A gauzy strand of mist plays along the rocky edge of Pictou harbour, the wind snaps the rigging of the Ship Hector and its deck creaks softly, launching a lantern-lit haunted tour of the shiretown.
Every Thursday night Dolores Dagenais dons dress, shawl and hat from bygone days, gathers a group on the deck of the ship and leads a ghost walk through the downtown. Often accompanied by her husband Ross in waistcoat and top hat, Dagenais tells ghost stories, shares personal experiences and actively looks for ghosts.
“We’ve got equipment that will be familiar to those who enjoy ghost hunting shows on television. People are having lots of fun trying the equipment,” she said.
The equipment includes an electromagnetic fluctuation detector, a thermal device for picking up temperature fluctuations, and most recently, a device known as a spirit box which scans radio frequencies for paranormal activity.
Pictou Ghost Walks’ last tour of the season will be Halloween night, but Dagenais is also doing two ghost tours at A Walk Through Time Museum in Scotsburn Oct. 27.
Dagenais and her husband, who met in a ghost chat room, moved to Pictou 14 years ago.
“We’d been in the area previously on vacations and loved it, so when the opportunity arose we bought an old Victorian house which we’d never be able to afford living in Ontario,” she said, adding it is a quiet house with no ghostly activity to date.
Before moving to Pictou, Dagenais worked at what she calls a “lucrative mediumship business.”
“I gradually became uncomfortable with it because I found some people becoming addicted to being consulted and having their cards. That put me in a position of too much responsibility. Cards don’t make your decisions for you. We’re all responsible for making our own choices.”
The cards she refers to are Tarot cards, ancient cards used by some as a novelty and others for divination.
“I interpret the cards, and more importantly, the feelings I get when I read them as giving an indication of what might happen if something does not change but obviously, change happens all the time. I hope people might take insight from a reading, but it is never meant to replace free will or responsibility.”
Dagenais grew up in a family where ghosts were part of the natural order.
“I was a young child when I saw my first ghost. It was a woman who sat on the foot of my bed. She was not frightening to me, and in fact, she seemed comforting. I saw her clearly, but when I looked away she disappeared. My mother said it was a dream but a few days later she realized it was her aunt who had just died.”
While Dagenais sometimes sees ghosts, she more often feels the presence of a ghost.
“I think some people, including my husband, are more sensitive. Others just operate at a level where they may not notice some aspects of what is around them. My guess is that many of us never sit quietly long enough to sense something that might be present.”
She explains ghosts are manifested in various forms, including forerunners, intelligent hauntings and residual hauntings.
“It is possible for objects to become haunted so we’ll be looking for that in our A Walk Through Time Museum tour. A tool or a piece of machinery, for example, might still be holding energy from a tragedy or another event.”
She pointed to the 1955 Porsche Spyder in which actor James Dean was killed as such an example. The car is considered cursed in cultural mythology.
As Dagenais was settling into a new life in Pictou, she was frequently told old stories about the town, many of them including ghosts. It happened often enough that she wondered why no one had ever organized a ghost tour.
“When I started volunteering at the Ship Hector five years ago I began hearing more stories and one day I just woke up to the fact that I should be the one to organize a ghost tour.”
Dagenais had been on lots of ghost tours, some of which were less than impressive.
“I decided if I was going to do this I was going to give the best-ever tour. What better place to start than at the Ship Hector and make my way through the downtown.”
She spent months crafting a tour that would be historical, haunted and above all, entertaining.
“I find many people come not knowing what to expect. I don’t give lectures, this is not a seance and nobody is going to jump out at you. It is an entertaining adult walk that is meant to last about 90 minutes but usually runs to two hours.”
In putting together the tour Dagenais talked to the owners of some of the properties along her route.
“I didn’t talk to everyone, but I got only positive feedback. People were very receptive to me telling stories about the town.”
Dagenais said Pictou’s rich history provides the backbone of the tour.
“I wanted people to know what a busy town Pictou had once been, in terms of shipping and commerce and that it is not surprising we’d have ghost activity. I also want to give a sense that the town is rebuilding so I point out everything tourists can do or visit the following day.”
Her tour winds from the Ship Hector along the Jitney Trail to the former consulate house, then up to Water Street, past the old post office and the Advocate building and down to Claddagh Avenue and the old train station, making many stops along the way.
“It involves about 30 minutes of walking in total so it is very accessible. We make a lot of stops and there’s a gazebo where people can rest if they want.”
Occasionally the tour is welcomed inside a historic home “where there is all kinds of activity.” Often, it goes into the old Palace Theatre building which now houses Stone Soup Cafe and other businesses.
“As you can imagine, many interesting things may have happened in that building and we’ve had our own experiences there.”
The tour often winds up in the parking lot of the Highlander Pub where the Wallace Hotel once stood.
“The pub would actually be where the stables were located so it is another property that has proven quite interesting when we are looking for ghost activity.
At the end of each tour, Dagenais gives participants the option of a brief card reading.
More information is available on Facebook at Pictou Ghost Walks.
Rosalie MacEachern is a Stellarton resident and freelance writer. She seeks out people who work behind the scenes on hobbies or jobs that they love the most. If you know someone you think she should profile in an upcoming article, she can be reached at [email protected]