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3 True Ghost Stories of Old St. John's

Updated on August 18, 2017
Stephen C Barnes profile image

Stephen has been exploring the history, legends, and folklore of his home province of Newfoundland for the better part of 40 years.

1. The LSPU Hall

The LSPU Hall Viewed From the Outdoor Stage at the Foot of Victoria Street.
The LSPU Hall Viewed From the Outdoor Stage at the Foot of Victoria Street. | Source

The LSPU Hall is perhaps the most haunted building on what is considered to be St. John's most haunted street. The land at 3 Victoria Street, upon which the LSPU Hall currently sits, was originally the site of the meeting hall of the First Congregational Church of Newfoundland. It was built there in 1789 and later destroyed by fire in 1817. An ecumenical church was rebuilt on the site but again destroyed by fire in the Great Fire of 1892, which left most of the city in ruin. The land was then purchased by the Sons of Temperance, a group of men that promoted the temperance (prohibition of and abstinence from alcohol) movement. Upon the foundation of the old church, the Sons constructed their meeting place, Temperance Hall, in 1893.

The Longshoremen's Protective Union purchased the three-story, timber-framed building, on what was then known as "Meeting House Lane", in 1912, from the Sons of Temperance. The LSPU did some renovations to the building in 1922. Though the building has undergone extensive interior renovations since, the exterior looks pretty much the same as it did then.

In 1976, the building was purchased by the Resource Foundation for the Arts and became the Resource Center for the Arts. The structure underwent extensive renovations in 1984 and again in 2008, enhancing its functionality as a theater and arts center while preserving its heritage features.

The LSPU Hall, Known At the Time as Temperance Hall,  as Seen From Duckworth Street, Circa 1905.
The LSPU Hall, Known At the Time as Temperance Hall, as Seen From Duckworth Street, Circa 1905. | Source

Like many old buildings with a storied past, and many old theaters, the LSPU Hall has its share of ghost stories. There have been numerous reports over the years of unexplained noises, such as the sound of objects clattering to the floor, that, upon investigation,no cause could be found for. Or the sound of footsteps moving through the building or climbing the stairs when there was no one else in the building except for the person or persons hearing the movement of the unseen visitor. There have also been dark, shadowy figures seen throughout the hall that appear and disappear right before the eyes of startled witnesses.

The Halls most famous ghost, however, is that of a young man seen often sitting in the seats of the main theater during the performance of a show, or standing in the wings along side the stage. The first reported sighting of this spectral theater goer occurred during a performance at the hall in 1995. A woman watching the show noticed a young man in the seat beside her thoroughly enjoying the play. When the performance was over she turned to the young man with the intention of saying something to him about the show they had just seen, but as the house lights came up the man vanished, leaving the woman looking at an empty seat. She later told the story to someone connected to the Hall who immediately recognized the man from the description the woman had given. It was a young man well known at the Hall, and in the Newfoundland music scene, who had recently drowned.

Mural of Fred Gamberg, Painted in His Memory, on a Concrete Wall on the Corner of Duckworth  and Prescott Streets in Downtown St. John's. The LSPU Hall Can Be Seen in the Background.
Mural of Fred Gamberg, Painted in His Memory, on a Concrete Wall on the Corner of Duckworth and Prescott Streets in Downtown St. John's. The LSPU Hall Can Be Seen in the Background. | Source

Fred Gamberg was just 24 years old when, on July 10, 1995, he slipped from a cliff in Flatrock, Newfoundland, fell into the cold water of the North Atlantic, and drowned. Fred was a fixture at the LSPU Hall, and at the time of his death was working there in multiple capacities, doing everything from basic maintenance to putting off shows. He was an integral part of the punk rock and metal scene in St. John's during the latter part of the 1980s and early part of the 1990s, and a great lover of the St. John's art scene. By all accounts he was much loved and is greatly missed. It is likely no surprise to many who knew him that he still returns to the Hall from time to time to enjoy a show, or just to check on things.

2. The Four Sisters

The Four Sisters, Temperance Street, St. John's
The Four Sisters, Temperance Street, St. John's | Source

Addresses 31 to 37 Temperance Street in St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, are occupied by four identical stone houses known as the Samuel Garrett houses, or, more commonly by their nickname, the Four Sisters. Named for their designer and builder, Samuel Garrett, who's best known work is Cabot Tower, the four homes, constructed over a ten year period, from 1893 to 1903, were originally intended as wedding gifts for Garrett's four daughters. Unfortunately, only two of the daughters actually got to occupy their houses. Laurretta McFarlene moved into number 35 with her new husband in 1901, and another daughter, Emily Dewling moved into number 37. His daughter Eliza never married and remained at Garrett's home at 2 Duckworth Street, in St. John's. His remaining daughter, Mary, died unmarried at the age of 24. The other two houses at 31 and 33 Temperance Street were rented out until two of Garrett's grandchildren were old enough to take possession and move in. The houses were designated Registered Heritage Structures in 1988.

Samuel Garret's Best Known Work, Cabot Tower, at the Top of Signal Hill in St. John's. The Same Stone That Was Used Here Was Used to Construct the Four Sisters.
Samuel Garret's Best Known Work, Cabot Tower, at the Top of Signal Hill in St. John's. The Same Stone That Was Used Here Was Used to Construct the Four Sisters. | Source
The Window Where, For Years, People Have Reported Seeing the Ghostly Image of an Old Woman Looking Out at the Street.
The Window Where, For Years, People Have Reported Seeing the Ghostly Image of an Old Woman Looking Out at the Street. | Source

Many claim, even years after the homes were abandoned, to have seen a woman looking out through the window of one of the houses at passersby on Temperance Street. Sometimes she would just watch the people walk by, other times she would raise a hand in a wave gesture, but every time she would disappear, right before the eyes of the surprised and startled witnesses.

A family that had rented one of the homes for a short period reported that their young daughter would have regular visits from a woman who would appear in her bedroom in the wee hours of the night. At first the ghostly apparition would frighten the child, and she would wake her parents with her screams. After a while, however, the child seemed to not only accept the regular visits from the mysterious lady but to actually enjoy her company. Her parents reported that they were no longer awakened by the child's screams but by her talking and laughter.

Other visitors to, and residents of, the properties have reported seeing a ghostly woman appear in a room in one of the houses, then move across the floor and pass through a wall and out of sight, often times reappearing in the adjoining house. As it turns out the houses had, at one time, doors that joined each residence to the one next door. This was done by the builder so that his daughters would be able to visit each other without having to go outside to do so. These doors were later walled over when two of the properties were rented out.

Others have reported strange noises and ghostly lights coming from a mysterious tunnel beneath the homes. Nobody is really sure what the tunnel was originally built for but some believe it was used to transport fresh water from Quidi Vidi Lake, some 1.5 km away.

The most recent reports of strange phenomena at this property were from a group of squatters who had taken up residence in the abandoned buildings for a short period before being evicted by the city. They claimed the buildings were definitely haunted, and even posted videos of their experiences on youtube.

3. The Ghost of Catherine Snow

The New Courthouse, Opened in 1902, To Replace The One That Had Been Destroyed in the Great Fire of 1892. Its Predecessor, the one From Which Catherine Snow Was Hanged on July 21, 1834, Burned to the Ground in 1846.
The New Courthouse, Opened in 1902, To Replace The One That Had Been Destroyed in the Great Fire of 1892. Its Predecessor, the one From Which Catherine Snow Was Hanged on July 21, 1834, Burned to the Ground in 1846. | Source

Catherine Snow, who was hanged from the window of the old courthouse in St. John's on July 21, 1834, for the murder of her husband, has the dubious distinction of being the last woman hanged in Newfoundland. The fact that she may have been innocent of the crime for which she was executed could possibly explain why she choose to stay and haunt the old courthouse, and its two subsequent successors.

Catherine Mandeville was born in Harbour Grace, Newfoundland in or around the year 1793. Later, as a young woman, she moved to Salmon Cove, where she took up with and later married John Snow. The couple had seven children. There marriage, however, was by all reports a rather stormy one, with loud and often violent fights being quite frequent. On the night of August 31, 1833, following one of these altercations, John Snow disappeared.

An investigation into the disappearance was ordered. When dried blood was found on John Snow's Salmon Cove wharf the police were convinced they were dealing with a case of murder. Two men were quickly arrested on suspicion of having committed the crime. One was Tobias Manderville, a first cousin of Catherine snow with whom she had been carrying on an affair. The other was Arthur Spring, a household servant. Upon hearing of the arrests Catherine fled into the woods to hide but later turned herself in to authorities in Harbour Grace.

Salmon Cove, Newfoundland, Circa 1900
Salmon Cove, Newfoundland, Circa 1900 | Source

Shortly after his arrest, Arthur Spring confessed to the crime, telling the sheriff, "we killed him; Manderville and myself, and Mrs. Snow". Spring said that the trio had shot John Snow and then tossed the body into the Atlantic. Though the two men each tried to blame the other for being the one to actually pull the trigger Catherine vehemently maintained her innocents.

In spite of their confessions Manderville and Spring both pleaded not guilty to the murder charges and were, along with Catherine Snow, brought to trial in St. John's on January 10, 1834. The trial took just twelve hours. Though there was no evidence to support Catherine having been present at the murder, or even conspiring to commit it, and even though attorney general James Simms told the jury that, "There is no direct or positive evidence of her guilt...", she was, along with the two men, found guilty of the murder, by the all male jury. The three were sentenced to hang.

Manderville and Spring were hanged, from the courthouse window, within days of the trial. Catherine, however, received a six month reprieve as it was learned during the course of the trial that she was pregnant. She was permitted to carry the child to term, give birth, and nurse the baby through the early days of his infancy. Then, on July 21, 1834, in front of a large crowd, she was hanged outside the courthouse on Duckworth Street. Her last words were; "I was a wretched woman, but I am as innocent of any participation in the crime of murder as an unborn child".

In the six months following her sentencing the Catholic Church tried hard to have her sentence commuted but their efforts were in vain. They were, however, able to give her a Christian burial, as they believed her to be innocent of the crime, and she was laid to rest in the old Catholic cemetery in St. John's.

Sketch of The Old Catholic Chapel on Henry Street Where Catherine's New Born Son Richard was Christened, on March 22, 1834, While His Mother Sat in Prison, Awaiting Execution.
Sketch of The Old Catholic Chapel on Henry Street Where Catherine's New Born Son Richard was Christened, on March 22, 1834, While His Mother Sat in Prison, Awaiting Execution. | Source

Within days of her execution people began reporting sightings of Catherine's ghost. The apparition was seen in the courthouse and outside where the hanging had taken place, as well as in the cemetery where she had been buried. The incidents of her appearance were frequent, and the local newspapers of the time reported on them. People from all walks of life, many of them highly respected members of the community, reported seeing her.

There was a strong feeling among the citizens of St. John's, and throughout Newfoundland, at the time that a great injustice had been done, and many felt that Catherine's spirit was unable to rest because of this. Others felt that she could not bear to be parted from her newborn son. Whatever the reason it seemed clear to many people that Catherine Snow had chosen not to leave this earth, and apparently there was nothing that was going to make her leave.

In 1846 the old courthouse where she had been convicted and hanged burned to the ground. Catherine's restless spirit was seen on the grounds after the fire, and during the construction of the replacement courthouse. She was also seen in the new building after it opened in 1847. The building was once again destroyed by fire during the Great Fire of 1892, but when the new courthouse was opened in 1902 there was Catherine. To this day she is still seen outside in the area where her execution took place. She has also been seen throughout the building, climbing the stairs or drifting silently down a hallway, by many employees of the courthouse, and visitors to the facility. Other incidents for which Catherine's spirit receives the credit, or the blame, depending on how you look at it, include the elevator moving from floor to floor, seemingly of its own accord, and phantom footsteps being heard moving along what appear to be empty hallways.

In 1893 the land at the foot of Longs hill, that had been the old Catholic cemetery, was sold and construction of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church was begun on the site. Known as the Kirk, the church was completed in 1896. As far as anyone knows the remains of Catherine Snow were not moved prior to the churches construction, and lay there still. It is said that her ghost can still be seen from time to time walking the grounds.

St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church (the Kirk), Where the Remains of Catherine Snow Are Believed to Lay Somewhere on the Property, Perhaps Beneath the Church Itself, and Where Her Ghost Can Occasionally be Seen Strolling the Grounds.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church (the Kirk), Where the Remains of Catherine Snow Are Believed to Lay Somewhere on the Property, Perhaps Beneath the Church Itself, and Where Her Ghost Can Occasionally be Seen Strolling the Grounds. | Source

In 2012, nearly 200 years after Catherine Snow was found guilty of murder and hanged, the case was reopened by the Newfoundland Historical Society, and Catherine was given a new trial. Two Supreme Court Justices, Carl Thompson and Seamus O'Regan sat on the bench, and lawyer Rosellen Sullivan acted as the defense, while the audience of 460 served as the jury. The outcome: Catherine snow was finally exonerated; she was found not guilty.

With justice now done, as well as can be after all these years, will Catherine's spirit finally be put to rest? Only time will tell.

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    • Stephen C Barnes profile image
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      Stephen Barnes 2 months ago from St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador

      Thank you Ryan, I'm glad you enjoyed it. I have read a number of stories of haunted places down your way and find them quite interesting. I am hoping to make a trip there in the next year or so.

    • Stephen C Barnes profile image
      Author

      Stephen Barnes 2 months ago from St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador

      Hi Ziyena, I'm glad you found it interesting. I know that a lot of people enjoy a good "true" ghost story but I like to give a little more by adding some history. And it is always nice to hear from a Newfoundland and Labrador expat.

    • Fullerman5000 profile image

      Ryan Fuller 2 months ago from Louisiana, USA

      I love exploring haunted places. Being from Louisiana we have several especially around New Orleans. This article was very interesting and I enjoyed this. Thank you for sharing.

    • ziyena profile image

      ziyena 2 months ago from ... Somewhere Out There ...

      Interesting article, especially about the hanging of

      Catherine Snow ... Used to live in Goose Bay when I was a child and do have an affinity for anything about Newfoundland and Labrador as it brings back memories ... thank you