As stories circulate in the weeks following hurricane Igor, the tales I like best are the ones about neighbours helping neighbours. Stories about communities coming together to help communities, or about individuals lending a hand where they are needed define something of the character of this province.
It is perhaps unsurprising that those types of stories don’t seem to stop when people pass on over to the other side. Helpful ghosts, in fact, are a firm part of the folklore of Newfoundland and Labrador.
In one documented case, a strange light led Canon Noel and his wife to safety during a blizzard.
The event took place at the very beginning of the 20th century. The reverend and his wife had taken their horse and sleigh to a blacksmith, several miles distant.
Delays meant the couple had to leave during a storm. Their horse was soon bogged down in high snow, and they realized they were completely lost.
A bright light began moving around. Believing it to be a rescuer, the couple shouted for help. The light approached them and passed by, but there was no sign of a person carrying it.
The frozen pair walked in the direction of the light. This led them to a stone fence, which in turn led them to a house where they found shelter for the night. When the owners of the house were told of the strange light, they expressed no surprise. It had been seen many times before, generally before some tragedy.
One of the most famous Labrador stories is about a sometimes helpful ghost, who goes by the name of Smoker. The story of Smoker’s life and death is too long to be told here, but suffice it to say that the ghost of Smoker is still said to wander the winter landscape.
Like the reverend, a Labrador man was once caught in a terrible blizzard, driving his own dog team over the hills. The man fought onwards, hoping to find shelter. Suddenly the sound of another dog team could be heard. Out of the blizzard ran 14 pure-white huskies, driven by a man dressed in white furs from head to foot.
The lost man followed the stranger in white, and half an hour later he was brought to the winter huts of the fishermen of Frenchmen’s Island. When he saw a fisherman standing in an open doorway, he stopped his dogs. As the stranger moved out of sight the rescued man shouted out his thanks.
“You’re welcome,” said the fisherman at the door. “Come in and get warm.”
The cold driver thanked the fisherman, but said that he had been calling out to the stranger on the komatik who had passed on in front of him. The fisherman looked at him strangely and said that there had been no man before him.
Sometimes ghosts are just downright hospitable.
In 1983, a Newfoundland woman by the name of Catherine received word that her father had suffered a stroke. At the time, she was living with her husband, who was in the military and stationed in Delaware.
After spending several days in Corner Brook, the husband was called back to duty, and they got on the CN bus heading to Whitbourne. From there, they took a taxi down to Argentia.
While in Argentia, the family walked down the road to go to the bank. A seaman stopped, and not only drove them to the bank, but also drove them back to their hotel, and invited the family to his house for dinner.
Later, safely back home in the United States, the woman wrote a thank you letter to the Argentia Navy Commander.
In particular, she wrote of the helpful seaman, and mentioned him by name.
A few weeks later, she received a letter from the commander saying that he was a bit mystified at the mention of the seaman. He went on to say that an individual by that name wasn’t stationed at his base and the military quarters where they had dinner had been closed for years.
Dale Jarvis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.