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Folklore of Nova Scotia
Chapter XI. Attendant Spirits


Before the Battle of Culloden, Hugh, the Chief of the MacLeans, applied for knowledge of the success of the battle to a s6er, who told him that if his wife a particularly stingy woman, would give him butter the morning of the battle without his asking for it, success would be his. Unfortunately, her stinginess got the better of her, and he had to ask for it; so he knew that his fate was sealed. In the course of the battle he was riding at the head of his men when he was struck by a battle axe, and an arm was severed completely from the body. As he fell from his horse he picked up the arm and threw it ahead of his men, saying: “In life or in death I lead the MacLeans.” Since then, he attends

at the death-beds of his clan. He has been .known to cross the ocean to Nova Scotia, and people have heard the click, click of the loose shoe of his charger, and have even seen himself as he rode to lead away a MacLean to the other world. In proof of this the following story is told.

An old clansman in Inverness Co. was struggling in the throes of death. A watcher by his bedside, named MacDougall. who afterwards told the story, heard him say several times under his breath: “Waiting, waiting.” He was so near death that they could not imagine how he was living at all. All at once, they heard a rattling outside; MacDougall looked out and saw a military man with a remarkably small head ride up to the door on a grey horse, then tap on the window. He turned to the sick man, and found that he was dead. He had gone to follow the lead of the MacLean.


A man named Greve, a Lowlander, left Scotland because, as was said, he committed murder there. In Scotland he was followed by a man with a gash in his throat wearing a long grey cloak and accompanied by a dog. When he landed in Halifax, N.S., he saw this individual before him whom he had left Scotland to avoid. He settled in Mull River, Inverness Co. Everybody who passed his house at night saw a man in a grey cloak standing facing the house, a dog by his side.. Sometimes only the dog was visible. Hundreds saw the apparition, so that it became known popularly throughout the district as Bochdan Greve. It continued to be seen as long as Greve or any of his family lived.

The M ’s, who emigrated from Uist, Scotland, were rather a worthless crowd, quite inferior to the other pioneer settlers in Inverness Co. Parties were given quite often at their house, at which drinking and carousing were usually indulged in. One Hallow-e’en night two men were walking from Port Hood to Mabou, a distance of ten miles. The road was, at that time, little better than a path. Shortly before they reached the M place they were joined by a man wearing a blue coat. (In those days men wore cloaks instead of coats). He walked in the centre, keeping step with them. All the doors and windows of the M- house were open, and the noise of revelry could be distinctly heard. ‘‘They are having a grand time whatever,” said one of the men. “That they are having,” said the man in the blue cloak; “but many’s the one has to suffer severely on account of their goings on. But the day will come when there will be no one here to bear their name, and the grass, will be growing over their doorstep.” By this time they had passed the house, and had reached a sort of ditch across their path. The stranger was the first to make a spring over it, but as he did so his cloak opened, showing to the men behind a skeleton all on fire. He disappeared immediately.

To-day the name M is extinct in that district, and the old house, with its gaping windows and hinge-less doorways, has not even a beaten path leading to it; (Popular Tradition).


A short distance outside Antigonish town there is a wooded hill which in pioneer days was the scene of many strange preternatural manifestations. A road, which was very little more than a bridle path, ran through the primeval forest. As there were no stores in the country, pedlars used to go around selling goods. One of these — so tradition says — disappeared in the forest, and to this disappearance were ascribed all the strange happenings at Beech Hill.

On one occasion, a Mr. Cameron, his wife, and his wife’s brother and sister, were riding from South River to Antigonish in mid-winter. Mr. and Mrs. Cameron rode on one horse, according to custom, and the other couple on another. When they got to the centre of Beech Hill woods the sun was just setting, and it was getting dark in the forest. All at once a most extraordinary company came in sight. A huge pair of oxen yoked, with heaps of non-deseript piled on their backs, were headed by a shrivelled old man of very small stature, with a> rope over his shoulders tied to the middle of the yoke. He strained on this rope with all his might, as if to pull the oxen along faster. But, more extraordinary still, four ordinary - sized women were following behind wearing a peculiar head-gear, very high and unusual. Their dressesi made a strange rustling noise, which especially frightened the horses. Cameron had a quiet animal, so he succeeded; although with difficulty, in getting by; but the other horse bolted into the woods. Only the strength of MacDonald, the brother-in-law, prevented himself and his sister from being thrown.

Cameron made inquiries along every road this company could possibly take, but no trace of them could be found. Nor was anything like them ever seen again. (Story told by Mr. Cameron’s grandson).

On another occasion a big man named Donald, who was famous for his strength, set out to walk from Antigonish to South River over Beech Hill. Night was coming on as he reached the woods, so he was very glad to see a man dressed in grey walking ahead of him on the road. He quickened his pace to have his company; but, if he did, the grey man did also-, and kept a provokingly long stretch ahead. There was a loop in the road, so Donald determined to catch up by going straight through the woods and thus cutting out a considerable distance. When he again reached the road, he looked back and saw that he had accomplished his purpose. The grey man then took to the woods, with Donald in hot pursuit. As the latter reached the opening in the forest through which the grey man had disappeared he heard moaning. On proceeding further, he saw the man lying under a tree; but his face was so horrible that he took to his heels and never stopped until the woods was left far behind.

It was not only at nightfall that strange things happened at Beech Hill. One fine Saturday morning, two brothers named MacDonald went out there to cut wood. They were not men who- were over-credulous or easily scared. They had not been working long when they heard a noise like that of chains rattling, and perceived a dreadful odor. Then, something that they likened to a coffin— bigger at one end than at the other—rose before them and sailed through the air. At this, these hardy men got so frightened that they left their work and made for home. (Story told by their niece, who had it from themselves).

Later on, when Bishop Fraser was doing parish work in these parts, with headquarters at Antigonish, he had as assistant Father John Grant, a very powerful man. One Saturday evening the Bishop said to Father Grant: “You had better have Mass at St Andrew’s to-morrow.” Father Grant said:/‘All right. I’ll go there this evening.” The Bishop advised him to wait till morning as the road through the forest was said to be haunted. But the priest said he was not afraid, and so he set out about dusk.

Some hours later he returned on the gallop, hatless, and he and his horse looked muddy and bedraggled. All he would say was that if the red horse could speak he would tell a weird tale about that night’s doings. So it was presumed that Father Grant had had an interview with the Bochdan. Some curious people went out to Beech Hill the next day, and at one spot the earth was torn up and covered with the marks of a horse’s hoofs. In any case, tradition has it, that ever afterwards the forest was free from its terrifying dwellers.


In another part of Antigonish Co. there is a beautiful tract of fertile land called the Meadow Green, which extends as far as a forest that bears the ominous title, Dagger Woods. All through this district, and even through the woods, preternatural disturbances occurred many years ago. The usual manifestation was in the form of cries. A cry was first heard in the distance; then nearer, and consequently louder; and then just at hand. The last time this was heard was not so many years ago.

A man and his sister were driving through the Dagger woods, when they spoke one to the other of the Bochdan. Scarcely had they mentioned it when a cry was heard away off towards Meadow Green. To this cry they paid no attention; hut a second one nearer made them more anxious; a third, within a few yards, terrified them. It was a human cry, hut a hundred voices could not produce its volume.

Another time sixty years ago this same man’s father was going through the Dagger Woods when he heard the cry in the distance; then nearer; then right in the drain by the roadside. It was so terrifying that his horse fell down and poured sweat. Many others heard these cries and were frightened by them.

In this same district, on a road between St. Andrew’s and Heatherton, there is a salt water spring around which strange sights were seen. A man living near by saw several times a barrel floating in the air, with something like fire coming from either end of it. He would be a brave man who would pass this spring at night. Near the spring is an old road, on which, not far from the present one. quite a number of times an old man was seen dressed in grey, but no one had enough courage to speak to him. One man, with a courage born of a few glasses of liquor, declared that he would lay the ghost. A number of people went with him to the edge of Meadow Green, and he went forward alone some distance. He heard the cries, and presently saw a big pot turned upside down tipping towards him. He did not wait to see more, but turned and fled with great speed towards his friends. (These stories I took down from the dictation of a near relative of the people concerned, who had them from themselves).

In Inverness Co., Mr. B was going along a lonely road one fine night, when just at a turn in the road he saw a gigantic horse barring the way. Although very much frightened, he managed to get by. Some time later he was going over the same road in daylight with a friend of- his. When they arrived at the spot where he had seen the horse, his friend turned to him and said: “I got the fright of my life here one night.” He went on to describe the very same horse that Mr. B had seen.

(Story told by Mr. B ’s daughter).

Dougall. the hero of this story, when seventy-six years old was still smart and active. One fine afternoon he went with two horses and a truck-waggon to a neighboring village fourteen miles away. On his way back home he had to pass a spot where “ugly things” were reported to have been heard, and even seen. But these little ghost stories were merely detached, unauthenticated rumors, yet they were very persistent. But Dougall never saw anything preternatural in his life. On his return home, then, about an hour and a half of the night had overtaken him before he reached the spot. When coming to the place, the tired horses were walking slowly; Donald was up on top of the truck-waggon on an improvised seat, holding the reins somewhat loosely, his head bent a little. When he reached the spot the horses stopped suddenly, planted their eight legs under them, and raised their heads in great terror and excitement. At this moment Dougall was lifted off his seat, as it were, by a gust of wind, or rather by air that was not wind, and planted down under the legs of the horses; but the horses did not move in the least. He cxelaimed: “A Dhia, sabhaill m’anam!” (God save my soul!). He regained his seat as quickly as possible and took the reins. The horse3 then started on the dead gallop. He had all he could do to keep the waggon from upsetting. And on the dead gallop they kept until they came to Dougall’s own gate. (The man who gave me this story said that he could vouch for it. He wrote:4 ‘Dougall, who was a most truthful man, told me every word of it in his own house”).

Lake Ainslie in Inverness County, Cape Breton, carries its blue waters for thirteen miles through a bonny highland glen, emptying by means of the world-famous Margaree River into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Reached from Whycocomagh.

Seventy years ago there was no priest stationed at Margaree, Inverness Co., and people had to depend for their spiritual needs on a priest from Quebec, for the settlement was largely French. Among them was a man very much addicted to strong drink, who at last was found dead out in the open fields as a result of a serious drunk. These French, who were very scrupulous with regard to Christian burial, refused to put the body in consecrated ground, and buried it instead on an island, just opposite Bochdan Brook, on the mainland.

Soon “ugly noises” began to be heard from the island, and a man who was famed for Second Sight used to “see things” at Bochdan Brook. One Christmas night as this man, whose name I am not permitted to divulge, was crossing the road by this brook, he was attacked by a wicked Bochdan, and they wrestled until morning, the man losing one of his braces in the encounter. But all this time he refrained from speaking to his assailant, for the Bochdan could not speak unless addressed. At last a priest came to the place. He, too, heard the noises around the island, so he determined to investigate. Not a soul could he get to go with him, so he went alone. Nobody knows whether he saw anything or not; but he blessed the grave of the poor outcast, and advised the people to do for his soul what they were accustomed to do for others. After this the noises ceased; nor was anything more seen or heard at the Bochdan Brook which still bears its sinister name. (Popular tradition).

At Sight Point, Cape Breton, there is another Bochdan Brook where horses used to be very much frightened. The valley, through which the brook flows, is walled in by high mountains, making the place very secluded and very lonely. Through an opening in the mountains a road runs, and the brook is bridged at this point. On one occasion a, young boy was walking over this road at night. When he reached the bridge, a huge, hairy dog attacked him. This monster rapidly transformed itself into a long, lean hound, from which he had the greatest difficulty to escape.

Later, two men on horseback met at the same spot a big dog which transformed itself into a foal two months old, and terrified them beyond words.

Some time after these manifestations, serious disputes arose over a school house built on this spot, which bade fair to end disastrously. Finally, the matter went into the courts, and the site of the building had to be changed. Everyone concerned, believed that the Bochdan seen there were warnings against this wrangling and quarrelling. (Popular Tradition).


If you have never heard of the Phantom Ship that appears periodically off the coast of Port Hood, you cannot have been long in Cape Breton, for the appearance of this phantom is so well authenticated that the whole countryside knows about it, and many have seen it. The last time the ship was seen before this writing was in November, 1929. A trustworthy witness of the prodigy tells the story.

“The evening was calm. The short-lived November sun had trailed a path of glory across the broad bosom of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and had gone down in splendor beneath the waters. The long beam from the revolving light on Port Hood Island grew gradually in brilliance as darkness settled down over the sea. The whiteness of the houses on the islands became as indistinct as the greyness of the barns, and soon only a dark outline against the sky marked where the islands stood. Lights twinkled here and there along the shore. The honk of a passing automobile alone broke the stillness, as night enveloped the little town in quiet peace. I retired to rest with the breeze from the sea fanning my face.

‘‘I wakened suddenly. The wind had risen and I was uncomfortably cold. I arose to close the window — when, lo! out on the Gulf was a full-rigged ship burning furiously. I stood amazed. Stories I had heard of the phantom ship flashed across my mind. As I watched, I saw the flaming sails drop from the ropes, and then the ropes themselves part from the fiery spars. Soon the masts, too, went down in a shower of sparks, and the lonely fire-filled hull drifted into the night and disappeared.

“How long I had watched I know not; but a clock somewhere in the house struck midnight, as, chilled to the bone, I turned from the window, my mind filled with questions.”

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