Julie V. Watson explores how folktales and legends are deeply embedded in the P.E.I. landscape
Surrounded by the sea, howling winds, dark stormy nights, and snowdrifts in winter, Islanders are bound to conjure up a treasure chest of stories on phantom ships, pirates, ghosts, sea serpents, and other creatures that supposedly inhabit the province or its waters.
For some, these stories – passed down from generation to generation – hold more than a grain of truth.
Enter Charlottetown author Julie V. Watson with her new edition of Ghosts and Legends of Prince Edward Island. Her anthology is a collection of eerie photographs by her son John, as well as literary stories, local news reports, and first-hand accounts from people that have experienced the supernatural.
To set the scene Watson starts with a padded history of the Island, which was first inhabited by the Mi'kmaq First Nations before waves of Europeans arrived bringing their own superstitions, customs, and proverbs. Storytelling, no matter the culture, was usually done at night and around a crackling fire.
Many Islanders will be familiar with these tales or even sightings of the phantom ship sailing in the Northumberland Strait, the resident ghost at King’s Playhouse in Georgetown or the ghostly encounters seen, felt or heard at the Wyatt House in Summerside, to name but a few.
But folded into the pages are lesser-known mysterious occurrences, like the phantom submarine. Recorded by Lorne Johnston in his Guardian newspaper column called “The Ole Salt,” the ghostly vessel brings to life a decaying history of the Island during the Second World War.
According to Watson, Johnston talked with an officer from the Fairmile, which is a vessel that acted as an escort for convoys of freighters that travelled up the Gulf of St. Lawrence during the war.
She writes, “This fellow told of submarines being sighted off the bow, chase being given, and then the sub simply disappearing. It happened several times in several locations, but, as Lorne said, one disappearance followed another through the summer of 1946 or 1947.”
Most of the tales in this book capture the rich and fascinating cultural heritage of P.E.I. But if the goal of the reader is to be terrified, shocked or left dripping with dread, look elsewhere. There’s nothing that jumps out from the narration, other than the dark photography that will leave a haunting impression.
Towards the end of the book, there’s a recommended reading list to continue the exploration of the Island, as well as notable haunted places or legendary achievements to see first-hand.
Author Julie V. Watson lives in Charlottetown and has penned numerous articles for publications across North America. She is the author of more than two dozen books, including the notable ‘Shipwrecks and Seafaring Tales of Prince Edward Island’ available from Dundurn Press.
Photographer and son, John C. Watson has appeared in numerous magazines, books, and even on the side of buses. He lives in Vancouver.