The Ghost Ship Off Nova Scotia Coast
By James Donahue
It was a strange story that appeared recently in the Truro Daily News at
Truro, Nova Scotia, and was copied word-for-word by various web sites of paranormal interest. It seems that a 17-year-old
youth from Katimavik spotted the lights of a fully rigged sailing ship in Tatamagouche Bay, at the mouths of the French and
The sighting was marked as paranormal because of two factors; the sighting
occurred in mid-winter when the bay was completely frozen over, and because it was a sailing ship, something that hasn’t
been observed in Tatamagouche Bay for well over a century.
Mathieu Giguere said he was working out in mid-January with friends at a
fitness center in the small Canadian town of Tatamagouche and saw the ship in the harbor when he stepped outside for fresh
air at about 10 p.m.
At first, Giguere said he didn’t think much of the sighting because
he was used to watching ships pass his home in Sorel-Tracy, Quebec along the St. Lawrence River. But later, when he remembered
that the harbor was iced over, he realized that the vision was most unusual.
“It was bright white and gold and looked like a schooner with
three masts,” he said. He said he called a friend to come out and see the ship in the harbor, but his friend wasn’t
interested. Giguere said he watched the ship for several minutes before going back inside to finish his workout. When he left
the building an hour later there was no sign of the ship.
The story was of great interest to the local residents because of a legend
about a phantom ship that has appeared from time-to-time in the bay since the 1700s. People who claim to have witnessed the
ghost ship say it looks like a three-masted square rigger, rather than a schooner. As the story is told, the vessel is glowing
with fire and some say they have seen people jumping from its decks, as if they are witnessing an ancient historical tragedy
that repeats itself over and over like a broken record.
Local artist Barb Gregory has even attempted to paint an image of the mystery
ship. After talking to people and hearing their first-hand accounts, she did her painting of the phenomenon in 1991, which
is displayed at the Phantom Ship Art Gallery in Bay Head.
Usually when a burning ghost ship is reported off a coast, local historians
manage to link the vision to an actual historical event. But in the case of the burning sailing ship in Tatamagouche Bay,
there appears to be no record of such a tragedy. Thus the cause of the ghostly image has generated a mystery.
The area was first settled in the mid-1700s after lumber camps were established.
Ship building at Tatmagagouche began in about 1790 and continued until 1824 when the William Campbell launched the Trident.
All of the more than 100 ships launched there were sailing vessels, and nearly all were designed for hauling lumber.
The types of ships built at Tatamagouche were schooners, brigs, brigantines,
barques and even clipper ships.
According to local historians, most of the larger vessels built there were
loaded with lumber and sailed to Britain, where first the cargo and then the ship itself were sold, thus there was rarely
a return voyage.
We might theorize that the phantom image is that of one of the many ships
launched at Tatamagouche, but that the disaster that befell the vessel occurred elsewhere in the world. Research reveals that
at least one of the wooden ships we believe was built there did, indeed, burn.
This was the Comet, a full rigged ship that took fire on May 11, 1865
while on passage from Brisbane to London. One account said seventy-nine lives were lost in that disaster. Yet another story
said 18 of the 96 people aboard the ship survived.