January 16, 2017

The Ferryland Visitor: A mysterious tale

by Charis Cotter
Artwork by Gerald L. Squires
Running the Goat, Books & Broadsides
36 pp.
Ages 7+

This is a mysterious tale but a true one of a visitor to the Ferryland Newfoundland lighthouse taken over by artist Gerald L. Squires, his potter wife and two young daughters, Esther and Meranda, in the early 1970s.  Believe it or not.

They could always see when somebody was coming to visit, because they could see most of the road from the kitchen window–curving through the downs, inching along the narrows, twisting up the hill and disappearing around the corner.” (pg. 6)
The Narrows on the Road to the Ferryland Lighthouse 
by Gerald L. Squires
From The Ferryland Visitor by Charis Cotter
So the family is surprised when a knock on the door heralds a large man in a long black coat and big boots. When he says “Your dog asked me to come in” (pg. 14) it seemed true, as Houndie was more pleased than alarmed by the stranger’s appearance on their doorstep.

A former policeman in Ferryland, the man regaled them with stories, including one about the death of a boy from pneumonia and his wake at the lighthouse.  But when he left, thanking them for their hospitality and acknowledging  “now I know you’ll be good for this lighthouse” (pg. 17), Esther couldn’t spot him on the road.

The next day when visiting  a neighbour on the other side of the hill, Esther and her father tell Arch about their visitor.  After asking a number of questions, Arch reveals that the man sounded like Dick Costello, a constable who had been good friends with the keeper.  But Dick Costello had died twenty years earlier.

The following year, Gerald L. Squires shared the story with the visiting daughter of Dick Costello who, though stunned, confirmed that her dad always said the same thing when he walked into someone’s house: “Your dog asked me to come in.”

The story of The Ferryland Visitor could well be considered a ghost tale, something Charis Cotter, whose own The Swallow: A Ghost Story (Tundra, 2014) won the 2015 IODE Canada Violet Downey Book Award, knows a thing or two about telling well.  But this is a true story, and one that publisher Marnie Parsons recounts hearing upon her own move to Newfoundland with her family.  Still, at its heart, it’s a story of family and community, and using Gerald L. Squires’ own artwork, as well as photographs, brings that sense of place and people to the story’s core.  There’s a feeling of desolation and isolation and expanse, along with surprise and magic, to the landscape and the story, told spookily but straight up.  The Ferryland Visitor is an amazing story for eerie October, the month in which the mysterious visitor came to call, or anytime young readers want to be transported to the Avalon Peninsula of Newfoundland and stay for a good yarn.

Dark Cave Under the Light by Gerald L. Squires
From The Ferryland Visitor by Charis Cotter


  1. As I am now collecting nearly all genres of lighthouse books for our personal library on Lennard Island Lightstation, I must get my hands on this Newfoundland beauty! Thanks very much for reviewing it on your website, Helen, which I have posted a link to on my Facebook post today. I really appreciate your website, thank you!

    1. Thank you for your kind comments, Caroline. Happy reading!