In 2014 I published a book called Dangerous Spirits about the history of an evil spirit (the windigo/wendigo) in Indigenous religion and belief. Yes, my research agenda is all over the place, but I like it that way. It turns out that there was a movie called Antlers being made about this being, and it was set in Oregon. The movie maker -Scott Cooper, who was working with Guillermo del Toro- reached out to me for my advice in 2018. But it was when I was moving across the country, so I suggested that they contact Dr. Grace Dillon in Indigenous Studies instead. I later heard -almost by chance- that my publisher and the film-makers had agreed that they could use my book in the movie. But then COVID came, and the movie didn’t come out. I didn’t hear any other news.
Last night I got a text from my daughter, who had gone to see the movie in a theater in Vancouver. And it turns out that they used my book about a third of the way into the movie. It’s a silly thing, but it makes me happy because this will be the only time my work will ever show up in pop culture.
I’m currently on sabbatical, and doing historical research regarding the 1918 influenza pandemic in southeast China, using records from Macau that are now stored in Lisbon, Portugal. I don’t think that Antlers is playing here, so it may be a while before I see it. But I want to thank the film-makers for including the book in the movie.
Picture credit: Elle Wild took this photo of the Indigenous graveyard in British Columbia, Canada during the 2020 wildfires. Used with permission. I wonder if the second totem pole from the left has an image of Dzunukwa, the Basket Ogress, on the base?
In this video he Peters draws on careful research to document Indigenous belief in a being similar to the Sasquatch or Bigfoot in the Northwest Territories and Alaska. He also touches on similar tales from other areas, such as Labrador. His use of the records of 19th century explorers deepens the sense of veracity in this narrative.
The video makes wonderful viewing on a windy, fall night, and I recommend it. But the curse of having done work on mythology and folklore is that I have some context regarding some of the sources that he uses. For example, Hammerson Peters refers to one case documented by a French Oblate Missionary, Émile Petitot (1838-1916). When considering information the first step is always to evaluate the source. There are question marks surrounding Petitot: “Beginning in 1868 Petitot began to have short bouts of insanity in the winter; he hallucinated, ran half naked in -40 degree weather, and attempted to kill Father Séguin” (For Petitot’s mental health issues see the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio.php?id_nbr=7649). The priest also had a public relationship with a young male servant, followed by a marriage to a local Métis woman, Marguerite Valetta, in 1881; the Catholic Church then forcibly placed him in a mental asylum in Montreal in 1882. …
Every year at Halloween I do posts about folklore or mysteries, from the ghosts and Jinn of the Middle East, to ghosts across cultures. As I am writing this, however, the most popular page on my blog is a book review about a young Canadian woman, who was the center of an alleged poltergeist case during the 19th century in Nova Scotia, Canada. As Thompson and Norris’s marvelous book (Haunted Girl: Esther Cox and the Great Amherst Mystery) makes clear, the truth was far more complicated than this simple narrative, and perhaps involved trauma, self-loathing and exploitation. I have no idea why this review is being discovered now, but I’m glad to see that Norris and Thompson’s thoughtful and well-researched book is receiving the attention it deserves. But today I want to talk about another mystery, one that is closer to home for me.
I grew up in southern Ontario, and did my undergraduate studies in Kingston, Ontario on the wonderful campus of Queen’s University. The old buildings were often built out of limestone, near the point where the St. Lawrence river meets Lake Ontario. When I was there in the 1980s the local bars still had a rich folklore about the Prohibition era, when local rum-runners brought alcohol to the US across the lake. But the eastern end of Lake Ontario was also known for its inordinate number of missing ships. There are some truly odd cases, such as the Bavaria, a Great Lakes Mary Celeste. The crew went missing in 1889, and (as so often the case in the folklore of shipwrecks) the people who boarded the ghost ship allegedly said that they found food set out in the kitchen. The story of the Picton’s disappearance in 1900 -complete with a message in a bottle- is at least as odd.
As Max Hartshorn describes in his wonderful newspaper article, ‘Strange things out there’: Inside Lake Ontario’s ‘Bermuda Triangle’ at Globalnews.ca, these missing ships are not the only part of the local folklore. People also describe strange events affecting planes, and even UFO sightings. The article has a map of this area in folklore, which stretches from Kingston to Prince Edward County on Lake Ontario’s north shore, to Oswego in New York state. Hartshorn interviews a number of people about their experiences, and their first hand accounts are certainly queer.
As Hartshorn also describes, Hugh F. Cochrane’s 1980 book Gateway to Oblivion, first coined the term the Marysburgh Vortex. As he points out Charles Berlitz’s, the Bermuda Triangle almost certainly inspired Cochrane. Hartshorn even noted that the two covers of the books looked very similar. Berlitz’s book was a best-seller, which inspired people around the world to find an endless number of triangles (why no rectangles or pentagons?). The Great Lakes did not escape this trend. Jay Gourley wrote a book, the Great Lakes Triangle in the 1970s. But Hartsthorn points to a plethora of other triangles: “The Bass Strait Triangle in Australia, the Broad Haven Triangle in Wales and the Bennington Triangle in Vermont are just a few examples of the triangle boom of the 1970s and ‘80s.” But the Great Lakes can have treacherous waters, so there is little need to invoke the supernatural to understand shipwrecks. As Hartshorn argues, Lake Ontario narrows at eastern end, which makes it easy for a ship to hit a shoal or island.
I love the series Stranger Things. I think that Kingston, Ontario or Oswego, New York, would be a great location for a follow up series. Maybe they could use Krista Muir’s Marysburgh Vortex as a theme song (2011 on the “Between Atoms” album). Yes, there is even a song about the vortex, although it seems to have recently disappeared from Spotify. Even songs disappear in this area. According to the song, the vortex is always “calling.”
Years ago I used to teach a class on Canadian folklore in art and literature. This is a lecture that I gave in the class, which covered the Devil’s Canoe and the Loup Garou. Any faculty member or teacher is free to use it in their own class. In my lecture I sometimes noted authors, but often failed to give their full names or citation, as this was only for my use in class. Still, there are many authors listed here, who might give you further inspiration, and who were the basis for this content. If you read French, I found this work particularly helpful while writing this lecture:
Larry Gowett, “Le loups-garous dans la tradition religieuse québécoise.” PhD diss., UNIVERSITÉ DU QUÉBEC À MONTRÉAL,1982.
I’ve been sharing lectures from my course on Canadian folklore in literature and art. Today’s lecture is a little different because I talk about the north more broadly in Canada’s artistic culture. Please feel free to use and edit this lecture however you may want for your own classes. As you can see, I have not edited out personal references or asides, so you’ll need to make this your own.
As I say in the lecture, this is a topic that has been covered extensively, but I haven’t tried to engage with that literature here. For anyone interested in a deeper dive, please read what I consider to be the definitive work on the topic:
Grace, Sherrill. Canada and the Idea of North. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2001.
I’ve been sharing a series of lectures that I wrote for a Canadian folklore in literature and art class that I used to teach. Here is a lecture I wrote on one of my favorite authors, British Columbia’s Dick Hammond, who was a master of the short story. Please feel free to edit and use this lecture in any class.
House by the Talking Falls
Canadian author Dick Hammond wrote of the B.C. coast in three volumes, in which he explored the remote communities that dotted Canada’s Pacific edge.
He was born in 1929 and spent his entire life on the part of the Pacific Coast that is called the “Sunshine Coast,” because it is in the rain shadow of Vancouver island
He was self-educated, but extremely well-read
He used to collect rare operatic recordings (http://www.harbourpublishing.com/author/DickHammond/171)
He worked as a salvage logger, a form of life that is romanticized in Canada
There even used to be a tv series about it called Beachcombers, which was very popular when I was growing up in the 1970s
He married a teacher in 1970
Jo Hammond was herself an author, who wrote a memoir of her life: Edge of the Sound: Memoirs of a West Coast Log Salvager
she was quite adventurous and had traveled through the Panama canal on a freighter to come to the West Coast
she later worked as a salvage logger herself
they had two children, Patricia and Eric
Hammond died in 2008, in Sechelt Inlet on the coast
His stories often described the lives of the working class, and the strength and craftsmanship that they displayed.
His stories often do not have any supernatural characteristics, but focus upon special skills
In one story, a black smith is the only person who can repair a broken drill, which would take a week or more to obtain from Vancouver, which would be disastrous for the logging group
In another, one man is the only person who knows how to run a particular piece of equipment, and makes a visiting engineer look foolish
Some of the skills that he celebrates are quite mundane
A tinker who repairs broken pots is honored in one story
No skill is too small for Dick Hammond to celebrate it
But above all else, he celebrated the skills of the logger
Hammond work for years as a small hand logger
These men –and they were almost always men, despite his wife’s profession- would travel the coast in their boats looking for isolated stands of timber along the coast on public lands
They would work them in a small group, and then take the logs out to sell
It was a very hard way to make a life, that required someone who was really self-sufficient
That person had to know how to log, how to work machinery, how to run a boat in sometimes treacherous waters
These are the skills that Hammond celebrated
Very much books to celebrate the working class
But they also evoked a coast haunted by its past, from the recent settlers to the deep history of B.C.’s Indigenous peoples.
There is a post by Mackie on a Northwest Archaeology blog that makes a very good case that aspects of indigenous mythology in Haida Gwaii regarding Raven retain memories of the landscape and environment from 12,000 years ago: https://qmackie.com/2009/12/10/raven-walking-geological-transformation/
The indigenous peoples of Canada have a history in the region that stretches so far back that their earliest campsites are likely buried deep under the Pacific Ocean, because of rising water levels
but traces -including such ephemera as footprints- can be found on some islands: https://www.westernliving.ca/How-Archaeologists-Found-the-Oldest-Footprints-in-North-America-on-BCs-Calvert-Island
The BC coast was settled by Europeans in the mid to late nineteenth century
Hammond romanticizes this period in some ways, and the strength and independence of the earlier settlers
But he is also aware of the negative aspects of this period
He talked about the social isolation, particularly for the women who stayed at home, and the family strains that this created, including within his own family
The main character in his stories is his father, and they are told as if they were stories that he heard from his father
His father had died in 1975, and like his son, spent much of his life as a logger who traveled the coast by boat
Other family members are minor characters, such as his uncle, who was gassed while a soldier in World War One and never truly recovered
These are strong people
Men –and it’s a very male look at the past- were stronger, braver, and less likely to complain than in the past
But this approach also gives an air of verisimilitude, an aspect of reality to these stories
At times it appears hard to tell- are these stories complete fiction or does he really believe the stories that he is recounting?
The reader is left wondering if the narrator is playing a character, and is he just really good at never breaking character
Or are these supposed to be true oral traditions, the memory of one coastal family?
Certainly there are many characteristics of oral tales in these stories
One can imagine them being told and retold around a family table over the years
In one case Hammond said that his publisher insisted on publishing these works as fiction, but they were all true
Indeed, he said that his books were all true, and faithfully recorded his fathers’ tales http://www.abcbookworld.com/view_author.php?id=165
So perhaps he did views these stories as a record of the settlers’ experience of the coast
But Hammond is also very aware that the European history on this coast is a short one
This presents a problem, because his work is haunted by the past
In one of his less effective stories he tells the story of his father and his friend exploring caves on the coast, and finding some old candles that they learned had been left by the Spanish
The story doesn’t work, because it is so awkward to explain how the candles came to be there, or how the men came to learn that they had been left by Spanish explorers
At one point, Hammond said that he had the “soul of an antiquary.”
To people who have read M.R. James, perhaps the best known author of ghost stories in the English language, it was very clear that Hammond was evoking M.R. James
But unlike Hammond there were no ancient mansions, ruined churches, Saxon crowns, or other European aspects of the past to engage with
This meant that Hammond had to engage with the Indigenous history of the coast
I am sharing a series of lectures from a class that I used to teach on folklore in Canadian literature and art. Here is a brief lecture that I gave on Michael Crummy’s Galore, a novel which is set in Newfoundland. You are free to use, edit and adapt this lecture however you want for your own classes. I apologize for the formatting changes at points; as you might guess, I cut and pasted in the section on magical realism from a lecture in my “Introduction to Latin America” class.
Be warned- if you are just reading this lecture for fun, there are major spoilers in this lecture.
As you could see from my last blog post, I used to teach a class on Canadian folklore in art and literature. I’m going to share some lectures from that class. Please feel free to adapt and use this in your own classes. Spoiler alert: this lecture contains key plot material, so if you plan to read the novel (which you should), please do that first. You can also see my book review here.
Nearly ten years ago I used to teach a short summer course on Canadian folklore in literature and film. I no longer have the opportunity to teach the class, but I wanted to share the syllabus in case it might inspire anyone else. I’ll also share a series of lectures for the class in coming days. Happy Halloween everyone.
In my latest episode of my podcast, Dispatch 7, I talk about the folklore concerning werewolves (in French, the loup garou) in France’s former empire in North America. I used to give this talk when I lectured at the University of Trier in Germany, and it was always popular with the students. I’ll also be sharing some lectures on this blog regarding Canadian folklore in art, literature and film, as we approach Halloween.