There’s a lot of history at Strathgartney Provincial Park. Strathgartney Homestead was once part of the large estate of Robert Bruce Stewart, named for the famous warrior Robert the Bruce. Over almost a hundred years, four generations of Stewarts lived in the homestead, the last leaving in 1961. In 1959, Robert Cotton purchased 40 acres of the estate and dedicated Strathgartney as the Island’s first provincial park.
In March of 1888, the times of Robert Bruce, Gracie Grey was a young servant at Strathgartney. One winter afternoon, Gracie was returning on foot to the homestead with supplies when she was caught in a storm so severe it became known as the Great Blizzard of ‘88. When the young servant failed to return, the family assumed that she had taken shelter with a neighbour. After the skies cleared, though, it became clear that the girl had come to grief, and three days after the storm, searchers spotted Gracie’s basketful of provisions, which she’d hung from a branch to protect it from being buried. Beneath the tree and beneath the snow, in sight of the homestead lay the girl’s frozen body. Had the winds not howled so fiercely, those within would surely have heard Gracie’s cries.
Over the years, people have reported sightings and events attributed to Gracie’s spirit. They see a woman in nineteenth-century clothing carrying her basket through the hills, approaching the homestead but disappearing before reaching it. In his book Tell me the Tales, former premier Walter Shaw wrote that his father had encountered Gracie at Gloomy Blues Hollow on the St. Catherine’s Road.
For some years, the homestead was run as an inn. Workers reported hearing footsteps where there was no living person to walk, lights turned off or on and doors inexplicably locked or open. Gracie’s spirit was seen walking in and out of her third-floor bedroom; her loom was reportedly worked by an unseen hand.
And Gracie’s story is not the only one. In the mid-eighties—1980s, that is—Connie Vail and friends gathered weekly to work on a building at Strathgartney. Paul Sheridan had bought a structure that was slated for demolition, intending to move it to his property in Bonshaw. That plan proved to be impossible. The materials were good, however, and Paul decided to take the building apart. The group got together each weekend to tear the building down and move it, piece by piece, to his property.
One beautiful sunny day Connie, Michael Moore, Paul Sheridan and John Wilson were in the process of pulling up the floorboards, all that was left of the structure but the foundation. When the guys headed off to the dump with a load of waste, Connie stayed behind to continue working, pulling up the old nails and carefully setting them aside, pulling up the wide boards and stacking them. Glancing up from her task, Connie saw a man leaning against a tree, his face hidden in the shadow of his wide-brimmed hat. There was nowhere for him to have come from, no sounds of his approach. The man wore a black coat, reminiscent of a parson of the old West. Connie just looked at him, not feeling fear or any emotion in particular. Gradually, the figure dissipated, growing fainter and fainter until he was just no longer there. Connie went back to work.
I wonder, does that parson appear to others there? Is his story related to Gracie’s? Do they cross paths there, and are there others as well? Maybe these stories are just two of many yet to be recovered from the historic grounds of Strathgartney.