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The Phantom Ship of Chaleur Bay

FATE / FEBRUARY 2008 - Steve Vernon

Anyone who’s lived along the coast knows that ghost stories and the sea naturally swim together. To understand why that is you need to wade a mile or two in a pair of well-used gum rubber boots. Just think about it: back in the days of old you would rise up every day to see your father or husband sail away into that dark swallow of a harbor, knowing full well that the sea might take a notion to sweep him under at any given time.

Even now a life upon the sea is a chancy enterprise at best and a body’s fancy naturally turns to thoughts of the afterlife. Your eyes fix hopefully upon that hungry gulp of a horizon and you wonder just what might lie beyond it. And that is where you’ll find this story, fixed and flickering along that gray Atlantic vista, the home ground of the phantom ship of Chaleur Bay. Chaleur Bay gouges into the coastline like a deep knife wound that neatly separates the northeastern roof of New Brunswick from the Gaspé Peninsula of Northern Quebec. The Bay has many names, de- pending on who you ask. The Acadians will call it the Baie des Chaleurs (Bay of Heat) and the less articulate folks from away will generally call it Bay Chaleur or Chaleur Bay. Deep in the belly and the bottom of Chaleur Bay you will find the town of Bathurst. Here, residents have claimed the legend of the phantom ship for their own. In fact if you drive into the town of Bathurst you should keep a close eye for the road sign that welcomes you with a painting of a burning ship. Folks in Bathurst make a big deal out of the apparition, partly because of the tourism the old legend still generates. However, the phantom ship has been seen by countless witnesses scattered up and down the long, gray coastal stretch of Chaleur Bay.

An Ominous Sight Mrs. Joseph Comeau of Carleton, Quebec, upon the Gaspé Peninsula tells of how as a child of 12 years old, she and her fa- ther both watched as the dark, brooding mass of the fire-ship sailed straight towards them on a grim June morning in the sum- mer of 1912. Canadian folklorist Edith Fowke (1913–1996) collected this story, and it was reprinted in J. R. Colombo’s Ghost Stories of Canada (2000). What Mrs. Comeau and her father saw that June morning was an enormous vessel with dark gray sails flecked with white. They could distinguish the masts and the sails; however, they saw no sign of a crew.

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