Spooky P.E.I.: The phantom ship, mysterious bell ringers and a haunted train track

P.E.I. may bill itself as the gentle island, but it also has its fair share of spooky stories.

'And there on the tide is a frightening sight, as a tall ship, all aflame, lights up the sky': Lennie Gallant

This image hangs at the Wood Islands Lighthouse in eastern P.E.I. where you can read about local sightings of the Phantom Ship. (CBC)

For a place best known for a red-headed orphan with braids and freckles, P.E.I. is actually a pretty spooky place. 

The gentle island has its fair share of ghosts and around Halloween, Prince Edward Islanders enjoy sharing some of the most famous ones.

Here are three.

The phantom ship

Sightings of the ghost ship in the Northumberland Strait have been reported since 1786 and continue to present day.

People who see it describe a schooner with 3 or 4 masts, with white sails that are engulfed in flames.

The ship is seen most often from September to November and before a northeast wind.

In 1900, after spotting the flaming ship, a group of sailors in the Charlottetown Harbour took a rowboat and tried to go out and rescue the crew but it disappeared.

Over the years, there have been some scientific explanations proposed for the phantom ship, including this YouTube video, showing the crescent moon setting as flames on the horizon.

The phantom ship was also featured on a stamp from Canada Post in 2014.

The story has also become famous, thanks to the song Tales of the Phantom Ship by P.E.I. singer-songwriter Lennie Gallant.

The bell ringers

A P.E.I. ghost story is featured on a stamp from Canada Post released in the fall of 2016.

The phantom bell ringers of the Kirk of St. James in Charlottetown are part of a series of ghost stamps issued in September 2016 by Canada Post. (Canada Post)

On Friday Oct. 7, in 1859, the steamer Fairy Queen was on its way to Charlottetown.

Early that morning, a man living near the Kirk of St. James heard the church bell ringing and went with a neighbour to investigate.

The bell rang 8 times, and when the men went inside they saw 3 women, all dressed in white. Then the doors swung shut.

The Fairy Queen never arrived. The ship sank, killing 8 passengers 3 of them women from the church's congregation.

The incident of the ghosts happened at the original Kirk of St. James, which was built in 1831. (Kirk of St. James)

DeBlois train wreck

On Feb. 20, 1932, a train got stuck in heavy snow at Handrahan Crossing, a place infamous for drifting.

A crew of 24 struggled to dig it out as darkness fell, the wind blowing the snow back as they shovelled. Men were posted up the track to alert any oncoming trains of the one that was stuck.

Around 1:30 a.m., they decided to leave their station, assuming no trains were coming. As they were walking back, they heard a train coming, building up speed, as if anticipating the snow draft at Handrahan Crossing.

The moving train collided into the other with such force that it split the coach car in half. Four men were killed, another had both legs amputated.

An archival photo showing the scene of the train crash near Tignish. (UPEI)

The train tracks are no longer there, but ever since the accident people have reported hearing a train whistle along that area of the track.

Others report seeing a ball of light coming down the track at great speed. Some say the light is from the train's engineer, who perished in the crash, searching for survivors.

Four men were killed when two trains collided in the early morning after one became stuck in the snow. (UPEI)


Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water or in the gym rowing, or walking her dog.