“The ghost ship of the Northumberland Strait, a tradition of coastal waters since the middle of the 1800s, has been reported again. Latest to claim a glimpse of the flame-shrouded craft as it plows its way across the sea is a Bathurst, NB youth who ‘saw’ the phantom in the spring of 1936. Wild and fantastic have been some of the stories of this mystery ship that is said to haunt the southern shores of P.E.I. and the northern shores of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Fishermen, farmers, shore residents and even train crews, speeding along lines close to the Strait in dead of night or early morning, have reported the phantom ship. Always, they say, its rigging and spars are ablaze, weird tongues of flame lick at its three masts, and a red glow overhangs the scene.” - The Guardian, May 9, 1936
Youth sees glow
On his way home from a neighbour house where he had been visiting late, it was about one o’clock in the morning, the youth saw a glow ahead of him on the Bay Chaleur shore.
“When I first saw it, I thought it was some house afire. I started to run down to the shore but when I got there, I saw it was a fire out on the water. At least, that’s what it looked like. It seemed to be a boat about 70 or 80 ft long standing high out of the water. It was a three-master, like one of those old ships you see in history books. I could see the tips of the spars. The sails were all bellied out and seemed to be blazing too. Then I saw it moving along a ship sailing against the wind. I knew right away it must be the fire ship my father and his brothers had often talked about.
There is no dearth of witnesses along the shores of Northumberland Strait who claim to have seen the phantom ship, and many of them are reliable. A veteran minister of the United Church, now serving in Cape Breton, has told of seeing the flaming craft two years ago (1934).
“I was returning in company with three men from conducting services on Port Hood Island. We were walking across the half-mile of ice to the mainland of Cape Breton. A mile or so to the east there was open water. Suddenly the sky was lighted up by a red glow and I saw this strange, blood-red ship sailing along the edge of the ice pack. It was moving northward. For almost 15 minutes we watched it. It looked exactly like a three-masted schooner ablaze from bow to stern.”
A practical minded Bay of Chaleur farmer described his glimpse of the ghost ship last December (1935).
“About a week before Christmas, I was coming back from the barn after tending to the stock there. My attention was attracted by a red glow out on the water of the bay, but then I realized I would not be able to see that far - 33 miles. Then I noticed it was moving slowly down the bay in a northeast direction. It did not seem more than three-quarters of a mile from shore. I could see the three masts and the sails apparently blazing and the hull looked like a bed of blazing embers.”
Origin of ghost ship
Many and varied are the stories of the origin of the ghost ship. One account says the ship was an immigrant vessel bound for Quebec which had gotten off its course. Mistaking the Bay of Chaleur for the St. Lawrence River, they entered. A bolt of lightning struck the craft, setting her afire. The burning vessel was grounded near the mouth of the Restigouche River but only two of those aboard, both children, made their way to shore. The others perished. Other stories tell of a man-o’-war which blew up in the Bay Chaleur during the War of 1812.
Several times, groups of fishermen, determined on investigation of the phantom ship, have manned their boats and put out to the mystery craft. Always it has eluded them. Natural phenomenon or ghost, there are scores of those who will tell you they have glimpsed the fiery craft.