A look at Hallowe’en in Central Alberta

Red Deer historian details a haunting tale in the Pine Lake area

Another Hallowe’en is rapidly approaching. This year, it will be next Tuesday. As Hallowe’en draws closer, many people turn their attention to ghost stories, tales of hauntings, remembrances of old tragedies and accounts of long- standing mysteries. In many parts of the world, there is a real tradition of ghost stories and tales of hauntings.

Central Alberta is a much newer part of the world than such places as Europe and Asia. Consequently, we do not have the same rich folklore about ghosts, spirits and supernatural happenings. That is not to say, however, that there aren’t any ghost stories to be told.

Some of the best-documented tales are also the oldest. One such story concerns the Pine Lake district. In the very early days, this was a popular hunting and camping spot for various bands of Indians. Unfortunately, the area also became the site of bloody intertribal warfare, particularly between the Blackfoot Confederacy and the Cree First Nation.

One autumn, approximately 150 years ago, a band of Crees camped alongside Pine Lake was attacked and massacred by a raiding party of Blackfoot. All the Crees were killed except for a young brave who had been away hunting when the massacre took place. Once he discovered what had happened, he swore revenge and began trailing the Blackfoot war party. He managed to inflict a number of casualties in a series of clever ambushes and surprise attacks.

Perhaps because of the young man’s success at retribution or perhaps because of the grisly reminders at the massacre site, both the Blackfoot and the Crees became convinced that the lake was inhabited by the spirits of the murdered tribesmen. They claimed that the whispering of the wind in the spruce trees and the flickering shadows on the water were from these spirits. Some even insisted that they had seen the ghost of one of the warriors, beheaded in an ambush, riding his horse across the hills in the moonlight, searching for the head he had lost.

All the tribes started calling the place Ghost Pine or Devil’s Pine Lake. It was a name that lasted until the 1890’s when unimaginative officials decided to adopt the shorter ‘Pine Lake’ as the name for the new post office.

The name of the Lake may have been altered, but the stories persisted. One old timer of the district once claimed to have been traveling down the road at the north end of the Lake just after a snowstorm. There were a set of horse’s hoof prints ahead of him, but suddenly they stopped. There was no imprint in the snow to indicate that the horse and its rider had gone either forward or back on the previous trail. The track just ended.

On another occasion, this same old timer looked across the Lake towards the old massacre site. He saw a mirage which looked a lot like a First Nation encampment. He strained to see more clearly and moved to get closer. However, the image vanished almost as quickly as it had appeared.

Another old story involves an old vacant farm house in the west country. One night, a man was passing by the house with his team and wagon, when he picked up a mysterious stranger at the gate. The traveler tried to strike up a conversation with his new companion, but without much success. As they passed by the old barn on the southern edge of the property, the driver was badly shocked and frightened when the stranger suddenly vanished from the seat beside him.

Some of the locals insist that the last family to have lived in the house were forced out due to a number of very strange occurrences which they witnessed. For a great many years afterwards, there were stories about strange lights and strange sounds coming from the now derelict farmhouse late at night.

Whatever had been happening, or whatever the truth to these old tales, it is fun to retell them on a crisp Hallowe’en night when tradition tells us that the spirits are out on a prowl and old hauntings come to life again.

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