Halloween! The one date in the year where we tell our children to forget everything we taught them about strangers and candy and allow them run around the streets at night in weird costumes looking for treats and trouble. Fortunately, aside from occasional outbreaks of senseless vandalism by hormonal teens downtown or at FJC, Halloween in Ladysmith has been a quiet affair.
As a young girl in Ladysmith during the 1930’s Toni Giovando remembers the Bonfire competition between “downhill” and “uphill” residents in town. Preparation for the dueling bonfires would begin weeks in advance, with one built on Pilot Field on 6th Avenue and the other constructed across the road from the old post office. Each group would try to make a bigger pile out of old railway ties and car tires than the other, which then had to be guarded against attempts by the rival group to set it on fire ahead of Halloween. She also remembers the year when someone took the hearse carriage used for local funerals and parked it in the middle of First Avenue after midnight.
During the same era, Bruce Mason recalls a story of his father Eric, Ernie Johnson and some others dismantling a full loaded lumber wagon and reassembling it on the roof of the lumber business on Roberts. Sadly, they were caught and had to restore the wagon to its original condition and location.
Many residents have memories of home made costumes and special treats on October 31. Isabelle Ouelette can still taste the wonderful pumpkin tarts “with real whipped cream” prepared by her grandmother, and Kay Rozzano reminisced about wieners from Bullman’s Meats that they roasted on the bonfires in Market Square. Less fondly but more recently recalled by several locals was their ‘tastless’ slice of the “World’s Largest Pumpkin Pie” consumed at the Coronation Mall Pumpkinfest in 2002.
Tricks, however, seem to provide the fondest memories. Although he reassured the writer that he had nothing to do with it, Brian Williams shared a story of “ a bunch of guys” lighting a fire at one end of the field at North Oyster School to serve as a tactical diversion while the school window were being soaped up. Darrel Rogers will never forget (or forgive) the trick played on him on Halloween when he was in Grade Four in Miss Gourlay’s class. “Ed Gregson ran up to me on the playground and smacked me in the eye with half an orange. It hurt all day!” What made the trick more painful was the fact that Ed was only in Grade Three.
Sometimes, even royalty gets a little carried away on Halloween. Lorelei Kilvert, who was crowned Dominion Day Queen on July 1957 and had two RCMP constables as her guard of honour, was shocked to discover that in her diary for Halloween that same year she writes about going out with “the boys” and soaping up windows on a squad car. Whatever happened to ‘noblesse oblige’?
Need some more ideas about what to do on Hallowe’en? Why not get a group together and head out to look for the Mt. Sicker Rd. ghost? Chronicle cartoonist Ron Kernachan did just that, and was rewarded with the sighting of a pale young woman dressed in a white nightgown walking along the side of the road. “Then,” Ron says, “she just disappeared.”
Closer to home? Try standing on All Hallows Eve at the corner of High Street and First Avenue where Peterson’s Hardware once stood. If you are lucky, according to writer Viola Cull,you may hear “doors swinging open by themselves with a queer, moaning sound…followed by footsteps coming up a flight of twelve or fifteen steps.” Spooky!
Finally, at midnight, wait outside the old Jones Hotel on Gatacre Street and listen carefully. If you are very quiet, you may hear the faint tinkling of a barroom piano, interrupted by a gunshot and the sound of a body hitting the floor. Now peer in the hotel windows. Is that ghostly figure with the oil lamp Sarah Jones coming to clean up the mess? See you there!
By Ed Nicholson.