A few years back, I was sent a story from a Newfoundlander now living in Nanaimo, B.C. The man had grown up in the community of Burgeo, and he related a ghost story from the early 1960s that involved his father, Jeremiah.
Jeremiah was a fisherman. He got up in the dark early hours every morning and made ready to head out for a day on the water.
One morning, Jeremiah woke and got ready to head out, just like many days before. He ate his breakfast and then got dressed in his oil skins. He pulled on his boots, left the house, and went down to the stage. The sun was just beginning to break over the horizon.
Just before the fisherman reached the stage head, he saw a frightening sight rise up from the rocks right in front of him. Three ghostly figures emerged directly out of the granite bedrock. Later, the man described them as looking like three ancient Jersey men with weather-beaten faces. The three old men seemed to be talking in a foreign language, and arguing amongst themselves.
The appearance of the three weird figures had such an impact on Jeremiah that he had a slight heart attack. He fell to his knees on the ground, finding it hard to draw breath. Needless to say, he did not go out fishing that day, using the excuse that he was not feeling well. He never spoke of the sighting or of what he had experienced to his neighbours and friends, as he was afraid of being ridiculed by the local townspeople.
When he learned the story years later, the man’s son was not so skeptical.
“It makes sense to me because there was a crowd of Jerseymen that came to Burgeo in the late 1800s and early 1900s,” remembers the son. “I’m not sure, though, if something tragic happened in that area of town or not.”
Channel Islanders, particularly those from Jersey, began fishing in Newfoundland between 1600 and 1603. At that time, Sir Walter Raleigh was governor of Jersey, and it is said he encouraged them to become involved in the Newfoundland fishery
Jersey merchants had arrived in Burgeo as early as 1840, if not before. The first European settlers to Burgeo arrived in the late 1700s, and by 1802 it had a booming population of 23. In 1840, the noted Jersey firm Nicolle and Company set up shop in the community. The Channel Island company had established a base in Newfoundland circa 1789, and was one of the first major mercantile operations in Fortune Bay.
The family firm ceased trading in 1863. One of the early principals of the company, Philippe Nicolle Sr. (1769-1835), had built a large house in Jersey with the proceeds of the Newfoundland fish trade. Nicolle’s house was turned into a museum in 1893. It is still operated as such, and is open to tourists visiting the Channel Islands.
The people of Jersey themselves believe they were in Newfoundland much earlier than 1600. One old tradition holds that a group of Jersey fishermen, on their way to Iceland, were driven off course by storms. They were pushed to the southwest until they reached a land surrounded by waters teeming with fish. Some Jerseymen believe that John Cabot learned of the rich fishing grounds from them, and that his discovery was based on something the people of the Channel Islands were well familiar with.
Much like Newfoundlanders, the people of Jersey have a rich tradition of folklore, and the island boasts many stories of witches, strange creatures, ghostly carriages, black dogs and phantoms of all types. Three Jersey ghosts would doubtlessly feel quite at home on our shores.
Dale Jarvis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He launches his latest book “Haunted Waters” today, July 26, at 8 p.m. at the Martini Bar (upper level) on George Street. The author will be reading from his book and signing copies.