Sunday, August 28, 2011

Investigation: Fire Spook of Caledonia Mills

Update: Since this investigation post was published, we have since learned from well-informed sources that the pictures contained in this post are from a nearby, although incorrectly identified, property. The gated road we refer to in the "directions" portion of this post, is indeed the correct one to take you to the remains of the Macdonald property. In light of this information, we feel our adventure is still post-worthy, so it will remain here in it's original form.

On July 27, 2009, we trekked to Caledonia Mills in Antigonish County, Nova Scotia to view the site of the former MacDonald farm where alleged poltergeist activity had taken place many years ago.

Besides a regular old Kodak digital camera and an old compass, we had absolutely no paranormal ghost busting equipment of any kind (not even a tape recorder!) and have no training or background in such investigations. We just have a profound interest in strange events. Actually, it is mostly MY interest and if I talk about a particular place or event long enough, my husband gives in and will eventually go have a look.

Beginning in 1900, Alexander and Janet Macdonald and their foster daughter, Mary Ellen were tormented for 22 years by fires that constantly and mysteriously started up in their home and around their property. A very intriguing event, it was finally determined that the cause of the fires stemmed directly, although subconsciously, from Mary Ellen. Children and teenagers can unknowingly cause poltergeist activity, and although it sounds paranormal, it is actually scientifically based. After much turmoil and investigation, the family finally moved away. Mary Ellen spent much of her adult life in Ontario, where she lived to be quite elderly. The house no longer stands there, although there are reports of the remaining house foundation, barn foundation and a well.

However, people have reported sightings of ghosts and a curse attached to the property. Apparently, any item (even a rock or a stick) taken from there, will cause your house to burn down. This has been tested by regular every day people (who have put things such as shingles or bricks in sheds, etc) and the buildings always catch fire.

I had to make my husband swear that he would not grab something from the Fire Spook location "just to see what would happen". He has assured me that he did not pick up anything while we were there. (That is not a theory I want to test!) The legend also goes that cars have trouble starting there and there are many people in the area who will not even drive down that road at night.

A terrific book on the events that took place at the Macdonald farm so many years ago is The Fire Spook of Caledonia Mills by N. Carroll MacIntyre. I highly recommend it.


Caledonia Mills is located just outside of the town of Antigonish. With a simple road map it is easy to find. Online requests provided us with specifics of where to go and how to find the road/trail that the farm once stood on. There were some discrepancies from different sources (one person said there was a rusted fence post by the trail, another never mentioned any kind of marker to go by and yet another told us to look for a locked gate).

What Happened:
Our first stop was at the Antigonish Heritage Museum because we had been advised that they had information about the Fire Spook House. We were disappointed to learn that the only thing they had was a folder of photocopies of newspaper clippings regarding the fires from the time it happened. The lady who worked at the museum could not tell us exactly how to find the trail that would bring us to the site, as she had not been there for thirty years.

With our directions, we proceeded to the small community of Caledonia Mills. The paved road turned into a dirt road,( but it was smooth driving) surrounded by thick woods. No houses, no signs of life, only the odd vehicle passing by kicking up dust. We came upon two roads/trails and then had to try to figure out which one was the trail to the Spook Farm. One was gated, but after driving down it and tearing the muffler off the car (grrrrrrr), we quickly figured out it was a woods road that could not possibly be the former driveway we were seeking. (Strangely, as we passed this road on our way back to civilization, this gate was locked, yet had been unlocked when we went down it.)

The second road was only a few feet past the county line (into Guysborough County) but was our only other option. It had a white fence post beside it in the bushes, was really undriveable unless you had a Jeep or 4WD, which we do not, and I just felt that it was the correct place. We parked, hoped Mary Ellen would let our car start again when it was time and proceeded the 1 km hike into the site.

Did I mention four thousand horseflies went with us? If you go, please be aware of this.
The trail was swampy in places and call me crazy but the trail did have a bit of an eerie feeling to it. My husband could not detect this and I was not trying to be dramatic but it did feel creepy trekking in there. I was sure something was going to happen. Of course, our discussion on what to do if a bear or wasps came along did not help matters any. But I can normally discuss that with no problem because I do it every time I am in the woods and am quite used doing so. Today, nearing the Spook Farm location, it just felt different.

After what we deemed to be one kilometer, the trail ended and we found ourselves in a smallish space. I hesitate to call it a depression and there was nothing present to indicate a house foundation, although the area is very overgrown with wild flowers, bushes and trees, underneath which, I am sure, lies the building foundations. I have attached pictures.

We laid our trusty compass on the ground to see if it would do any paranormal spinning, but there was nothing. Of course, I realize the source (Mary Ellen) is no longer there and did not really expect the compass to do anything, but there have been ghost sightings there and then there is the curse to consider so I thought I would try.

We returned to the car (with all of the horseflies in tow, plus a few extra we picked up along the way), scooped our exhaust pipe up off the road and went back to Antigonish for lunch. We inquired amongst the locals who worked there if we had indeed been on the right trail. No one there was sure. One waitress lives near there but is too scared of the place to venture near it. Heading back towards Caledonia Mills again, we stopped at a convenience store and asked the lady who works there. She wasn't sure either, but wouldn't you know, an elderly local man walked through the door at that very moment and confirmed we had indeed been in the right spot.

Result and Conclusion:
We don't know. (Just so you know, most future investigations done by my team will almost always result in this verdict.)

We had fun driving there and looking for the correct location, which I am 99 % sure we found. Tonight I shall re-read the The Fire Spook at Caldeonia Mills to get more of a feel for the place now that I have been there and I will thank God above that I left the property in the exact same condition that I found it to ward off any curses!

A few questions remain: Who was around to lock the unlocked gate to the first road? Was the muffler being ripped off our car part of a curse? Or would it have fallen off on it's own? My husband assures me it was ready to go. Of course, he could just be saying that so I don't freak out! Scroll down this page for pics.

Here are specific directions if you dare to go:

Leaving Halifax, take hwy 102 towards the airport to Truro.
At end of Hwy 102, turn right to get on the 104 towards New Glasgow. Drive past New Glasgow on the 104 to Antigonish. DO NOT go into the town of Antigonish but continue on the 104 until you are just a few kms past Antigonish. You will drive over a river and go past Mother Webb's Steak House on your right.

A short distance past that you will come to a gas station where you will turn right on Rte 316. Continue on the 316 and you will come to the community of St. Andrews.
Just past a white church on your left, there's a road on the left ( the Antigonish/Guysborough road). DO NOT make the mistake of taking the Pomquet River Road. These 2 roads are very close to each other.

A few kms down the Antigonish/Guysborough Road, you will go through the communities of Glenroy, Croft, and Caledonia Mills.

The paved road in through Caledonia Mills turns into a dirt road surrounded by thick woods. No houses, no signs of life, only the odd vehicle passing by kicking up dust. We came upon two roads/trails on the RIGHT. One was gated, and this is not the correct road. Keep going.

The second road was only a few feet past the county line also on the right hand side (into Guysborough County, marked by a green road sign).

The road has a WHITE FENCE POST (barely visible in the photo below) beside it and this will be the only way to tell you have the right road, so I hope it is still visible.

Park on the edge of the dirt road and hike in approx. 1 km.
This is the road:

You will come to a large overgrown area (the trail just kind of ends there) and this is the former site where the house once stood. (photo below)There are dead trees still standing but we could not find any solid evidence of the foundation.

View of surrounding property:

Whatever you do, DO NOT take anything, not even a small twig home with you! 

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  1. I might mention that there is an in-depth write-up of the Fire Spook in my new ghost story collection THE LUNENBURG WEREWOLF AND OTHER SUPERNATURAL TALES - due out from Nimbus later this month.

    Cool photographs, by the way. Nice work.

    Steve Vernon

  2. Thanks, Steve,.I will definitely be looking for it.

    1. I'm a local if I visit I will try my best to get coordanants

    2. That's excellent, please post them if you get them, thanks.

  3. I enjoyed your writeup as I too went in quest of the Spook Farm about 10 years ago. By your description it sounds like I walked the same trail although I remember it to be more overgrown than your pictures (which are quite small BTW). I was told that the road (driveway) into the farm starts in Guysborough County and crosses the county line into Antigonish County before it reaches the farm house. That pretty well fit the description of where I was. I did find evidence of a house at the site, foundation hole, old wood, roofing shingles etc. I took nothing as I have read McIntyres book... LOL

  4. does anyone have GPS coordinates to the farm location ,

    1. Hi Kenneth, I do not have coordinates at this time. I will let you know if anyone else posts them.

  5. I went to this site back in late 90s and do remember a house foundation. I also remember seeing a (family) cemetery/grave markers on the side of the trail leading in . I cannot imagine the foundation not to be there at this time. Are u sure you have the right spot ?

  6. Hi Dave, well my husband was never 100% sure we were in the correct spot, although I really thought we were. However, based on what you say, we probably weren't. Do you have co-ordinates or an exact map of where you went? We'd love to go re-visit the location. Thanks.

  7. Hi Rebecca! My group was there a week ago!

  8. Hi Earl, did you experience anything out of the ordinary when you were there? Also, did you happen to notice the co-ordinates? I'd love to go again with co-ordinates from someone who's been there.

  9. hank you for the research you did and shared!
    Melanie DiBiasewood fence styles

  10. Plan on going within a week if anyone wants to go

  11. Anyone interested in helping with a movie about her story? Sleep on site over night.