The Real Witch of Port-LaJoye

Doing research recently on The Witch’s Tombstone, my latest supernatural thriller, I got temporarily stymied. I learned about a novel by Joyce Barkhouse apparently called The Witch of Port LaJoie, which supposedly documents the fate of a witch burned at the stake in Prince Edward Island (PEI) in the 1700s. Multiple searches produced no results. As I usually do when I run into a roadblock, I put the task aside to revisit it in the future, often with more determination.

In the meantime, I bought and read a novel called The Tragedy of Minnie McGee by Joanne Collicott McGuigan. This true story about a troubled and abused PEI woman who poisoned six of her children in 1912 by feeding them weak tea tainted with the heads of phosphorous matches will also form part of The Witch’s Tombstone. It’s a compelling read, rich in information, about the first woman on PEI sentenced to hang for her crimes. It’s also very repetitive and could use another coat of editorial polish.

About a week later, I again started searching for the Barkhouse novel and found no results. I started playing with the spelling of Port LaJoie and discovered there are at least three spellings for the French settlement on the southwestern part of the harbor opposite the city of Charlottetown. It is now a major tourist attraction, also known as Rocky Point. Some spell it Port LaJoie, while others spell it Port-LaJoye, the Wikipedia version. I don’t know which one is correct, but the Port-LaJoye spelling produced Joyce Barkhouse’s novel called Witch of Port Lajoye. In her book title, she doesn’t use the hyphen and she doesn’t capitalize the j in LaJoye.

Regardless of the correct spelling (for now I’ve decided on the Wikipedia version), I ordered a paperback of the short novel as part of my research. There isn’t much in the way of a book description. All I could find on Google Books was this:

A haunting legend set in Prince Edward Island. A young Basque woman learns the healing ways of the Micmac, only to be called a witch by the settlers on the Island in the early 1700s.

In any event, other research produced some fascinating stuff. On the government website upei.ca, information sourced from Fort La Joie (that’s how they spell it) Public Archives and Records Office, tells this tale of the legend of La Belle Marie, also known as Marie Granville:

In Port La Joie, during the French Regime, the Mi’kmaq and the Acadians had developed a relationship, and became allies, so it was not uncommon for French legends to include the Mi’Kmaq, or vice versa. The Mi’kmaq were well known for their beautiful folklore, which was written in their native tongue. The Legend of La Belle Marie is a romantic legend which occurred in the Port la Joie vicinity. Marie’s mother, known as Madame Granville, came to Port la Joie after the death of her father, in search of a quiet and simple life. She supposedly wandered from place to place with her daughter, never feeling quite at home, until she reached the Mi’Kmaq settlement. As the story goes, the mother and daughter settled in with the Mi’Kmaqs, and adapted into their lives. They participated in their everyday activities; dancing with them in the evenings, and settled into their dwelling at night, which lay near the haunted spring.

That autumn during the uik paltimk, or farewell feast celebrated before the dispatch of the hunters to the mainland for large game; the chief announced the betrothal of his son to the beautiful pale face, Belle Marie. Madame Granville prepared to set out on a journey to the coast of the Gulf of Mexico in order to collect a suitable dowry for her daughter who is to be the bride of the Indian Prince. The following spring the mother and daughter set off down the river to Port la Joie where Madame Granville was to set out on her journey. However, that afternoon, their empty canoe drifted out to sea with the tide. A search party was formed by her soon to be husband, Kaktoogwasees, and the following morning, two bodies were located on the banks of the river. Madame Granville was dead, and scalped. Marie showed some signs of life, and was immediately brought back to the wigwams for medical attention. She fully recovered and the wedding took place in July. As the newly wedded pair passed from the bower to the open, a crackling sound was heard in the leaves and branches. La Belle Marie gave forth a cry… She threw herself on her husband and tore an arrow from his bleeding bosom. Kaktoogwasees took his last breath and died in her arms.

Marie was now afraid of the society she had grown to love. She knew her husband had been taken down by a member of their own tribe, and felt no one could be trusted. The French inhabitants generally shunned her for her unorthodox behavior, except for the fisherman, who believed she could bring them good luck. The wives of the fisherman grew jealous and complaints were lodged against her to the Intendant at Port la Joie. La Belle Marie was brought to trial and accused of witchcraft. She was found guilty and sentenced to burn at the stake.

Yet, according to Julie V. Watson, Ghost Stories and Legends of Prince Edward Island, even the burning flames of hell were not enough to silence La Belle Marie.

She writes:

Yet even death in the flames was not enough to silence La Belle Marie. It is said that a young soldier posted as a guard on the eve of her execution was never allowed to rest in peace. That night Marie sang her wild, plaintive songs until she had his attention, then begged the young man to set her free and flee with her to seek her father’s buried treasure. The young French soldier was tempted but heeded warnings about her bewitching spells making men do evil deeds and left her imprisoned.

The next day she was tied to a stake driven into the ground between Point de la Flame and the Black Cross, an area now known as Rocky Point. And, the young French-man watched her burn, singing her songs. He ran from the scene and wandered aimlessly until found days later. He claimed to hear the melody of Mineota all of his life, plagued with it even on his deathbed.

Did racial bigotry and misunderstanding of a fey teenager bring about such unhappiness? Or was Marie truly evil, bringing the wicked ways of her father to her own generation? We will never know.

Either way, the legend of La Belle Marie is a powerful and compelling tale. Some say, if you visit the wind-blown cliffs of Rocky Point, you might even here the melodious songs of La Belle Marie dancing on the waves.

In the meantime, I wait with baited breath for my paperback novel, Witch of Port Lajoye, to arrive in the mail.

The debunked tale of the so-called witch called Paddy McGuinness, the true tragic account of Minnie McGee, and the legend of La Belle Marie will all form part of The Witch’s Tombstone. It is a work of fiction but will also combine many facts, legends and folklore of PEI.

To whet your appetite, here’s a short synopsis: A troubled young woman cursed with shadowy supernatural powers believes she’s the descendent of an evil witch who was burned at the stake in the 1700s for her crimes.

As always, thanks for stopping by and have a terrific day.

Where the hell is the witch’s tombstone?

Where the hell is the witch’s tombstone? I’ve started doing some preliminary research on a story idea that’s gelling in my head and I’m trying to locate the whereabouts of the witch’s tombstone on Prince Edward Island. PEI is rich in ghost folklore and haunted stories so maybe there is more than one.

Searching Facebook groups dedicated to the paranormal, I’ve unearthed a number of possibilities.

Location One. The witch’s tombstone is said to be in Charlottetown in The People’s Roman Catholic Cemetery, 110 Kensington Road, behind the Saint Pius Catholic Church. The tombstone, made from concrete and wire mesh, depicts a cloaked, grief-stricken young woman, with a weather-beaten cross leaning against her. Her left arm has been amputated, probably the result of Mother Nature’s wrath.

Location Two. In PEI’s Pioneer Cemetery Road and rumored to be the grave of a pioneer involved in a shipwreck. The ground is said to be mysteriously raised in a circle around a number of graves. Problem is, a Google search produced at least four Pioneer Cemetery Roads in PEI.

Location Three. On or near Cemetery Road in Borden in Seven Mile Bay area, beside or behind Saint Peter’s Catholic Church. Apparently that tomb stands alone, in the middle of nowhere. On a night near Halloween, a group of supernatural enthusiasts reportedly decided to visit the tomb. It was a dark and eerie night and none of them were brave enough to get real close to it. Eventually they decided to return to their vehicles and inexplicably they saw a downed tree on the road blocking their paths. It was a windless and calm night and they hadn’t even heard the tree fall. They cleared the downed tree away from the road, rushed to their vehicles and beat a hasty and fear-filled retreat.

The tombstone in Charlottetown is the one that intrigues me the most, primarily because I visited the cemetery a few days ago, located and photographed it. The image of Paddy McGuinness, rumored to be a witch, is both scary and sad. Scary, because she is rumored to have started a cult that poisoned and killed children before a successful witch hunt led her to the gallows where she was publicly hanged around the early 1900s. Sad, because the portrait of grief the tombstone depicts is deeply moving.

CBC News published a story August 11th, 2011, about a mother-daughter team who formed the Island Paranormal Research Group (IPRG) and visited the witch’s tombstone in Charlottetown. A picture shows them at the witch’s tombstone taking readings with various electronic ghost hunting equipment. Many Google searches produced no evidence that IPRG still exists.

Multiple searches of previously active PEI paranormal groups suggests all of them are now defunct.

Trying to disentomb clues, I’ve smashed head-first into a weathered and mysterious concrete tombstone. None of the Facebook group members responded to my queries. Maybe there are several witch’s tombs on PEI, but for now I’m concentrating on the one in Charlottetown. I’ve heard some students at the University of Prince Edward Island did some research on the topic but so far my efforts in that department have led to a dead end. I do have a few feelers out however, and I might hear something yet.

During my recent visit to the witch’s tombstone in Charlottetown, I noticed a phone number for the cemetery. I called the number and that led to three conversations—two with helpful cemetery officials and one with a helpful cemetery caretaker.  Here’s what I learned. That part of the cemetery where the witch’s tombstone is located is no older than the 1960s or 1970s. The tombstone or monument depicting a woman painfully carrying her life burdens is probably no older than 1960. There is no record of a female called Paddy McGuinness buried in that plot number where the tombstone is. There is, however, a male buried in that plot number by the name of Patrick Paul McGuinness. I am still investigating the date and details surrounding his death, but my information suggests it certainly would not have been in the early 1900s, since that part of the cemetery is much newer than that.

As well, Paddy (with that spelling) is a common nickname for a male named Patrick.

Throughout history, hundreds of people have been falsely accused and convicted of witchcraft, many tortured, publicly hanged or burned at the stake. Misinformed people believed they’d made a pact with the devil—consummated by sex—that gave them supernatural powers potent enough to wreak chaos, harm and death. They were considered heretics who had sold their souls to the devil and had become the devil’s hand maidens—implements of Satan’s evil agenda.

The term witch hunt has come to define a reckless crusade or investigation untethered to the truth.

So, was Paddy McGuinness a witch? Was she much maligned?

Did she even exist? Is she merely imaginative fiction unrooted in fact?

Or was she actually Patrick Paul McGuinness?

Either way, I plan on resurrecting the Paddy McGuinness story or another similar tale from the grave to haunt, educate, and entertain readers. I was hoping to write a fact-based narrative but so far I have no facts to support what my online paranormal research has said about the witch, Paddy McGuinness.

Does anyone know anything about the so-called witch called Paddy McGuinness? Does anyone know the story behind the witch’s tombstone at The Roman Catholic People’s Cemetery in Charlottetown? Does anyone know of any other witch’s tombstones on PEI (exact locations would be nice) and the stories behind them? Are there any active paranormal groups on PEI that wouldn’t mind an intrepid author joining them on some paranormal investigations?

Any light you could shed on this dark subject would be greatly appreciated.

The Paddy McGuinness mystery continues.

Please post your comments below and have an awesome day.