The Mystery Of Tom Thomson
The first tale comes from one of the most famous mysterious deaths in Canadian history. Tom Thomson is one of the greatest painters in Canadian history but he never knew the fame that would come for him due to his sudden death at the age of only 39 on July 8, 1917.
For the previous five years, Thomson had been painting the beauty of Algonquin Park, creating iconic works such as The Jack Pine. That painting has been in the National Gallery of Canada since 1918 and is considered an icon of Canadian painting His work attracted others, including Fred Varley, Arthur Lismer and A.Y. Jackson, who would form the Group of Seven two years after the death of Thomson.
It is not known exactly what happened to Thomson, but these are the facts.
On July 8, 1917, he ventured out on a canoeing trip on Canoe Lake in the park. Later that afternoon, his canoe was found upturned on the lake, although some sources say it was two days later. It would be eight days before the body of Thomson was found. An investigation of his body found that he had a four-inch cut on his right temple and had bled from his ear. A fishing line was also wrapped around his legs. His watch had also stopped at 12:14 p.m. Mark Robinson, the park ranger at the time, noted in his diary the following about Thomson.
“Left Fraser’s Dock after 12:30 p.m. to go to Tea Lake Dam or West Lake.”
At the time, his death was ruled as an accidental drowning. The speculation of his death continues to this day as he was reaching his artistic peak period and his fame was starting to grow. Some say he was murdered, others say he committed suicide. As for the bruise, it was believed by the coroner that he struck a stone when his body was drowned. The issue that many have with this is that Thomson was an accomplished individual in a canoe, and would not have tipped a canoe. As for the fishing line around the legs, it is believed that this was caused by the motion of waves and currents.
What makes things even weirder is that after his body was buried at Canoe Lake, his brother had the body exhumed two days later and buried at the family plot. Jimmy Stringer, who lived most of his life at the lake, would say that the undertaker that was hired to dig up the body had instead shipped an empty sealed casket off to the family and left the body in the ground, but Winnie Trainor, who was at the Park at the time of the death, said the undertaker did his job. In the fall of 1956, four drunk men explored the Canoe Lake cemetery with shovels and dug up a skeleton that had a hole in the left temple and the media concluded that it was really Thomson, although a forensic analysis would state it was a young Indigenous man but many still speculate that the government was incorrect in its assessment of the skeleton.
Was that skull in the grave Thomson? Was he murdered or was it an accident? We may never know.
The Fishing Village Of Anjikuni
Located in Nunavut, Angikuni Lake had been a location known for several years among Europeans. It was visited by Samuel Hearne in the 1770s, and Francis Crozier, a member of the Lost Franklin Expedition in 1848, had left a monument there. The Inuit village located right off the lake was also known to fur trappers who came through the area.
Things took an odd turn through when in 1930, Joe Labelle, a man who had been to the village many times, found everyone had simply vanished. It was not as if the Inuit had decided to simply move, but everyone was just gone. He found unfinished shirts still with needles in them, food hanging over fire pits and seven dead sled dogs that had died from starvation, along with a grave that had been dug up. Labelle, seeing that the stones circling the grave had not been disturbed, speculated it could not have been an animal.
The police were notified but no trace of the missing people, believed to number as many as 25, were ever found.
Of course, it is not known if any of these even happened. In an article in 1931, Sergeant J. Nelson, who was stationed in The Pas, filed an initial report that said there was no foundation to the story and reported that Labelle had taken out his first trapping licence that season and questioned whether he had even been in the territories before. Many have dismissed the story as an urban legend and many believe that a village would not have been possible in such a remote area.
Maybe it isn’t true, but either way, it makes for a great story.
The Mackenzie River Ghost
One of the oldest ghost tales in Canada, it dates back to the 1850s and tells the story of Augustus Richard Peers, who was a fur trader and Hudson’s Bay post manager. At the age of 33, he would die at Fort McPherson in the Northwest Territories. Legend says that as his body was being transported to Fort Simpson for burial, his voice could be heard ordering the party on, yelling “walk!” and driving the sled dogs mad.
The Mystery Ships Of The Great Lakes
Many, many ships have gone down on The Great Lakes over the years. It is estimated at least 6,000 ships have sunk, taking 30,000 people with them beneath the waves. As can be expected, there are stories about some of those ships that persist as tales of ghost ships. Are they true? Again, who really knows but let’s look at a few of them.
The SS Bannockburn has been called the Flying Dutchman of the Great Lakes for good reason. Launched in 1893, it was owned by the Montreal Transportation Company, the ship was sailing out of an area near current Thunder Bay, Ontario carrying 85,000 bushels of wheat on Nov. 20, 1902. As she headed towards Georgian Bay, the ship suffered a slight grounding but with no apparent damage, it left the next day. The captain of the Algonquin would see the ship later that day, stating he viewed the ship several times but then that it was suddenly gone when he looked again. He blamed it on foggy weather and forgot about it.
That night, a powerful storm hit Lake Superior and the crew of the Huronic reported seeing another ship’s lights in the storm but that no signals of distress were reported. The next day, the Bannockburn was reported as overdue but due to the storm it was believed the ship was delayed. On Nov. 25, the John D. Rockefeller passed through a field of floating debris that could have been the Bannockburn but at the time the ship had not been reported as lost yet. It would not be until Nov. 30 that the ship was given up officially as lost. On Dec. 12, a captain at a life saving station found a cork life preserver from the Bannockburn, the only known piece of wreckage ever recovered from the ship other than an oar that was also found. Within one year, people on the Great Lakes began to report her as a ghost ship, earning her the aforementioned title. To date, the wreck of the ship has never been found and no bodies have ever been recovered.
The SS Kamloops had launched in 1924, serving mostly Lake Superior. On Dec. 4, the ship passed was traveling through the Sault Ste Marie Canal and entered into Lake Superior on what would be its final voyage. As it sailed through the lake, a heavy storm erupted and coated the ship in ice. It was last seen steaming towards the southern shore of Isle Royale on Dec. 6. After almost a week without any word, a search began for the ship that continued until Dec. 22 but the ship and the 22 men and women on board were never seen. A further search was done in 1928 but while the ship was not found, bodies had begun to wash on shore, with nine bodies in total being found. In December 1928, a trapper near the Agawa River in Ontario would find a bottled note from Alice Bettridge, an assistant stewardess, who had survived the sinking of the ship. She wrote “I am the last one left alive, freezing and starving to death on Isle Royale in Lake Superior. I just want mom and dad to know my fate.” The ship would be called a Ghost Ship for the next 50 years until Aug. 21, 1977 when it was discovered northwest of Isle Royale near what is now called Kamloops Point. It was under 260 feet of water on its starboard side. The cause of the sinking remains a mystery to this day.
The Western Reserve as a 19th century ship that would go beneath the waves in the spring of 1892. The ship took her captain, Peter Minch, who was quite wealthy, down with her and there is a story that an old sailor who worked for the Great Lakes Life Savings Service dreamt of the ships demise, and he was the one to later identify the body of Minch when it washed ashore. IN all, 31 people died on the ship but the ship itself has never been located and it is not known what ever happened to it.
I’ll finish off with a very mysterious story regarding the Erie Board of Trade, a ship that was sailing north of Michigan when the ship’s captain sent a crewman to sit on the boatswain chair for mast watch. The crew knew that the chair was unsafe and the crewman fell to his death soon after getting into the chair. That is not the spooky part though. The crew began to see the crewman on the deck repeatedly and then one fateful day, after his story was told in port by one of his fellow crewman, the Erie Board of Trade went out onto Lake Huron and was never seen again.
The Lost Lemon Mine
In the Rocky Mountains, there is rumoured to be a gold deposit of immense wealth but for over 150 years, no one has been able to find it. The story begins with Frank Lemon and his friend Blackjack, who apparently discovered the gold deposit in 1870 somewhere between the Crowsnest Pass and the Highwood River.
According to the story, Lemon and Blackjack got into an argument after finding the gold over whether to come back in the spring or camp where they were. After the argument, it is said that both men then went to bed but Lemon would crawl out of his blankets and hit his friend in the head with an axe while he slept. After realizing what he did, he built a huge fire and left the area with his gun. Some say he was slowly starting to go mad at this point. Two Blackfoot apparently saw the murder and the gold strike and after speaking to their Chief, they were sworn to secrecy and a curse was put on the area where the murder happened.
After Lemon returned back to town and confessed to what he had done to a priest. The priest kept his secret safe but sent a trapper named John McDougall to bury the body of Blackjack. McDougall would later be hired to lead a group of miners to the spot where the mine was but as he journeyed with them, he stopped in Fort Kipp, Montana and drank himself to death.
Lafayette French, who had funded Lemon and Blackjack initially, went looking for the mine several times over the next 30 years. After apparently finding the mine he wrote his friend to tell of his success. Unfortunately, the cabin he was staying in soon burned to the ground, killing him.
As for Lemon himself, as soon as he began to approach anywhere near the area where the mine was reported to be, he would be overcome with anxiety and could journey no further. As the years went by, his mental health continued to decline as he slowly lost his mind.
The priest that Lemon had confessed to would organize an expedition in 1883 to find the mine given what Lemon had told him. Before he could venture out though, a forest fire blazed through the area and rendered the route impassable.
To this date, the mine has not been found.
Jerome Of Sandy Cove
On Sept. 8, 1863, an unidentified man was found on the beach of Sandy Cove in Nova Scotia by an eight-year-old boy named George Albright. The man, who was alive, had both of his legs cut off to stumps and he was brought back to the Albright home in Digby Neck to be nursed back to health. His stumps, which had been amputated by a skilled surgeon, were partially healed but still bandaged. When asked his name, he mumbled something that sounded like Jerome and that was the name that was given to him.
People who wanted to know who he was began to visit him in his sick bed but quickly found he could not speak French, Latin, Italian or Spanish. He was also reported to growl like a dog when people approached him as guests in the home. Adding to the mystery was the fact that his hands were soft, unlikely to be that of a manual labourer and he was described as being Mediterranean in appearance.
Various families would house him in their homes and the Nova Scotia government voted a stipend of two dollars per week to support him. He would eventually stay in the home of Jean Nicola, never talking about himself or the mystery surrounding him. He remained in the home for seven years until his death on April 15, 1912.
As for who he really was and what happened to him, no one really knows. Some say that he was a sailor who attempted a mutiny and was punished with amputation. Other theories state he was heir to a fortune and was gotten rid of to make way for someone else who wanted the money. As for his difficulties talking, that may be linked to a brain injury and it was reported he was incapable of speaking in any sort of understandable language.
Red Path Mansion Mystery
On June 13, 1901, Montreal was shocked upon hearing the news that Ada Maria Redpath and her son Jocelyn Clifford, part of the upper class that had helped to build the Lachine Canal and founded Redpath Sugar, had been shot dead in their mansion.
Upon discovery of their bodies, the bodies were buried within 48 hours and there was little in the way of investigation, which has allowed rumours to swirl around the mystery. Some say that the mother murdered the son, others that the son murdered the mother. Many researchers have looked at the story of the Redpath Mansion murders, going through diaries, photos, reports and more to figure out what exactly happened.
It is likely that we will never know who committed the crime, and the mansion itself was torn down after being in disrepair in 2014.
Time to switch things up a bit and talk about some legendary creatures from folklore. The first is Akhlut, an Inuit composite animal that looks like an orca but takes the form of a wolf when it is on land. In 1900, the creature was described by naturalist Edward William Nelson in a catalogue of mythical animals. He says:
It is described as being similar in form to the killer whale and is credited with the power of changing at will to a wolf; after roaming about over the land it may return to the sea and again become a whale. While in the wolf form it is known by the above name, and the Eskimo say they know that this change takes place as they have seen wolf tracks leading to the edge of the sea ice and ending at the water, or beginning at the edge of the water and leading to the shore. … These animals are said to be very fierce and to kill men.
According to Nelson, he believed the story came from the orca in the waters near the Inuit people, and wolf tracks that appeared to lead into the sea as a result of ice breaking away from the edge.
One story of how the creature came to be says that there was a man who was obsessed with the sea and wanted to be in the sea all the time. He becomes too obsessed with the ocean and is banned from his village. Out on his own, he finds a pack of wolves and due to hunger, he becomes one of them. Eventually, his obsession with the sea become so great he jumps into the water and transforms into an orca. As a result, while in the sea he swims like an orca, and when he becomes hungry, he goes on land and is a wolf.
The next creature I am looking at is the Loup Garou, which is a werewolf found in French Canadian folklore. According to the stories, the creature is not always a wolf or dog, but can also become a calf, small ox, pig, cat or even an owl. The transformation can last as long as 101 days with the victim transforming into the creature every evening, and walking the countryside in animal form. The spell will last until someone recognizes the individual while they are transformed and can draw blood from the animal. If the spell is broken, no one can ever speak of the incident in case of it coming back.
The last creature I am going to look at is Waheela, the great white wolf of Canada. It is said this great wolf inhabits the Northwest Territories and is much larger and heavier-built than a typical wolf. The animal’s hind legs are shorter than its front legs and witnesses say that it measures as much as four feet across at the shoulder. The stories say that the wolf does not travel in a pack, but is a solitary creature. According to Indigenous legends, it is an evil spirit with supernatural powers and kills people by removing their heads.
They say that the wolf is found in the Nahanni National Park Reserve, specifically in the headless valley, so named because that is where the wolf hunts.
Which brings me to my last story in this episode.
When the Klondike Gold Rush hit, prospectors took many different way to get to the Yukon. One way was along the Nahanni River through the Northwest Territories. This river went right through a valley, called the Nahanni Valley but also called by some the headless valley.
In the summer of 1897, about 766 prospectors travelled from Edmonton on the All-Canadian overland route, and of those only a handful went through the South Nahanni River route. Only two of several dozen are known to have made it through that route.
Of the valley, legendary historian Pierre Berton would say in 1947:
“The legend of the headless valley. It is one of the few pieces of bona fide folklore that we have in Canada. I think you will agree that it is a pretty good legend too, for it has something of almost everything in it.”
In 1908, Willie and Frank McLeod went into the valley to find gold and were never heard from again. It would be two years later that their bodies were found, both without their heads. Today, the Lost McLeod Mine has become a legend unto itself and it is believed as many as 20 people have lost their lives searching for the mine. Also with the men was a Scottish engineer, who was never seen again.
This isn’t the only story of headless bodies to come from the valley. Martin Jorgenson went into the valley in 1917, also looking for gold. He would send out letters stating he found gold but then his cabin burned to the ground. His body was found in the ashes, without its head.
Explorer Raymond Patterson would set out from Fort Smith in the 1920s to explore the region and was told “men vanish in that country and down the river they say it’s a damned good country to keep clear of.”
In 1922, John O’Brien, a First World War veteran, was found hunched over a pile of timber with a matchbook in his hand, as if he had suddenly died while lighting a fire.
In 1945, another miner, this one coming from Ontario, came to the valley. When his body was found in a sleeping bag, it was also without his head attached. There are numerous RCMP reports that show many have vanished in the park, and there have even been a few unexplained plane crashes.
Other trappers, like Bill Epler and Joe Mulholland went into the valley and vanished completely.
The valley itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is often called Canada’s Grand Canyon and it has been inhabited by the Dene people for thousands of years, dating back to as long as 10,000 years ago. Many areas of the park are also sacred for the Inuit who have inhabited the region since long before Europeans ever arrived.
So, what is going on there? Well, no one knows but it is a terrain for only the experienced traveler and it is likely many have simply fallen prey to the elements and landscape itself. That being said, some say that an evil spirit haunts the valley and that its shrieks can be heard in the valley at night. Others say that hairy giants live in caves in the canyon walls, led by a pale skinned woman. The aforementioned Waheela is said to also inhabit this region, accounting for the headless corpses.
According to the Dene, the land was inhabited by the Naha once, who were ferocious warriors that frequently raided Dene settlements along the Mackenzie and Lair Rivers. After several attacks, a party of Dene warriors went into the Nahanni country and planned to pillage a Naha camp. As they approached a series of Naha structures, they found that the Naha were nowhere to be found. They had simply vanished. According to the Dene, the Naha were never seen again.