and figure, with the body resting its arms on the face. She could not see the lower part of its body, but she saw that face, with long white whiskers. The figure wearing an old-fashioned hat with a shiny bill-like style of hat a captain might wear. Frightened, the girl hurried on.

Later, it was revealed that “Old Bobby” had died there.

“Well, he had long white whiskers and any time you saw him, he had a cap on,” claimed a neighbour. “He used to run the ferry that went up the Southwest Arm, and when he was an old man he went to live with his daughter. Every evening, just about 7 or 7:30, he’d go outdoors and lean on the fence and look up the arm, just to check on the ferry.”


If you have a nautical ghost story from Trinity Bay,

or any other bay, email me at

Organizations: Anglican Church, Trinity Historical Society.Afterwards

Geographic location: Trinity Bay, Bona, Old Bonaventure Newfoundland and Labrador Southwest Arm

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