Ghost stories
November 23, 2015

Photo of Fortress Louisbourg. By Justin Wiswell, Maritime Paranormal. Used with permission.

Imagine this. You’re walking through a walled fortress, cobbles beneath your feet, your path illuminated by the moon. It’s cold—it snowed when you arrived—and your breath emerges in puffs.

Your night walk takes you along the scene of some bitter battles between the French and the British, a European conflict transported to North America almost 300 years ago.

Then, as you turn the corner to enter a building, the paranormal researcher’s equipment squawks into life …

Parks Canada and NSCAD University have partnered to give NSCAD students the exciting opportunity to experience a variety of Parks Canada sites in Nova Scotia. Playing with the loose theme of “guests, hosts and ghosts,” the students investigated the collective memory, history and mythology of the parks to inspire their art making—maybe even getting a little spooked in the process.

Now, the students are ready to reveal their work in a group exhibition called ghosts, taking place December 1 to 6 at the Anna Leonowens Gallery, with an opening reception on Monday, Nov. 30 at 5:30 pm.

“Parks Canada is delighted to have partnered with NSCAD once again this year and to have hosted their tremendously talented students at three of our National Parks and National Historic Sites,” says Julie Tompa, Field Unit Superintendent for Parks Canada’s Mainland Nova Scotia Field Unit. “We are excited for this opportunity for the public to see and experience Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site and the Halifax Citadel and Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Sites in new and creative ways through these unique artistic interpretations.”

Two groups are taking part: students who took the class known as the “Keji Project” and camped at Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site this summer; and Foundation students in Intro to Studio Practice who went for a ghost walk at the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site in late September, followed by a four-day trip to Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site over the fall study break in October.

Stef, a tent portrait by Frankie MacAulay. Even with with the student not in the photo, her presence is still evident. Please see

The italicization of only part of the word ghosts is deliberate. “With the name we are playing with ideas of presence and absence, guests and hosts, along with the general theme of ghosts,” says Luke Mohan, a second-year NSCAD student from Toronto, who is co-curating the exhibition along with fourth-year Jordan Baraniecki from Saskatoon.

For both students, staying at Keji was a wonderful way to be introduced to Nova Scotia’s wild outdoorsy side, if only for a few days. While at the park, the group experienced Mi’kmaq culture, saw some of the park’s 500-plus petro glyphs carved into stone, paddled a 20-person birch bark canoe, hiked through the woods at night, and swapped ghost stories around the campfire.

“We arrived as a group of strangers and become a tight-knit community in just five days,” says Luke.

Up & Down by Yiping Yi, one of the students in the Keji summer class.

In ghosts, they’ll display a variety of artworks inspired by the experience, ranging from large-scale drawings, to video and audio projections and sculpture. Also on display will be the group projects created by Foundation students who went to Fortress Louisbourg.

Not only did the trip take the students across the province to Cape Breton, but back through time to the 18th century when Louisbourg was a French settlement and thriving centre for fishing and trade. Founded in 1713, the town was besieged twice by the British and finally destroyed in the 1760s.

“It was like being in a life-sized maquette,” says Anna Sprague, the instructor. The students cooked in cast iron pots on open fires, slept on horse hair mattresses in the soldiers’ barracks, dressed in 18th century clothing, and explored the stone buildings and cobblestone streets of the fortress, which was restored in the 1960s.

She can’t say enough about the Fortress Louisbourg staff—“so kind, knowledgeable and fun loving”—who introduced the students to a national treasure. “They are so passionate about connecting people with history in really meaningful ways and we can’t thank them enough."

At Louisbourg, surrounded so tangibly by the past, the theme of ghosts took on a more literal interpretation; at one point, the students even went on a night-time tour accompanied by paranormal researchers with their ghost-hunting gear.

“At Louisbourg, it was all about touching history,” says Anna. “The idea of ghosts relates to the past; how objects carry the past within them and can tell stories.”

The opening reception for ghosts is Monday, Nov. 30 at 5:30 pm. Hours for the exhibition are Tuesdays to Fridays from 11 am to 5 pm, and Saturday from 12 noon to 4 pm. The Anna Leonowens Gallery is part of NSCAD’s Fountain Campus, at 1891 Granville Street.