Ghosts

Canadian writer Barbara Smith pens ghost book with a national twist

Scriber of ghost stories, Barbara Smith, can spend hours talking about the spectral tales Canada has to offer the world.

It’s an early January morning for the Sidney, B.C. native – who has also called Toronto and Edmonton home – and she shares warmly the passion she’s been pursuing since she left her job as a school secretary in 1988.

The 71-year-old just launched Great Canadian Ghost Stories in November, and it’s one of many compilations of spectral stories that she’s had over the years.

It’s all thanks to her father, Gordon Hunter, who on one day when Smith was eight, he took her to downtown Toronto. Back in the 1950s, the home of the Hockey Hall of Fame was a Bank of Montreal at Yonge and Front streets.

It’s all thanks to her father, Gordon Hunter, who on one day when Smith was eight, he took her to downtown Toronto. Back in the 1950s, the home of the Hockey Hall of Fame was a Bank of Montreal at Yonge and Front streets.

“My father said, in passing, ‘They say there’s a ghost in there,’” Smith recalled. “My little jaw just dropped and I was tormenting him with questions.

“He didn’t know anything about it. He didn’t know he would start this storm inside,” she added. “I’ve loved that story ever since. It’s so poignant and it’s so verifiable.”

The ghost story in question was the tale of a 23-year-old bank teller who unfortunately took her own life after the love she had for one man was not reciprocated. It’s is said she took the bank-issued revolver and used it on herself in the women’s bathroom.

Of course, the story that piqued her interest is featured in Great Canadian Ghost Stories along with some the other standbys like the St. Louis Light of Saskatchewan, the Lady in Blue in Peggy’s Cove and both the dancing bride and Sam the Bellman of the Banff Springs Hotel.

The latter is Smith’s favourite, as she worked hard to research and investigate the famous Fairmont hotel that’s nestled in the crook of the Bow River.

“There are two really strong stories: the ghost of the dancing bride is just a lovely, tragic – all the facets you want – story, and the ghost of Sam McAuley,” she said. “There was a Banff Springs Orchestra and I spoke to the trombone player. He told me he had seen things that chill you to your bone.”

What chilled Smith to bone and fed her curious spirit was a book published in 1973 by Sheila Hervey. Some Canadian Ghosts kept her inert passion for ghosts, while she raised her two daughters, sated while she waited for the opportunity to write full time.

“I remember reading the thing, curled up against my husband on the couch and tears were streaming down my face because I was so scared reading these stories,” she admitted.

Writing full time would come after she stepped away from the Edmonton Public School Board in ’88. Some of her first stories would be gathered through the grapevine, including Peter at the Edmonton Public Schools Archives and Museum, as well as one of the old firehalls in the city.

What Smith hopes readers get out of her books that have spanned 25 years is entertainment first, and to be aware of the folklore Canada has because it is a part the country’s social history.

“I’d like people to think about what it is we call a ghost,” she said.

Given her penchant for writing about Alberta, B.C. and Ontario, she’s gone national, ergo the recent addition to her bibliography.

“I just realized these are the classic legends. My background is social history and mystery. Nobody has pulled the big ones,” she said. “It’s like a best-of record – the greatest hits. And I didn’t want to leave the field until I completed that.”

She jokes that she is constantly saying she’ll retire, but unlike her ghost stories, people don’t believe her claims.

“I keep telling people that I’m going to retire and by now they don’t even nod in acknowledgement. I can do without the tight deadlines, but I love the work,” she said, with a laugh. “Saying that I’m going to retire doesn’t stop putting ideas in my head.”

Even now, she’s penning her next book, Great Canadian Campfire Stories, which is due out in the spring of 2020.

“I always knew I wanted to write, and I knew it had to be books,” she said.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*