Here is a Poem about the Phantom Ship,
written by Bart Firth, a Dawsonville photographer,
who is kindly letting me use it on the site. Thanks Bart
Visit Bart’s site and see his excellent work
The Phantom Ship of the Baie Des Chaleurs
You will never get close
To the ship that’s a ghost
That sails on the Baie des Chaleur
You may see her at night
Or catch a glimpse by daylight
But you will never get close to the phantom
Now me and my friends
We were out on a bend
Twas the night of our graduation
We were down on the beach
As drunk as a leech
There was a full moon on the horizon
When out of nowhere
A ship did appear
As crimson as the hereafter
With Masts torched high
And a siren of cries
There were men jumping into the water
Well we found an old boat
And put her afloat
To try and save some of the sailors
But I will be skunked
Even though we were drunk
There was no way to get close to this phantom
Then up came a gale
and I remembered a tale
My grandfather had told before me
He said,” You’ll never get close
To the Ship that’s a ghost
That sails on the Baie Des Chaleur ”
Heron Island stands empty and deserted now, and with an air of mystery when visited, especially at night.
Once it was a small vital community with families carrying on their lives happily and busily.
Perhaps I should be writing about the Indians who were there before the white families arrived, but they had left the island so long before, that no one really knows for certain what drove them out.
Legend has it that they left because of the flaming phantom ship that appears from time to time in the Baie. A flaming ship that produces heat for those who try to get near, complete with the sound of men screaming in terror. A ship that has been seen and a story that has been related by many sober, rational people.
The Micmacs were supposedly responsible for the burning of that mysterious ship, as well as the death of it’s captain, a Portuguese adventurer named Gaspar Corte-Real and his brother, Miguel. Miguel and his crew members are said to have placed a curse on that area of the Baie des Chaleurs with their dying breath.
According to legend, in 1500 Gaspar Corte-Real took a trip to the Gaspe coast across from Heron Island. After spending some time there, he gained the confidence of the indians by plying them with gifts and friendship.
One night, he and his men shared their alcohol with them, and when they were drunk, he invited the Chief and several other young Micmacs to board his ship. His intentions were far from friendly. When they were too drunk to know what was happening, they were locked below deck and kept prisoner as the ship sailed for England.
There most of them were put on display like some kind of freaks in side shows. Some of them he sold into slavery. The people of England had only heard of the redmen of the colonies, but had never seen one. They lined up and paid their money to get a glimpse of what they considered to be mysterious savages from so far away.
Upon Corte-Real’s return the following summer, he did not return to the Gaspe coast. He went instead to Heron Island, which lay about six miles from the coast, between it and the mainland of New Brunswick. There the indians showed no signs of knowing nor caring about what he had done the previous summer on the Gaspe coast. Corte-Real and his men were thus soothed into believing that they were friendly and, over time, they relaxed their guard.
The indians, however, were well aware of what had transpired the previous summer, and were not about to forget it.
One night, while the Portuguese captain and his men slept, the indians stole into their shelter and killed all but Corte-Real. They had reserved special plans for him.
They took him to the shore and, once there, they tied him to a large rock, a rock that did not submerge until high tide. No doubt he must have had the time to reflect on his life as the tide inevitably rose and covered his last pleas for mercy.
The next summer, (1502) Gaspar Corte-Real’s brother, Miguel, wondering what had happened to him, came to the island looking for his missing brother.
Seeing the caravel moored and empty, he sailed closer and boarded his brother’s ship.
Before he and his men could react, many canoes filled with Micmacs came gliding quickly from the shore. The indians boarded the ship and a massacre followed as the ship drifted out. Corte-Real and some of his men barricaded themselves below, but they knew that they were outnumbered and would be killed there, so they preferred to come up on deck and face their attackers.
Before trying a last time to rush the indians on the deck, the Portuguese are said to have gotten down on their knees and prayed to be spared. But if they died died at the hands of the Micmacs, they promised that they they would return to haunt the Baie des Chaleurs, and they would continue to haunt it for a thousand years.
During the fighting the ship somehow caught fire. The caravel, now all aflame, sank beneath the waters of the Baie, with the Portuguese and Indians alike aboard. One Indian managed to swim away from the ship and lived long enough to tell the story.
As time passed, the ship, in flames, kept appearing, as it sailed through the waters beside Heron Island. The Indians claimed to see it regularly, and particularly before a fierce storm. Finally, the Micmacs were too frightened to stay, so they left Heron Island forever.
Stella, when still a young girl, had caught a glimpse of the upper sails of the phantom ship, all aflame, from her view of the island from New Mills. The ship was on the north side of the island, with the sails and flames visible above the land, throwing a red glow into the sky. She tells how she ran home to get the “spy glass”, but by the time she returned, it had either disappeared or sank beneath the waves.
Her father, Jim Mercier, along with Harry MacMullan, a resident of Heron Island, were, at a later time, fishing off the island, and as they were ready to take their boat onto the beach, there suddenly appeared a large flaming ship. They had heard the legend of the flaming phantom caravel, but they were not men who believed in spirits and the like, and they had no firsthand account from anyone who had actually witnessed the appearance of the Phantom Ship. They got back into their boat and rowed out to get a closer look. As they neared the ship, they say that they could hear the anguished cries of men. As they got nearer, they began to feel an intense heat. They were finally forced to abandon their undertaking because of this. They returned to the shore and watched the ship go down. It was a sight that no one could ever forget, and it would continue to be experienced by many over the years.
So the Indians were long gone before Stella, George and their little daughter, Beatrice, arrived on Heron Island in the early 1920’s. Stella spoke, however, of a Mr. Bernard, an indian man who would come to the island in the summer. He would bring with him his wife and several other native women. They would camp on the island for the summer and cut young ash branches to weave beautiful baskets. They would dye them with various plants and berries and when they were done, they would take them over to the mainland by boat and sell them.
Stella was once given a beautiful basket by Mr. Bernard’s wife. She studied it carefully, and later in life when she took a course in artificial flower making (she learned to make 72 varieties), she used their methods of weaving to make her own baskets out of paper covered wire. This is a skill which she used later in life when they moved off the island. She made floral arrangements for the department stores in Campbellton, the town that she and the children moved to when George went off to World War II.
Mr. Bernard, the native basket weaver, would often return in the fall, where he was a guest in the LaPointe home. He would return to the island with Father Trudell, who was the parish priest in Jacket River, and a close friend of George and Stella.
They would hunt geese and ducks. One fall, they bagged a goose that weighed 28 pounds. Stella cooked it outside in a little metal oven that they had built to be placed over an open fire. She described it as “quite a feast”.
George and Stella never saw these men after they left the island, and they longed to see Father Trudell. He had been a fairly frequent visitor, and visitors were pretty rare. When he came over for a few days, the three of them would usually play cards and talk late into the night.
Many years later, we were driving through the area on our way to Bathurst to check out the new KMart store that we had heard so much about. We were all living in Campbellton at the time and KMart hadn’t yet ventured into our fair town. When we came to Father Trudell’s rectory. Stella decided she would enquire about the priest. The housekeeper advised her with regret that Father Trudell had passed away just a few months prior to our visit.