Ghost Writer Takes on Legends, Monsters

By Ian Fairclough (The Chronicle Herald)

Darryll Walsh, author of Legends and Monsters of Atlantic Canada.

Phantom ships and water monsters and devil hounds. Oh my!

Those are just a few of the subjects readers will find in Legends and Monsters of Atlantic Canada, the latest book by Halifax author Darryll Walsh.

The book also looks at such things as devils and demons, stories of witches and fairies, and common superstitions from around the region.

Walsh has already written two books about ghosts, so it wasn’t hard to move to legends and monsters.

“(It was) as natural as breathing,” he said. “I have always collected stories of the unknown, mysterious and magical, so I was excited to be able to bring this material to the public.”​

And finding that material wasn’t hard.

“Atlantic Canada is filled with strange stories and legends. The trick was to choose ones that hadn’t been overexposed through all the previous works on the subject,” he said.​

Some are repeated by necessity to properly cover the subject, he said, but he also tracked down new stories to balance the book.

Walsh said Atlantic Canada has a wider variety of stories and more legends than anywhere else in the country.“We are the oldest inhabited region of Canada so we have the longer heritage of belief in these stories”​

He said the founding nations of the region — the Mi’kmaq, French, English, Irish, Scottish and German — all brought their own unique folk tales and beliefs with them.

“Because we are older and less urbanized than many places in Canada, that founding heritage of belief still remains intact,” he said. “Thankfully, much of that heritage was written down by Helen Creighton, Roland Sherwood, Edith Moser and Mary Fraser before it could be lost.”

But having such a large number of stories to include in the book makes it harder to fit everything into the pages available.​

“I try to be as inclusive and definitive as I can with the subjects I write about,” Walsh said. “I did eliminate any stories from ghost tours or the Internet, for people are just making stuff up. For instance, there are no genuine stories of ghostly activity associated with the Titanic. None whatsoever. But I still hear people talking about Hilda Slayter appearing here, or George Wright being seen there.”

He says such stories are made up and he calls them a form of fraud. “The stories I chose had to have a long history of belief by members of the community.”

But there are still plenty of stories left over, enough that Walsh figures he can fill two more books. He has a couple of ideas for new ways to approach the topic, he says, which he plans to do after finishing his next book, Atlantic Canada’s Greatest Mysteries.

He said Legends and Monsters has a good mix of older, known stories and newer ones, including some that really appealed to him personally.

“I was so pleased to discover that there is a whole area of creepy stories, dangerous creatures and strange legends associated with the woods and the forestry industry,” he said. “The gumberoo, shagamaw, glawakus and splinter cat are just some of the new material that excited me as I wrote the book. I was also able to include new stories of Bigfoot, a personal favourite of mine.”

Walsh will be speaking on Legends and Monsters at Keshen Goodman Library in Halifax at 7 p.m. on Tuesday.

Ian Fairclough is a staff reporter with The Chronicle Herald.