Nfld. & Labrador

The Haunting of… Ol' Smoker: One of Labrador's most famous ghosts

When the wind starts whistling in Labrador before a storm, you might hear the ghastly crack of a whip, and a phantom voice calling to his dog team.

Richard Neville says the scary tale was used to get children home when bad weather was brewing

Richard Neville, left, says he heard many stories as a kid about Ol' Smoker, a phantom dog team driver who would roam the lands of Labrador. (CBC)

When the wind starts whistling in Labrador before a storm, you might hear the ghastly crack of a whip, and a phantom voice calling to his dog team.

"Ol' Smoker, I would have to say, probably is one of the most famous ghosts in Labrador, that I know of," said Richard Neville, a singer-songwriter living in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

"He's the phantom dog team driver that's been on the go for probably the last 100 years."

Neville said his memories of the story originate from growing up in the Black Tickle area, although he added that other versions of the Ol' Smoker tale may exist in different parts of the Big Land.

"From the stories I heard … it was a real guy who lived around the Reeds Pond/Porcupine Bay area, which is just inside of Black Tickle, Labrador, that's on the south coast," he said.

"He didn't live a great life. He was a guy that ran by himself, and he made some moonshine and showed up in places where he shouldn't be going, and causing some trouble here and there."

WATCH: See the second episode of  our "The Haunting Of..." series:

The Haunting of... Ol' Smoker

2 years ago
Duration 3:09
In the second segment of CBC NL's spooky series, Richard Neville shares his experiences of growing up in Labrador, with haunting stories of a phantom dog team driver known as Ol' Smoker.

As the story goes, after Ol' Smoker passed away, his ghost was condemned to roam the Earth with his dog team, warning people of bad weather on the way — to make up for all the bad things he did while he was alive.

While Ol' Smoker is mostly known for the sounds, Neville said he's heard others who claim to have seen the ghost.

"There [have] been stories of him being seen as a white figure in the snow, and with the dog team being white as well," he said.

Encounters with Ol' Smoker

Neville said he heard the ghost once, when he was about eight years old.

He was hanging around at his friend's house one night, and it was getting pretty late.

"One older gentleman told me … 'You better get home, boy,' he said. 'Ol' Smoker is going to be coming out soon.' Sure enough, the wind started whistling," Neville said.

"I remember walking home and I thought I heard a crack of a whip and I was like, 'It can't be. Is that really?' And I heard it again. And I just started running." 

Neville said he ran all the way home, and almost tripped a few times — but he didn't stop to look around.

"I got home and I told my father about it and he said, 'Yeah, he's out there trying to get you home there, Ol' Smoker was.'"

The story goes that Ol' Smoker was condemned to roam the Labrador wilderness with his dog team, warning people of bad weather on the way, to make up for all the bad things he did while he was alive. (CBC)

Neville's dad had his own encounters with the ghost when he was younger, living in the Porcupine Bay area in the 1950s.

He and his friend were out by a cabin, cutting wood, when they heard the crack of a whip.

"And he thought he heard a voice of a man calling out to the dogs, and kind of roaring at the dogs, and the snap of the whip again," Neville recalled.

"And I remember Dad told me, he said his friend looked at him. He said, 'That's Ol' Smoker. We got to go.'"

Neville said his father and his friend made it home — and sure enough, about a half an hour later, there were whiteout conditions outside.

'The Ballad of Ol' Smoker'

As he grew older, Neville said, he still found the story of Ol' Smoker intriguing.

"[As a kid], I had been very afraid of the dark and ghosts," he said, which he later grew out of as a teen.

I got home and I told my father about it and he said, 'Yeah, he's out there trying to get you home there, Ol' Smoker was.'- Richard Neville

But the story of Ol' Smoker stayed with him.

"I thought about … [how] he really kind of helped me rid my fear of the dark and storms, and being out by myself at nighttime," said Neville.

He said the tales of Ol' Smoker were scary — but there was a good reason lurking beneath them.

"So I didn't think of him as a ghost that was trying to hurt anybody, but just trying to help people," Neville said. 

"And he's out there all on his own. He's [a] pretty lonely guy. So I wrote the song for him. Hopefully he can hear it sometime," he said with a laugh.

Stay tuned for another ghost story in our series "The Haunting Of..." next Thursday. 


Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jen White

CBC News

Jen White is a reporter and producer with CBC News in St. John's.

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