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  The St. Louis Ghost Train

by Dave Yanko 

For a province that's just over 100 years old, Saskatchewan is home to a surprising number of ghost stories, legends and mysterious occurrences. One of our most enduring mysteries is the "The St. Louis Ghost Train", a strange phenomenon named after the central-Saskatchewan village where it occurs.

Although he'd never seen the ghost train, Serge Gareau grew up in the vicinity of St. Louis and was well familiar with the stories.

When an Alberta couple came to Saskatoon for a visit about five years ago, Serge and his wife Gail decided to see whether they might amuse their friends with a little paranormal entertainment. They got more than they bargained for.

The foursome hopped into Gareau's vehicle and drove 130 kms (80 miles) northeast of Saskatoon to St. Louis. They arrived around 11 p.m., well before the prescribed hour of midnight. They pulled up beside the abandoned railway track in the rolling countryside just north of town, left the motor running to provide heat against the cool autumn evening, and waited.

"We sat there for about an hour, and nothing was happening," Gareau recalls. "And then all of a sudden we saw this light. It was just like a train coming. A bright light coming at us, with a little red light towards the bottom."

Enthralled, the Gareaus and their friends watched "for a good two hours" as the steady white beam and its crimson companion appeared to approach, but never arrive. As time skipped by, chatter in the automobile turned to the source of the light. They decided to investigate.

With the light plainly visible through the windshield, they drove straight at it on a rough old road running parallel to the track bed.

"We drove, and drove, and drove. And all of a sudden the light was gone. When we looked around, it was right behind us!"

Gareau said it "scared the hell" out of at least one member of the party.

The ghost train has been a part of St. Louis for as long as anyone can remember. When the rail line was abandoned and the tracks removed years ago, some thought the phenomenon would end. It didn't. Locals say the ghostly apparition can still be seen almost every night.

St. Louis Mayor Emile Lussier.

Whatever it is, its enduring nature is fertile ground for imaginative legends and theories. One of the most persistent of these involves a hapless conductor who was struck down and decapitated by a train while doing a routine check of the tracks. It's said the bright, yellowish light belongs to the old steam locomotive pulling his train. The smaller, red one, is the lantern he's using in a futile search for his head.

St. Louis Mayor Emile Lussier, who runs a hotel at the foot of the iron bridge once used by the old trains, admits "I'm not much of a believer in this kind of stuff." But he, too, has seen the light.

A few years back, Lussier and his brother-in-law went to the crossroads with a somewhat daring plan in mind.

"So far as we knew, nobody had actually walked the tracks. So we did," says Lussier.

They walked about a mile along the old track bed, without seeing anything. Then suddenly, "there was a light right at our heels -- a strong light that cast shadows. When we turned around, it was gone."

Lussier and his partner went back to town and reported their experience to a group of friends and relatives. Tantalized by word of the encounter, Lussier's son and some friends decided to go out to the old track bed to see for themselves.

Lussier went with them, but stayed at the crossroads as the boys hiked off down the old track bed. As he watched them in the distance, something very strange occurred.

"The light lit everyone up. It looked just like a globe -- really bright. And yet, they didn't see a thing."

Lussier points to that episode as an indication the "phantom light", as some people in St. Louis prefer to call it, "appears in two very different ways".

There's been speculation that people who observe the light -- and there have been hundreds of them over the years -- are merely seeing automobile headlights from a distant highway, says the mayor. But he's been told scientists studied the phenomenon and discounted the headlights theory.

"They couldn't find anything that would explain it," Lussier says.

"I don't think it's car lights," says Rita Ferland, one of the few people who've seen the phantom beam in broad daylight.

Rita Ferland

Ferland, of St. Louis, said she and her mother were picking wild raspberries beside the old track bed a few years ago when "all of the sudden the light came out".

"It was amazing," says Ferland. "It appeared to move along the tracks and get brighter, and then that was it. It was gone. Very weird."

Whatever it is that's been fueling legends and firing imaginations for all these years, it hasn't gone away. The writer and his family can vouch for the fact:

Check out Family Ghost Hunt, our own experience with the ghost train. Afterwards, see how two northern Saskatchewan girls took on the ghost train as a science fair project in Mystery Solved?

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