Myths, Legends, and Strange Encounters
By Kris Ketonen
The Thunder Bay area certainly holds its share of secrets. Between the vast forests, the big lake, and the long history of the city and region itself, the area has become home to a number of legends, weird tales, and unusual—and perhaps unexplainable—encounters. From haunted hotels to ghost ships to sightings of the mythical sasquatch, here’s a selection of strange tales from the Thunder Bay region.
The vast forests of Northwestern Ontario hide plenty of their own mysteries. And one of the most enduring is that of the sasquatch. One recent encounter happened at the Black Sturgeon Dam, near Red Rock, on the afternoon of August 7, 2018. While enjoying their visit, the witnesses were startled to see what appeared to be a large, black creature dive into the river. And then it gets weird. When the creature pulled itself out of the water, it stood up on its hind legs, and ran—very quickly, much faster than a human—into the nearby forest, while carrying a stick in one of its hands. Details beyond those are light, as the creature was a couple of hundred metres away from the witnesses. But it’s worth noting that the area has a bit of a history with this sort of thing. Other visitors have reported an unshakable feeling of being watched, hearing whistling from the woods, and even the discovery of large, unidentifiable tracks.
The SS Bannockburn
Not all of Lake Superior’s legends stay submerged. Take that of the SS Bannockburn, for example, a 245-foot steel-hulled freighter that entered service in 1893. The ship’s final voyage began in Fort William on November 20, 1902, when she set off for Georgian Bay, carrying a load of wheat. The ship was delayed after running aground on its way out onto the lake. However, the Bannockburn suffered no apparent damage, and its journey resumed on November 21. That night, a powerful storm swept Lake Superior. The Bannockburn never reached its destination, and by November 30, it was given up as lost. But there are some who insist it is still out there. In fact, crews of other ships have reported seeing the Bannockburn plying the lakes in the years since its disappearance.
One of the better-known encounters was reported by the crew of the Walter A. Hutchison, a steamer that was making its way across the lake during a November storm in the late 1940s. Ice had knocked out the Hutchison’s electronics, and the crew wasn’t entirely sure how close to shore their ship was. They knew they weren’t alone: the Bannockburn was out there, too, and had been spotted travelling parallel with the Hutchison before vanishing in the storm. When they next saw the Bannockburn, it was heading directly at the Hutchison, which was forced to turn northeast to avoid a collision.The Hutchison’s crew then saw the spectral ship run aground before disappearing. If the Hutchison hadn’t been forced to change course, she would have ended up exactly where the Bannockburn did—broken apart on the rocks.
Charlie Cox and the Acid-Throwing Schoolteacher
Charles Winnans Cox spent 15 years as mayor of Port Arthur. He was the Liberal MLA for the Port Arthur and Fort William ridings, and even held a federal cabinet post as a minister without portfolio. His political achievements aren’t all that Cox is known for, however.
Late one night in 1937, Cox was visited in his office by a schoolteacher, Eileen Flanagan.
The story goes that Flanagan had a bottle of acid in her purse, and during the course of the discussion, she threw it in Cox’s face. In media reports, Cox says he managed to raise his hands and protect himself somewhat. However, the acid—which was strong enough to burn holes in his suit—caused scarring on the left side of his face.
As to why the incident occurred, well, there are a couple of possibilities. Some sources—including the City of Thunder Bay website—state the attack was the result of an affair gone bad. But another version paints the attack as being a political one. During his term as mayor, Cox and the board of education had slashed teachers’ salaries, including that of Flanagan; the acid attack was a form of retribution. In any case, Cox continued his political career, although there are reports indicating the left side of his face was so badly scarred, he refused to ever let that part of him be photographed again. As for Flanagan, media reports indicate she pleaded guilty—the charge is unclear—and received a one-year suspended sentence.
George Gray was the caretaker of Mountain View Cemetery when he found himself at the centre of this bit of weird Lakehead history. One evening in 1914, Gray was awoken by a sound he described as the “whirring of machinery.” He would then identify the source of the sound as a strange “airship,” which was cruising north from Mount McKay. Gray watched it for about 20 minutes before it veered west and travelled out of sight.
Gray wasn’t the only person to claim seeing strange aircraft in the skies over the Lakehead around that time. About six months later, a resident of Van Norman Street in Port Arthur spotted something similar, described as an “lit-up” airship with fan-shaped wings. The resident walked down to Port Arthur’s wireless station and informed the militia members standing guard there about the sighting. Unfortunately, according to media reports, while “the militiamen spent a lot of time during the evening searching the heavens,” the strange airship had vanished.
The Prince Arthur Hotel
No talk of Thunder Bay’s reportedly haunted places would be complete without mention of the Prince Arthur Hotel. The hotel has stood at the city’s waterfront for more than a century; even its conception is a wild tale. The Prince Arthur came out of a 1908 poker game between Port Arthur mayor John James Carrick and Canadian Northern Railway president Sir William Mackenzie. Carrick—without any sort of authorization from his fellow council members—told Mackenzie that Port Arthur was in need of a good hotel, and the CNR ought to build it. Port Arthur even had the perfect location. Mackenzie asked how much this hotel would cost. Carrick replied with “about a quarter of a million.” Mackenzie agreed, and Carrick set about getting council’s approval. Construction started the next year.
More than a century later, the Prince Arthur has hosted the likes of Queen Elizabeth II, King George VI, Johnny Cash, and Louis Armstrong. And it’s also reportedly home to some less-tangible guests, as well. There are tales of a spectre in the basement, apparently the apparition of a former employee seen in the long, darkened hallways wearing an old, long-out-of-style maitre’d uniform. But the hotel’s most famous ghost is Harvey. He’s described as being either a former resident or owner, but whoever he was, Harvey isn’t ready to leave the Prince Arthur just yet. He remains up on the second floor, in his former room, letting the living know he’s around through the unexplainable scent of the cigars he enjoyed so much in life.
A dogman, a woman in white, phantom trailrunners—camping can be rough enough without spooks and spirits, but here we are. Those are just a few of the supernatural beings and occurrences reported at Trowbridge Falls, the city-run campground and park found on the north end of Thunder Bay, off Copenhagen Road. That dogman could be a deerman, but whatever it is, it’s also a shapeshifter, or so the stories go, switching from human to animal. The woman in white is seen floating across the grass in one of the park’s vast open areas, and the phantom trailrunners have a tendency to shove the living out of the way when encountered on the hiking trails that run throughout Trowbridge. Figures move between the trees, sometimes reported as wearing military uniforms, and there’s talk of the main bridge into the park being “haunted,” but exactly what that haunting entails is a bit harder to pin down. So, you know, watch your step. And then there’s the “undertaker,” a being that’s not content to just hassle people parked in the Trowbridge lot by banging on the sides of their vehicles. No—if that’s not terrifying enough, the undertaker also has a habit of peering through car windows, too.
The SS Kamloops
The SS Kamloops was last seen intact in December 1924, covered in ice, heading toward Isle Royale in the midst of a terrible storm. Over the next few years, pieces of the ship—and the bodies of its crew—washed up on the shores of Isle Royale, but the Kamloops itself wasn’t found until 1977. It remains under 260 feet of water, northwest of Isle Royale, near a spot that’s come to be known as Kamloops Point. And that bit about the bodies of the crew washing ashore? Well, not all of them. One, in fact, remains down below. Preserved by the frigid waters of Lake Superior, he’s become known as Whitey, or Grandpa, and floats in the ship’s engine room. Usually. See, divers who’ve visited the wreck report that Whitey can be a bit restless, and even has a tendency to float along as they explore the remains of the 250-foot freighter, something of a supernatural tour guide.
Whitey’s legend has certainly grown over the years. A search online will turn up tales of divers who’ve seen him relaxing in one of the ship’s bunks, or simply going about his business as if he were still alive, and working on a ship that hadn’t mysteriously sunk to the bottom of Lake Superior nearly a century ago. The logical, skeptical argument here is currents pushing the floating remains of Whitey around the ship. And that may well be the case—anyone care to head down there and ask him?
The Wayland has been a Westfort staple for decades. And it seems that some of those who’ve entered its doors really didn’t want to leave. The Wayland—today known as Paulucci’s Wayland Bar & Grill—opened its Gore Street doors in 1937 (after having been moved from its original location along the Kaministiquia River). And there’s some weirdness to be found there (beyond the usual late-night bar antics of the living). Staff have all sorts of stories. While closing up—and therefore while alone—bartenders have reported intense feelings of being watched, and hearing the sounds of pool being played or change being dropped into tip jars.
The sounds of doors opening and closing, and ghostly footsteps are common. Glassware and furniture moves on its own. And sometimes, an unseen something or someone knocks a can of beer—always Budweiser—off the shelf. Other experiences include toilet seats moving up and down on their own, and the sound of keys jingling. Is it former patrons and staff still lingering, going about their routines despite having moved on many years ago? Perhaps. So next time you’re in the Wayland, be sure to ask. You may experience something supernatural, but you’ll definitely get regaled with great stories, especially if owner Gary Paulucci is around.