A ghost for St. Peter’s Island

When I was a juvenile camper at the YMCA camp at Holland Cove in the 1950s an annual feature of the camp was the appearance of the ghost of Lady Holland. After dark we would be led to the beach and told to peer across the water to spot a lonely light which would cross the cove before our eyes.  I can’t remember the story line that explained why on earth Lady Holland would be wandering across the waves. After a couple of camps those with experience usually twigged to the fact that the alleged “ghost’ was one of the camp councillors (usually “Bones” Likely) with a lantern in a rowboat.

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St. Peter’ s Island – Google Earth. Hardly a trace of over a century of settlement on the Island can be seen today.

A more persuasive argument might be made for a ghost resident not far away on St. Peter’s Island and if there isn’t already a ghost story for St. Peters Island perhaps there should be. The 400-acre island, on your port side as you approach the entrance to Charlottetown Harbour from the sea is unoccupied now with a lonely unmanned lighthouse as the sole surviving structure. It was once a small community with a number of families, a school, farms, fish stages and a lobster factory.  No doubt the Lunds and Taylors who made up the bulk of the population have their own stories to tell but if there was to be a ghost it would date long before those families arrived.

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St. Peter’s Island area ca. 1764. Holland map

In the mid-eighteenth century Ile St. Jean was a relatively prosperous outpost of the French territory based in Louisburg. It was an important supplier of food for the military on Ile Royale (Cape Breton).  In 1752 the Sieur de la Roque was commissioned to undertake a census of the territory. Along with the Louisburg governor Raymond and the governor’s secretary Thomas Pichon he visited all of the settlements and outposts where the French and Acadians had made clearings in the forest and begun to put down roots. Besides the names of the settlers he recorded the size of their holdings and the amount of agricultural produce. A transcript of the English translation of the census can be found here.

While some of the locations were doing well it continued to be a struggle. A continuing problem were the plagues of mice that devastated the crops.  They were unpredictable occurrences and left the fields stripped of the vital foodstuffs necessary to see the settlers through winter.  De la Roque mentions them in connection with his visit to the Malpeque settlement which was as far west as the settlers were found in the early 1750s.

The lands in the neighbourhood of Macpec [Malpec] are superior in quality to those of St. Pierre and Rivière du Nord-Est, and even to all those we have visited up to the present time. Nevertheless, those who have settled here have not been able to seed their lands this year, but it must be taken into consideration that this was due to the bad seasons, from which the unfortunate settlers have suffered, during three consecutive years. The first year the trouble was caused by field mice. These animals resemble in appearance those found in the rural districts of France, especially in Châmpagne, where during the fall they store up, at a depth of two to three feet in the earth, grain for their comfortable subsistance, and then go to sleep for six months of the year. It is only in this foresight that the field mice of this country do not resemble those of the old land, for here, after they have devoured everything that they can find to their taste in the country, they throw themselves into the water where they are drowned in such prodigious numbers that their bodies form a kind of dam to the waters, by which they are carried down and accumulate, so that the shores of lakes, rivers, streams, are filled with them. A prejudiced, ignorant, and vulgar people did not long hesitate in ascribing the coming of this plague to some evil spirit working against the island. Suspicion fell upon a man named St. Germain dit Périgord. This suspicion coming to the knowledge of the Indians, they took the man Périgord, put him to death, and buried him on the Isle of the Compte Saint Pierre, which lies larboard as you enter Port La Joye.”

The story of St. Germain dit Périogord has pretty well been forgotten and de la Roque’s mention seems to be the sole report. It should make for a great ghost story with the poor man pacing the Island seeking relief for his tortured soul.  But there is a lot wrong with this account. While the mouse problem was encountered all across the Island how did it end up being laid at the feet of St. Germain and why at Port la Joye? Aside from the settlement at the fort itself there appear to have been no inhabitants anywhere near St. Peter’s Island and there would have been no advantage to occupy lands off the shore. Although since the time of the establishment of an administrative and military base at Port la Joye it was visited by the local aboriginal population and it probably had a resident native community why on earth would they take it upon themselves to execute one of the French settlers. Such a move could hardly endear them to the rest of the settlers. Most importantly, why would they bother to transport a corpse to an uninhabited Island off the coast. It would require a lot of work to go either through the woods and across the bar or to paddle a fragile canoe through the harbour mouth and across the bay. It makes no sense.

But ghost stories hardly need to be grounded on sense and I have little doubt that sometime in the future someone will seize on this story as proof of a claim that there is indeed a ghost on St. Peter’s Island.

Thanks to Will Wagner who brought the Périgord story to my attention.  More on the plagues of mice can be found in an article by Ian MacQuarrie published in the Spring/Summer 1987 edition of The Island Magazine.

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2 thoughts on “A ghost for St. Peter’s Island

  1. Ingrid

    Summer camp should include at least one ghost story. Did you mean to say that St. Peter’s Island lies on the Starboard side entering Charlottetown Harbour?

    Reply

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