The Dungarvon Whooper

8 years ago

The boys at the Dungarvon logging camp had never laid eyes on the black-haired lad who was the new cook, and not much wonder. Young Ryan had arrived in New Brunswick from Ireland only a few days before, anxious to make his fortune in what promised to be a land of wealth and prosperity compared to the blight and famine he left behind.

He figured a cook’s job at a logging camp on the Miramichi was as good as any and he took it. It would give him some quick cash which meant he didn’t have to dip into the savings he carried in his money belt. It was an opportunity the young man should have passed up.

The loggers took a liking to Ryan. He worked hard, made them laugh, and his cooking made their mouths water.

Early one evening, not long after Ryan started to work at the camp, the tired and hungry loggers were astonished when they swung open the door to the grubhouse. The long pine table, which usually overflowed with piping-hot food, was empty.

“Supper won’t be ready for a while,” growled the camp boss as he sliced potatoes with a razor-sharp cleaver. “The Irishman’s run off.”

The Dungarvon Whooper is one of New Brunswick’s most enduring legends. Since the 1860s, the story of a blood curdling scream ripping through the early evening air near the Dungarvon River, has struck terror in the hearts of many. Particularly those who have ventured near Whooper Spring where it is said Ryan’s chopped-up body is buried.

However, as it is with many New Brunswick legends, there are a number of versions. One popular rendition claims the boss murdered the boy with a meat-cleaver, took his money belt, then buried his remains in a pickle barrel. When the loggers returned that night he told them the boy couldn’t take the work and ran back to Newcastle “his tail between his legs.” In the light of the full January moon, the loggers thought it odd they couldn’t find any snowshoe tracks.

In his poem, The Dungarvon Whooper, Michael Whelan, the “poet of the Renous,” says that after the devious boss killed the cook, he didn’t dispose of the body. Instead he made it look like the death was from natural causes: “…well, the youngster took so sick, and he died so mighty quick, I hadn’t time to think.”

Another version, told by railway men, contends the wail is that of a locomotive known during the last century as the Dungarvon Whooper. It is said to have been lost during the Great Miramichi Fire of 1825, when the crew tried to take it through the flames near the Dungarvon River. The crew was never seen again, but the haunting sound of the lonely steam engine has rung through those woods ever since.

It was toward the end of the last century, the horrible bloodthirsty screams – the whoops as everyone calls them – were first heard by a number of woods people in the vicinity of the Dungarvon River. The sound they say would send a chill right down to your bones.

One old lumberjack said: “It was always at the same time—sundown—and it rarely continued for more than 10 minutes. One night it would be near the scene of the murder, the next night possibly 10 miles downstream.”

It is also said those who travel near the Dungarvon should beware the smell of frying bacon with which the tormented soul of the cook tries to lure the camp boss to his death.

There are many tales told of the Miramichi; from its legendary salmon –the biggest and best tasting in the world– to its towering pines from which many a mast was hewn for the royal navies and fishing fleets during the heyday of the tall ships. But the most frightening is that of the Dungarvon Whooper which has, for more than a century, struck terror in the hearts of even the most hardened lumberjacks as it howls through the early evening air at Whooper Spring on the Dungarvon River near the fabled Miramichi.