Thunder Bay

Meet the group seeking the paranormal, chasing ghost stories and investigating sites in Thunder Bay

Lucky Paranormal is an investigative group that officially formed several months ago, with its three members united by their interest in, and experience with, the paranormal.

Lucky Paranormal has investigated sites in the Ontario city, the U.S. and will travel to U.K. next year

Silver Islet General Store co-owner Jeff Korkola, second from left, gives a tour to Lucky Paranormal members Leann Siddo, Gail Willis and Melanie Willis. (Kris Ketonen/CBC)

The past is ever-present at Silver Islet.

Located about 90 kilometres from Thunder Bay, on the tip of the Sibley Peninsula, the Silver Islet of 2022 is a popular summer community, with hundreds of camps hosting families during the warmer months.

But the community has a long history, and perhaps some less tangible residents too, with tales of spectral ship captains and ghostly women in white gowns shared among residents.

Which is exactly what brought the members of Thunder Bay's Lucky Paranormal — an investigative group comprised of Gail Willis, Melanie Willis and Leann Siddo — out to the community, specifically the Silver Islet General Store, on a warm Saturday evening in late summer.

While the three members of Lucky Paranormal knew each other previously, the group itself officially formed several months ago. All three are united by their interest in, and experience with, the paranormal.

'Paranormal has been part of our life'

"The paranormal has been a part of our life for, I think, as far back as most of us can remember," Siddo said. "I think that's what makes the cohesiveness of this group so strong, because we can relate, we talk about it."

Gail Willis, Leann Siddo, and Melanie Willis, left to right, of Thunder Bay's Lucky Paranormal, during a recent investigation at the Silver Islet General Store. (Kris Ketonen/CBC)

"From my experience, going back even like five years ago, when I would tell someone I was into the paranormal, I would typically get a certain response from people," she said. "I think we've all had that, like, 'Oh, what are you talking about?'"

"Now, I feel like as a group, we're sort of showing the professional side of it, and the respectful side of it," she said. "There is such thing as the paranormal. We're here to either prove it, or disprove it, because not every location, as we know, is haunted."

Silver Islet investigation

In the months since the group formed, they've investigated a number of spots in Thunder Bay — including the Thunder Bay Historical Museum, as well as several outdoor sites in and around the city. They've also investigated haunted sites in the United States and will be heading to the U.K. next year to visit several reportedly-haunted locations there.

But on this August Saturday night, the members of Lucky Paranormal are busily preparing to start their investigation at the Silver Islet General Store.

The Silver Islet General Store was built in 1871 and recently been restored. Co-owner Sandy Korkola said some residents tell of seeing a figure dressed as a ship's captain, and a ghostly woman in a white gown, in the upper windows. (Kris Ketonen/CBC)

"You can almost feel it in the wood," Gail Willis said of her arrival at the historic, 150-year-old building. "A lot of times, the energy will get caught in the wood and the stone, and it just holds on to it."

"As soon as we came in, it was like, 'Oh, there's something here.'"

The residents of Silver Islet would seem to agree. Stories of the strange and unusual abound in the former mining town.

Some have reported seeing a figure dressed as a ship's captain in the upper windows of the store itself.

Another tale speaks of a group of Cornish miners who would hold concerts in front of the store on Sunday afternoons during the mining days.

"They would practice on Saturday evenings out on the mine, which is a kilometre and a half, two kilometres, offshore," said Silver Islet resident Todd Miller, who's well-versed in the history of the community.

The avenue at Silver Islet, which is the main road through the community. In addition to appearing in the windows of the store and former post office, it's said the woman in white has been seen wandering the avenue, and has also appeared in some of the camps. (Kris Ketonen/CBC)

"The mining executives would all gather on Sandy Beach, down at the other end from the store here, and listen to them practising," he said. "You'd be able to hear them over the sound of the pumps in the boilers."

But the music didn't end when the mine shut down. To this day, it's said people can still hear ghostly music drifting across the lake from the flooded mine site on some quiet Silver Islet nights.

Then there's the woman in white who's also been spotted in the store's second-floor windows.

Unlike the captain, however, she's not content to remain in one place, and has been seen along the avenue — the main road running through the community — and on various other properties.

She's even appeared in some of the Silver Islet camps, and one resident spoke of seeing her in the upper windows of the former Silver Islet post office, a large white building found near the store itself.

Miller had his own encounter with the woman in white during his youth, spotting her near the former Silver Islet jail building decades ago.

When asked who she she might be, Miller said he has "no idea at all."

"There are 70 people … that died during the mining days, most from measles, diphtheria, buried at the cemetery here, and then one gentleman that was buried in 1937," he said. "There's a lot of people that have never left Silver Islet."

Sandy Korkola, who owns the store with her husband, Jeff, said some residents believe the woman in white is connected to a figure known as Mr. Booker.

"Apparently his wife fell down the stairs, or was pushed down the stairs … at this camp down the avenue," she said.

The former post office building at Silver Islet. One resident of the community said the woman in white can sometimes be seen in the upper windows. (Kris Ketonen/CBC)

As for Booker himself, according to an obituary in the Sept. 7, 1937, edition of the Port Arthur News-Chronicle, a James Booker of Silver Islet died that year at age 73.

Cathlyn Kaufman, who's been a Silver Isleter all her life, has her share of stories about the community too. They took place in her parents' cabin on the avenue.

"In our day, for entertainment as children, we would hold seances and use the Ouija board to find out what was happening with the world," Kaufman said. "It led to discovering some of the history of Silver Islet and some of the ghosts and poltergeists that still live here, supposedly.

"We had a table lifting, table knocking, lights going off and on and things moving across the room," she recalled. "It was part of our nightly entertainment.

"And when the full moon is here, it's mystical. So you do feel that there is a presence."

A pair of well-worn miner's overalls found at the Silver Islet General Store. (Kris Ketonen/CBC)

Silver Islet having a spooky side won't be a surprise to anyone familiar with the area's history.

The community sprang up following the discovery of a rich silver vein on a rocky outcropping a short distance offshore in 1868.

In fact, it was known as the world's richest silver mine in those days. A mine shaft was built just offshore, with wooden breakwaters and coal-powered pumps keeping the icy waters of Lake Superior at bay.

The story goes that a vessel carrying a crucial shipment of coal didn't arrive by the end of the 1883 shipping season. Without the coal shipment, the pumps eventually shut down, and the mine shafts, which at that point ran 384 metres down, flooded in 1884.

The matter of the missing coal shipment is, in fact, noted in one of the final entries in a logbook found in the general store: "Coal in vessel not arrived."

A logbook found in the Silver Islet General Store, with a line referencing the shipment of coal that didn't arrive in 1883. The pumps keeping water out of the mine shafts ran on coal, and without the shipment, the shafts flooded in 1884. (Kris Ketonen/CBC)

Many of the original mining town buildings have since been converted into camps, and plenty of relics from the mining days — including well-used miner's overalls and a 150-year-old lump of coal — have been found and, in some cases, put on display in the newly-restored general store.

Tools of the trade

For the investigation, Lucky Paranormal brought out a number of tools of the paranormal trade, several of which those familiar with ghost hunting television shows would recognize.

There was a spirit box, which rapidly cycles through radio frequencies. Some say spirits can communicate through the white noise.

There was an EMF meter to detect unexplained fluctuations in electromagnetic fields, and a REM Pod, which creates an electromagnetic field of its own, sounding an alarm if something disturbs it.

Voice recorders were on hand to try to capture electronic voice phenomena, which paranormal investigators believe are the voices of spirits.

The Silver Islet store investigation itself began up on the third floor, with the members of Lucky Paranormal setting up in a room along the south wall. It was dark, with faint jazz music wafting up from a boat docked in the community marina.

That was soon overtaken by rapid bursts of static as Lucky Paranormal's spirit box was switched on, quickly scanning through radio frequencies in reverse.

"Something's here with us right now, somebody's here," Siddo said into the darkness. "Can you please step forward? You don't need to be afraid, this is just our way of communicating with you."

A REM Pod used by Lucky Paranormal during their investigations. The device creates an electromagnetic field, and sounds an alarm if the field is broken. (Kris Ketonen/CBC)

The REM Pod, and the GhostTube VOX Synthesizer app, which claims to allow spirits to communicate through sounds contained in a sound bank, were also switched on.

At one point during the investigation, the app produced the word "friend" as Sandy Korkola entered the room.

On this particular night, there were, unfortunately, no sightings of spectral ship captains or ghostly women in white.

However, earlier in the evening, Gail Willis noted it's often some time before any potential evidence of a haunting is actually discovered.

"A lot of times, you won't see or hear anything at the time," she said. "It's when we're reviewing things afterwards where we might hear or see things that are not picked up by our human eyes and ears."

One thing is for certain, however: the members of Lucky Paranormal won't give up on their quest to investigate the strange and unusual.

"We're here to help people," Siddo said. "We're here to offer a service for people.

"You've got to approach it that way. You know, I think some people, when they think of the paranormal, they're like, 'Ooh, like, that's silly.' It's not silly. We're here to show you that. It's not silly."

And there's good news for members of the public who want to experience a paranormal investigation first-hand, Lucky Paranormal is hosting two events at the Thunder Bay Museum in October.

For more information, visit the group's website.