4 hair-raising Acadian stories to keep you awake on Halloween night

·6 min read
Historian and folklorist Georges Arsenault compiled a series of stories for a book titled 'Acadian Legends, Folktales & Songs from Prince Edward Island.' (Shutterstock/anatoliy_gleb - image credit)
Historian and folklorist Georges Arsenault compiled a series of stories for a book titled 'Acadian Legends, Folktales & Songs from Prince Edward Island.' (Shutterstock/anatoliy_gleb - image credit)

P.E.I.'s Acadian community has a rich culture of storytelling which has been passed down from generation to generation.

No matter how old they are, some of the stories never cease to be haunting.

As a young man, historian and folklorist Georges Arsenault compiled some such stories for a book titled Acadian Legends, Folktales & Songs from Prince Edward Island. The stories, which are drawn from interviews Arsenault did with some of the best storytellers in the Island's Acadian community combine the fantastical with some true facts.

Most of the stories below appear in some version in Arsenault's book.

La Vieille Dollar

Michal Cizek/AFP via Getty Images
Michal Cizek/AFP via Getty Images

Marguerite Dollar was an Acadian woman from Bouctouche, N.B., who settled in Tignish with her family in the 1830s.

In Bouctouche, her father was a purported sorcerer, and countless legends surrounded him. One of the stories said he'd signed over the souls of seven of his descendants to the devil so he could perform witchcraft.

"Old Dollar," as Marguerite was known on the Island, ended up developing a similar reputation to her father. There are stories about how she could turn into animals, and cast curses on people.

Danny Arsenault/CBC
Danny Arsenault/CBC

"One story that was told [to] me by Emmanuel Gaudet from Leoville was that at one point she had a daughter that she wanted to marry [to] a neighbour's son, who was invited to come over and meet her. But he was not interested in her," Arsenault said.

"The boy's family had a baby and all of a sudden the baby became very sick, and they didn't know what was going on ... One day the father asked his wife: 'it wouldn't be the Old Dollar that threw a curse on him because he doesn't want to go out with her daughter?' So they decided to try to break the curse, and they put the baby's shirt in the oven and kind of forgot it."

The shirt ended up catching fire, after which suddenly Old Dollar's husband came in and told the family that her wife is dying and her skin was full of blisters. They took the shirt out of the oven, but it was apparently too late — Old Dollar was dead.

Arsenault said in his book there are no records of Dollar's death. But around the same time the baby in the story was born, Dollar's widower re-married, meaning she could've died a bit before then.

Dollar's daughter also developed a reputation for witchcraft, and there are some legends surrounding her as well.

"These are the kinds of things that people pass on, and sometimes it's a way of explaining that stranger in the community, they don't fit in. So if they don't fit in, they must be wrong," said Clary Croft, a folklorist and musician who wrote a book about witchcraft in the Maritimes.

Croft's latest book, My Charmed Life in Music, Art, and Folklore is an autobiography which, among other things, talks about his work with renowned Canadian folklorist Helen Creighton.

Xavier's treasure

Polarpx / Shutterstock
Polarpx / Shutterstock

Xavier "Pinquin" Gallant was a sailor who in the early 19th century concluded a deal which left him a sum of several hundred dollars. In 1812, shortly after receiving the money, Gallant killed his wife in an apparent fit of madness. Her body was found a few days later.

During the trial for the murder, Gallant's son, Fidèle, said it was the money that drove his father insane. He testified that his father accused his family of stealing the money, that he stopped working and that he even said his dog had put a curse on him.

Gallant was sentenced to be hanged, but he died in prison before the sentence could be carried out.

The grim episode was the first documented murder in the Acadian community of P.E.I. Many stories revolving Gallant's treasure cropped up.

"They thought he had buried it around Miscouche. And for years and years after that man had died, people tried to find the treasure and they never were successful," Arsenault said.

"They believed that when you went in the night to dig up an old treasure, you had to be silent. If you spoke any words, the treasure would kind of disappear. And I've heard some stories like that ... In one case, some ladies and men from around Miscouche thought they had found the treasure, and when they got close to a big rock that was maybe on top of the treasure, a big black dog arrived on the scene and they thought it was the devil.

"They threw their shovels away and they ran home."

The treasure was never found.

La Belle Marie

Getty Images
Getty Images

In 1907, the American consul in Charlottetown said he was given a Mi'kmaq prayer book which contained a manuscript telling the story of a witch trial which supposedly occurred in the 1700s.

The manuscript, which scholars now believe was a fabrication, tells the story of Marie Grandville, a woman of Basque origin who lived in Port-la-Joye, present day Rocky Point.

Submitted by Clary Croft
Submitted by Clary Croft

"Her mother was a herbalist, and she learned more medicines from the Miꞌkmaq healers. And then the young woman fell in love, and unfortunately for the rest of the community, the young man was Miꞌkmaq, so that didn't go very well," Croft said.

"According to the story, there was jealousy with the young man's former family [because] he was betrothed to another young woman."

The story says Grandville's husband was shot dead by an arrow shortly after the marriage. And Marie, who wasn't welcomed either by the Miꞌkmaq or the settlers, became a recluse and was always seen wearing her wedding dress.

A priest concluded she had been possessed, and arrested her on charges of witchcraft.

"The oral history says that she was burned at the stake," Croft said. "She went to her death singing, and then the priest that accused her of being a witch finally confessed on his deathbed that he heard her and he realized it was a song from heaven and these sorts of things.

"Very often [the legends are] also morality tales. If you are a good girl and follow the wishes of the particular religion that you were supposed to follow, or a good man, then you will be redeemed in the end."

A haunted house

Shutterstock/zef art
Shutterstock/zef art

Arsenault said there are many versions of a story surrounding a house in an Irish and Acadian fishing village during the 1930s.

Here's one version, as told by Arsenault himself:

"My mother was raised partly in the fishing village of Miminegash and she told me this story about this family, that they would hear all kinds of things in the house, somebody coming in, the doors shutting ... they believed that there was a ghost in the house that did all those things, that it was a little girl who had died and that she had been mistreated by her foster mother.

"Eventually the priest came and did some prayers or blessed the house, and finally that racket in the house stopped. But then they started hearing chains and the sound of chains being moved under the house.

"There was a number of stories. My mother would tell those, and it was hard to believe. But then I met some other people in that part of the Island who told me those same stories, sometimes a little bit different ... You try to imagine if that really exists, that, you know, or people were imagining them. But I believe that some of those things were true."

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