Books Ghosts

Review: A window — by a cosy fire — into Canada’s unique ghost stories

Great Canadian Ghost Stories by Barbara Smith

Touchwood Editions, Canada, 2018


Each page turn of Barbara Smith’s Great Canadian Ghost Stories was a finger pull on a View-Master’s lever.

Rife with viewports into Canada’s supernatural tales, Smith refrains from her traditional provincial campfire tales and cups her hand over her eyes to view for miles nationwide. She makes narrative stops at the tip of Corner Brook, Newfoundland to Quadra Island, British Columbia, with dedications to Canada’s North, including tales from Dawson City, Yukon and Sambaa K’e, Nunuvut.

And much like images on the reels of a View-Master, she illustrates the experiences of ghostly encounters made by people bold enough to have their name in print.

What she shares are the stills from memories. Often times, for the East Coast tales, she’s compiled anecdotal evidence from stories passed down by word-of-mouth or in the annals of superstitious pasts.

What’s encouraging about the book is Smith prefaces that it’s meant to “entertain and inform, and not meant to change anyone’s belief systems”.

That, on its own accord, is comforting, as with any book covering the topic of the supernatural — whether written by a believer or skeptic — often times there is a drive to shift the reader’s view.

But Smith allows the reader to approach the stories with their own philosophies.

Still, much like the cold spots and mysterious visions that come from the dark – sometimes on the seas or in the isolated tundra – there isn’t a lot of explanation.

For some stories, it could help flush out the heritage of locations, such as Tranquille on the Lake in Kamloops, British Columbia or Canoe Lake in Ontario’s Algonquin Park.

But of course, when one pulls on the lever of the View-Master, there isn’t an explanation of the panel in history. Unless of course you slide the reel out of its portal and read the inner label like it were the track listing of an LP.

Who wants to do that though, when you’re immersed in all stages of a haunting, whether it be a historical repeater, a poltergeist or the dark haunting of a young woman in Amherst, Nova Scotia?

It’s up to the viewer, or in the instance of the book, reader, to interpret the information compiled much like a forensics technician in an episode of C.S.I. Great Canadian Ghost Stories delivers on giving a good cross-section of the country’s ghost stories without losing sight of its audience.

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