Hauntings of the Cypress Hills
One of the most popular guided hikes that used to be held on the Saskatchewan side of the Cypress Hills was the Ghost and Haunted Happenings Hike. While reading the stories is nothing like experiencing them for yourself on a dark and spooky trail filled with trees towering above you, we thought in the spirit of Halloween we’d share one or two of the stories given to hikers. Some are based on researched facts, while others are based on folklore handed down through the years. I’ll leave it to you to decide which is which.
Legend has it that the first recorded fatality in CHIP (Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park) continues to haunt Loch Leven. At noon hours on some days in August an ear piercing scream can be heard coming from the lake. To the unknowing visitor to the park, the screaming is often attributed to the kids that frequently occupy main beach. Others attribute the panicked and desperate screaming to the woman who accompanied a man from Shaunavon on an afternoon swim in August 1934. On the day around noon hour, a man named Stevenson from Shaunavon, aged 33, dove from a raft into 8 feet of water and was drowned. Stevenson, unable to swim, was in the habit of jumping off the raft, grabbing a rope attached to it when he came up and hauling himself aboard. This time, however, he was unable to reach the raft and struggling in the water for a short time, sank to the bottom of the lake. A woman on the raft screamed for help… another resident of Shaunavon, dove in and recovered the drowned man. Tom Fleming, a park employee, rushed Dr. Dawson out in a canoe. The raft was towed to shore and resuscitation efforts continued unsuccessfully for another hour.
The winter of 1875-76 is down in the books as being one of the coldest in recorded Saskatchewan history. There was that story about the young constable who had been on patrol to the border and was about 15 miles from Fort Walsh when he got caught in a horrible howling blizzard. The poor Mountie was close to the Fort, just east of the center block by Boiler Creek and felt that he had no choice but to go on. He felt that if he stopped he would surely freeze to death or lose his horse and surely die. He was riding a mustang, a good tough pony, and he was smart enough to give it its head and let it keep going, trusting that its sense of direction would bring them to shelter. The pony struggled on through the huge snow drifts its face covered with ice from its breath and the Mountie clinging on somehow even though his feet and hands were almost froze solid. On and on through the night the lonely pair went, the Mountie drifting in and out of consciousness, the little pony stumbling but not falling. Near dawn the constable felt he could not go any further and all he wanted to do was get off and lay down to sleep. The horse had finally stopped, exhausted, his tail to the wind and his head hanging down. But then the Mountie saw a most strange sight. A beautiful Metis woman, her long black hair flowing around her, walked up to his horse and took it by the bridle. He said she put a hand on his knee and smiled up at him with the most beautiful brown eyes he had ever seen, and this gave him the strength to hang on while she led his horse through the snow. He remembers that she never said a word to him, but would look back and smile and encourage him to stay awake. He said that she appeared to have no difficulty walking through the snow and would pat and murmur to the pony who followed her. He said the last thing he remembers seeing before falling unconscious into the snow was the edge of town and the palisade to the nearby fort. He woke up in the barracks feeling tired and sore. When he asked about the young woman who had led him and his exhausted horse to safety no one knew what he was talking about. He had been found alone with his horse, almost dead in the fresh drifts of snow, the only prints in the snow those of his exhausted pony. The constable continued to ask about the woman until finally an old Metis woman told him that he had seen Genevieve, a friend of hers from years ago. Genevieve, the old woman said, had been a beauty- gentle and kind, with a special affinity for horses. The old woman said her friend died of fever and was buried by the creek. Many years later, once the NWMP came to the Cypress Hills, the town of Fort Walsh was built over her grave.
One ghostly phenomenon in Cypress Hills that has been reported for as long as the park has been inhabited by humans is the frequent sighting of our Cypress friends, the Shadow People. The reports all generally follow a similar pattern:
It is midnight, give or take a few minutes. Maybe you are with a group of friends coming back from the lounge after a long day of work. The orange from the street lights around Loch Leven cast a sickly and artificial glow on the pavement but you are thankful for the light in an otherwise eerily quiet and sleepy park. Depending on the angle you are walking at under the street lights, sometimes your shadow stretches ahead of you in long distorted people shapes. Suddenly you notice that although there are four people in your group, there are five shadows. You cannot account for the last shadow figure: it does not seem to match the body shape of any one of your friends. But there it is there nonetheless, dark, human shaped and definite. As soon as it is noticed it quickly dissipates leaving you questioning your eyesight, your beliefs about the supernatural, or, in some cases, how many drinks you’ve had at the lounge.
The Blue Cross
The story of the blue cross dates back to the early days of the boy scouts who have a camp in the north area of the park. In the early 1930s, the summer camp stayed for a few weeks but there were a few core staff who stayed year round, including managers, maintenance and the cooks. During the very first summer that camp was in session, the cook for the camp was making supper. Back then everything was cooked over an open flame. No one is sure if it was his mitt that caught fire but whatever the case, the poor cook was quickly engulfed in flames. No one knew what to do and in panic left the poor cook to burn alive. As he was dying he said that he would come back to punish those for not helping. A couple years later, a hunting party of three men were camped near the old boy scout camp. One of the men left to use that bathroom (aka the woods) and came back to camp saying that he had seen a blue cross in the woods. The blue cross marked what he believed was a relatively fresh grave. It is relevant, at this point to mention that the boy scouts of Canada use a lot of blue in their uniform and buildings. Often they have blue paint at hand and probably painted the cross so that the grave was noticeable in a pine forest. Three days later, the man that had seen the blue cross in the forest was killed in a hunting accident.
A year after that a 5 year old boy drowned in the trout pond just outside the front entrance gates to the Boy Scout camps. The boy had been adamant to his mother that he had seen a blue cross in the forest but the mother passed it off as a figment of a creative boys imagination. The story is that if you see a blue cross in Cypress, you have three days…
One story comes to us from one of the summer Camps in the park. This camp has been around since 1936 but the ground that it sits on has had a long and haunted history. The ghost story from Camp Shagabec concerns the infamous cabin 9. There are many stories circulating about cabin 9 but the most popular concerns an escaped criminal who broke out of a Maple Creek holding cell in 1954. The man was convicted of first degree murder after a land sale in the Shaunavon area went sour. The man’s older brother died leaving the majority of his family’s ranch to his wife. Shocked that he was cut out of the family fortune and never a fan of his sister in law, he murdered her in order that the land would go to him. The man escaped the holding cell in Maple Creek where he was waiting to be taken to a larger institution in July of 1954, while camp was in session at Shagabec. The man travelled southwards by foot eventually seeking refuge in the Park. It was a stormy and rainy night in Cypress Hills so the man sought shelter as soon as he reached the park. He found his way to cabin 9 in Shagabec and hid underneath the front steps to escape the pounding rain. Listening closely, he believed the cabin was vacant and entered through the open front door. The cabin was occupied, however, by two camp counselors in their late teens that had come to make out in the cabin which had been vacant for this particular camp session. The convict panicked, scared that he would be forced to relinquish his freedom once again, so he slit their throats before the pair had time to notice he was even there.
The Haunting by Constable Graburn
Mountie history recorded another tragic first in 1879—the first murder of a Mountie, young Constable Marmaduke Graburn. Constable Graburn was 18 years old when he joined the NWMP in Ottawa with his friend Gordon Johnson. They were both sworn in at Fort Walsh on June 9 1879, Young Graburn was an avid hunter and sportsman and considered to be a favourite of his comrades. Eventually, Graburn was posted for duty at the fort’s main horse camp, where the NWMP horses were kept for rehabilitation and rest. On an afternoon of November 17, 1879, it seemed that Graburn had a verbal disagreement with a Blood man called Star Child who was begging for food at the horse camp. Star Child was seventeen and frequented Fort Walsh asking for handouts of beef and flour where previously, Graburn ordered Star Child out of the Fort, calling him a “miserable dog”. On that morning in November, Graburn, Johnston (another Mountie) and their guide Payette were watching over a horse herd. On that morning the party had received orders to go to their own camp and collect a picket rope and ax that had been left there in the hut. It was Johnston’s turn to act as camp cook, so Graburn offered to perform the chore himself. Wearing his scarlet tunic, buckskin trousers and a slouch hat, he picked up his carbine and ammunition and at midmorning he rode off alone. As he disappeared along the winding trail near the creek, neither Johnston nor the scout realized that this would be the last time they would see Graburn alive.
When Graburn had not shown up by midafternoon the pair went to look for him. They did not find him until the next day., “they found the poor fellow lying dead in the gully, hidden about with bushes. He was lying on his face in a mass of blood.” Star Child was eventually charged with the murder but acquitted. Staff have often wondered if Marmaduke Graburn still roams the hills looking for his killer. Graburn lies in the peaceful cemetery at Fort Walsh NHS which has a gate that must remain closed to keep out the horses and wildlife. Former night security staff claim that they would make sure the gate was closed only to find it open on the next patrol. At the Beechwood cemetery in Ottawa, the inscription on Graburn’s memorial stone reads “Marmaduke Graburn—Primus Moriri (the first to die)”
Want to hear more? Then be sure to take in the Ghost and Haunted Happenings Hike next summer in the Park. What about you? Have you experienced any unexplained phenomenon while travelling throughout the Cypress Hills Destination Area, or know of any other ghost stories? Let us know in the comments!