If you were one those wide-eyed kids who cozied up to the best campfire storyteller when he or she related strange and erie tales, then you’ll be right at home during a book reading at the Sault public library this weekend.
Joel Sutherland was one of those children who couldn’t get enough of ghost stories.
His interest in scary tales and dark fables was an intoxicating brew that led to his latest book, Haunted Canada 5, which he will read from on Saturday afternoon at the main branch of the public library from 12:30 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
The book, which was written for children nine-to-twelve, has been nominated for a Silver Birch non-fiction award by the Ontario Library Association.
It is one of books nominated for the OLA’s Forest of Reading Program that includes books in different categories from picture books to young adult novels.
The OLA describes Haunted Canada 5 as a chilling collection of ghost stories from Canada’s past.
The association also says the book is, “A perfectly terrifying way for young readers to absorb a little of our country’s amazing history and geography.”
“There’re a lot of kids older that read it,” said Sutherland, whose Haunted Canada 4, published in 2014, garnered more than a little interest.
The narratives in the Haunted Canada series are shorter than most accounts found in ghost story collections aimed at adults. Each story is only about four or five pages long.
“A lot of adults really like that … They get all the quick info, the really scary bits, and then it moves on to a new location,” Sutherland said.
“They’re all ghost stories and they’re true ghost stories, I’m not making them up. They’re accounts, people’s reports of what they’ve seen or heard or felt.”
Sutherland, 35, has written a number of short stories as well as several books, including, Be a Writing Superstar and Frozen Blood.
In addition to being an author and the father of two young children, Sutherland has also been a librarian for more than a dozen years.
He is currently a children and youth services librarian at the Georgina Public Library in Keswick, Ont., which is located at the south end of Lake Simcoe.
Before that he worked at the public library in Ajax, Ont., just west of Oshawa, for more than a decade.
Using his skills as a librarian has made it easier to dig into older archives to ferret out strange and unusual stories.
“I do a lot of research of my own, but I try to interview and talk to people as much as possible too. So I’ll reach out to various people that work in haunted locations or anyone I can find.”
However, now that people are moe familiar with the Haunted Canada series, many people contact him with their stories.
“For future books I’m getting a lot more of these first-hand personal accounts that I wouldn’t read about anywhere else.”
Scholastic Canada published several Haunted Canada books written by Pat Hancock. When she did not continue the series, Scholastic Canada, which is also Sutherland’s publisher, asked him to pick it up because they knew he “loved horror movies and scary stuff like that.”
Sutherland usually goes into detail about the history of a location.
Occasionally, they are set in personal or private residences, he said.
“But usually the stories are set in famous buildings and landmarks and places where there was a battle 150 years ago, or (in) old churches or cemeteries,” he noted.
“I always cover the true history of the location too. I always kind of say that they’re kind of like history books in disguise. The ghosts are the hooks to get kids to read it and then they don’t actually realize that they’re learning a lot about Canadian history while they’re doing it.”
Sutherland is coming to the Sault to participate at an OLA’s Festival of Trees event, which will be held Friday at Essar Centre.
The Festival of Trees is Canada’s largest literary event for young readers. A two-day event is held in Toronto each year, but satellite festivals are also being held this year in London, Ont., and the Sault.
He will participate in a workshop at the Essar Centre event and talk briefly to local young people about Haunted Canada 5, and possibly relate an erie story that has a Sault Ste. Marie connection.
Sutherland was drawn to horror movies when he was young, unlike his two older brothers or his parents, who had little or no interest in thriller films.
He and a cousin, who also had a penchant for scary films, would watch horror movies, “and freak ourselves out.”
“I don’t know what it was, just the thrill of it I guess.”
Sutherland admits he was the child that was most attentive when ghost stories were related in the tradition campfire setting.
“I loved Beavers, Cubs and Scouts.”
A summer camp he attended several times had a particular youth leader who was well known for telling “the best scary stories.”
Sutherland regularly signed up to be part of that leader’s group because he wanted to hear the tales.
“I always went to the guy that was telling these scary stories. I stole them … I started repeating the stories myself back home at sleepovers with friends.”
One of his friends once gave him a dollar for telling “such a great story.”
“It dawned on me recently that that was actually the first time, probably at age 11 or 12, that I ever got paid to tell a scary story. Little did I know that I would grow up to write ghost stories.”
Thank you Mike
Steve Ramsey, Calgary.