The ghost of Sister Marie Inconnue has been haunting French Fort Cove, N.B., for more than 200 years. While the story of the headless nun may just be legend, author Doug Underhill says it's an important part of the area's history.
Underhill grew up in Miramichi and wrote the book Miramichi: Tales Tall & True.
"It preserves a part of our heritage," he said of the story.
While the book was published in 1999, the story is still being told. Theatre company Character Matters Miramichi has been running tours of the area between Miramichi and Newcastle, telling the tale.
French Fort Cove is a spooky place, according to Thomas Daley, the theatre company's co-founder. There used to be an old saw mill and a stone quarry in the area.
"You can still see where the stone was cut in various places that really create some jagged ledges," Daley said. "It's almost like a Tim Burton movie.
"You'll hear water dripping off of the trees. There's beavers in the cove, so you'll hear something hitting the water. You'll hear ducks crying out, [we hear] owls all the time. There's a spooky atmosphere."
Doug Underhill researched the story of the headless nun while writing the book Miramichi: Tales Tall & True. (Doug Underhill)
The story of Sister Marie Inconnue
According to Underhill's retelling, the story dates back to 1758, in a cove between Miramichi and Newcastle. Sister Marie Inconnue was headed home after helping a woman through a difficult childbirth. But she was attacked as she came to the cove.
This is where the tale gets murky. Some believe a mad trapper attacked Sister Marie. Others believe the attacker was after a treasure.
It was at the time of the expulsion of the Acadians, as many people were removed from their homes by the British. Underhill says that the Acadians took up residence and even made a fort in the area, hence the cove's name.
Fearing attack, they decided to gather up the few valuables they had and bury them somewhere. They told the nun where the treasure was buried, knowing she would keep their secret.
Theatre company Character Matters Miramichi hosts a headless nun tour, where people can see what it might've looked like to witness Sister Marie Inconnue's fate. (Naomi Wallace/N.W Productions)
Underhill says sailors may have tried to pressure Sister Marie about where the treasure was, and killed her when she refused.
Whatever part of the story you believe, the ending is always the same. Sister Marie, as the story goes, was found dead at the cove the next day. Her head was gone.
Since the nun's death, the headless ghost has haunted the cove, either protecting the hidden treasure, or searching for her missing head.
Growing up in Miramichi, Underhill often heard the story. When he decided to write a book on tales around Miramichi, he did some research surrounding the events of the nun's death, and he's confident the story is true.
"There's enough [evidence] of it to actually," he said. "I believe that happened."
Underhill uncovered multiple stories of people who claimed to have had encounters with the ghost. Daley himself claims to have even felt the presence of the spectre.
"It really looked like a phantom hand coming out of the mist as I was telling a story, coming at the back of my head," said Daley.
Thomas Daley claims to have one felt the hand of the headless nun. (Naomi Wallace/N.W Productions.)
"There's a story about a man who was touched on the back of the head by the headless nun and three white patches of thick white hair started growing. So I'm going very grey, but maybe that's the reason."
The headless nun isn't the only spooky tale in the area. There's also the Dungarvon Whooper, a story of a murdered Irish cook who still haunts the woods.
"There's something about the deep, dark woods," said Daley. "That's a scary way to make your living back in the day. A lot of guys died just trying to cut down [trees].
"I think they told these stories about ghosts and banshees and all sorts of creatures because maybe that was to take your mind off the … real fear — the falling trees and the getting struck by lightning, and fires, and so many natural things that consumed so many people's lives."