Like most old towns, Halifax has accumulated its share of ghost stories over the years.
Just ask Andrew Aulenback – local librarian and ghost enthusiast – who’s running two ghost tours this month in the spirit of Halloween.
His first ghost tour is taking place on Oct. 30 at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic.
“The stories that I will be telling will have to do with the various artifacts that we have scattered around the building. They are actual stories that actual people have actually told about these actual artifacts,” said Aulenback.
Many of these stories are well-known to Halifax and are rooted in local haunts around the region, drawing in tourists and locals alike.
One of Aulenback’s favourites is the lesser-known tale of the Double Alex ghost: a story that takes place in the Sambro Island Lighthouse, a few kilometres from Halifax Harbour. According to a local paranormal group called the Caretakers Paranormal, the story originated from the 18th and 19th centuries when a Scottish military man by the name of Alexander Alexander is said to have taken his own life rather than be charged for stealing.
Alexander’s ghost can be heard flushing the toilets, stomping overhead and flickering the lights all around the island. Although the hauntings were briefly put to a stop when the lighthouse moved away from the island, taking Alexander along with it, he soon returned, with caretakers being made aware of the presence of the ghost through his distinct stench.
Sable Island, appropriately nicknamed “the Graveyard of the Atlantic,” responsible for over 350 shipwrecks according to the Virtual Museum of Canada, she is the object of many of Nova Scotia’s most popular stories. One of the more famous of these shipwrecks is the Francis, an ancient ship from the 1800s.
According to the Marine Heritage Database, the controversy surrounding the Francis began when rumours reached the mainland after its sinking, telling tales of the looting of dead bodies and murder of any survivors of the wreck. It’s said that the ghost of a young woman, whose body was looted after the wreck, haunts the island, searching for her severed finger that was removed after her wedding ring was stolen.
“Probably my favourite story isn’t a ghost story at all,” said Aulenback. “It happens up near the Five Fishermen [restaurant] and it has to do with a police sergeant, it has to do with the corpses from Titanic, it has to do with trying to secure various bodies and their possessions away from folks who are essentially doing the 1912 version of eBay where they would try to scamper away with stuff to be able to sell on auction.”
In fact, the Five Fishermen is so haunted that the restaurant has a section dedicated to the history of the paranormal encounters and origins on its website. With ghosts from some of Halifax’s most famous aspects of history, including the infamous Halifax Explosion and the sinking of the Titanic, the staff have become used to the occurrences of the paranormal during their shifts.
As for the ghost stories surrounding Dalhousie University and the University of King’s College, Aulenback says that several of the ghost stories from Dal are at every university and every high school they “just have their names changed and their places changed.”
But he doesn’t deny that there is some substance to some of the legends floating around both campuses.
“Dalhousie has the hanging in the women’s residence of Shirreff Hall,” said Aulenback, referring to the supposed spirit of a young woman called Penelope. The myth says that Penelope killed herself after getting her heart broken. Some versions say her lover (a professor!) rejected her after she’d become pregnant. Others indicate her boyfriend went out to sea and was never heard from again.
The overall fascination in the supernatural, especially at this time of year, doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon.
Aulenback has a theory to explain that.
“Stories interest people, especially stories about people interest people. The stories that we tell, tell us really about us more than anything else,” said Aulenback.
“One thing human beings are interested in is the fact that they are eventually going to die.”