In culture after culture, people believe that the soul lives on after death, that rituals can change the physical world and divine the truth, and that illness and misfortune are caused and alleviated by spirits, ghosts, saints ... and gods.

STEVEN PINKER, How the Mind Works

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Early Ghosts of Canada

The early French and English settlers thought that the new land was too young for ghosts. According to Canadian author Catharine Parr Traill, there had to be centuries of human habitation before ghosts could exist. But it was not long before soldiers and settlers were complaining of ghosts and poltergeists in the woods and cottages of early Canada.

On October 15, 1785, two British officers stationed at Sydney, N.S., reported the figure of a young man, pale as death, passing through their quarters. It sent a sorrowful glance in their direction, then vanished. One of the soldiers recognized the face of his brother who, he assumed, was enjoying good health and living in England. They later heard that the man had died in England at the very moment the apparition was sighted in Sydney. This is among the best-known ghost stories of all time.

A poltergeist was said to be responsible for strange happenings at the Cox cottage in Amherst, N.S. Objects flew through the air. Lighted matches fell from nowhere. Small unexplained fires broke out. Pounding sounds were heard on the roof and words appeared mysteriously on the bedroom wall. The cottage itself rocked on its foundations, furniture would move from place to place, turn upside down or pile up on top of each other. Household items would disappear, objects would fall from the ceiling and table knives would even fly through the air.. All the disturbances took place between 1878 and 1879, always in the presence of Esther Cox.

Esther herself would become feverish and her body would swell leaving her screaming with pain. She would be slapped across the face with such force that left a hand imprint. Pins would come out of the air and stick into her body leaving her marked from head to toe with scratches and once it was reported that she was stabbed repeatedly in her back with a clasp knife. Perhaps, one of the most terrifying events was the night in Esther's room when everyone heard the sound of writing and saw deeply indented in the wall the threat "Esther Cox, you are mine to kill".

Neighbours maintained that the 18-year-old Esther was possessed by the devil. Others argued that she was responsible for all the commotion because she was unhappy in love. With all the unquestionable and unanswered actions it became no longer safe to have Esther in the house so she left, never returning. Esther survived the ordeal and eventually married. To this day no one really knows what went on in the Cox cottage.

In all the provinces and territories there are houses that are said to be haunted. Their ghostly reputations are based on what people describe having seen and felt in their rooms. There are reports that the 19th-century judge, T.C. Haliburton, may be glimpsed now and then in the study of his former house in Windsor, N.S. Similarly, a short, bald man resembling William Lyon Mackenzie, and a dark-haired woman, are said to wander the corridors of Mackenzie House in Toronto.

Ghosts and poltergeists may come and go, but there is one ghostly image that remains on permanent display. This is the well-known "Ghost Photograph"" in the archives of the B.C. Parliament Buildings in Victoria. It is a group photograph of 11 members of B.C.'s first Legislative Council, plus the clerk. It was taken on December 12, 1864, at New Westminster, B.C. The legislators posed for the photographer on the outside stairs of a wood-frame building. The clerk, Charles Good, was sick in bed that day and was unable to be there ""in person."" Yet he appears on the photographic plate ""in spirit,"" or at least in a blurry way. There are many ways to account for Good's image. One is that in the early days of photography, time exposures were common. Perhaps Good did arrive for the photographic session, but late. Perhaps he positioned himself on the landing at the last moment, thereby creating the blurry image." (above taken from "Farshores". )

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