Not too far across the Quebec border is a small farm outside the town of Shawville, where George and Susan Dagg had many happy years with their children. Until, in 1885, they adopted a young girl named Dinah Mclean.
Dinah was a participant in the child immigration scheme—an endeavour to place underprivileged children from the United Kingdom in Canadian and Australian homes. Though often described as an orphan, Dinah’s mother remained alive in Glasgow until 1894.
The first few years of Dinah’s placement were apparently peaceful ones; the poltergeist didn’t appear until the fall of 1889.
The first indication something was amiss was the disappearance of money George gave to his wife. The two-dollar bill showed up under the bed belonging to their farmhand, Dean, who had no idea how it got there. Later, Susan found fecal matter from the outhouse in her kitchen, and George dragged the boy in front of a judge in Shawville to explain himself. While he was away, Susan found more filth spread throughout the house, absolving her of any notion Dean was involved with this particular act of mischief. He never returned to the Dagg’s farm.
Items were thrown across rooms. Dinah’s hair was cut while she slept. Windows shattered with no visible cause. Spontaneous fires erupted throughout the house. The poltergeist appeared to the children in various forms, including a man with a cow’s head and a creature akin to a large black dog.
What made the Dagg poltergeist unique, however, is that it spoke and held conversations with individuals brave enough to engage. The caveat is he would only speak when Dinah was present.
The stories made their way to a man named Percy Woodcock. Accounts describe him as an artist, a paranormal investigator and a journalist. Upon his arrival at the Dagg farm in mid-November, Dinah shares that she had just heard the poltergeist moments before in the woodhouse. True to her word, Percy not only heard the telltale gruff voice but immediately engaged in debate with it as well as chastised the being for cursing in front of a child.
Around this time the voice announced its plans for a final goodbye and word spreads. Accounts vary, but Woodcock was sure to have all witnesses sign a statement before publishing his experience in the Brockville Recorder and Times.
The next morning, the poltergeist appeared to the children as an angelic figure, and in a burst of light, travelled upwards towards the heavens.
The Daggs quickly shuffled Dinah off to stay with George’s father, and eventually the Fairknowe Home in Brockville. The poltergeist is never heard from again.
The tale of the Dagg poltergeist leaves us searching for plausible explanations of the events of autumn 1889. Could a maladjusted Dinah, a girl who appears in records as Dinah “Burden” Mclean, somehow have fabricated these events to challenge her adoptive family? Is it possible that Percy Woodcock was an opportunist, and upon uncovering Dinah’s actions, played along and exaggerated the tale?
After 128 years it is difficult to pick out the truth from local legend and lore, and even more so to parse through events baked in over a century of superstition, rumour and hyperbole. But there is no doubt something sinister took place on the Dagg property all those years ago, and I’m sure we can all sleep a little easier knowing Dinah and her poltergeist are both long gone.
Emily Beckett is an enthusiastic geek and writer who spent her childhood summer nights poring over Canadian ghost stories with only a flashlight and nylon tent to protect herself. She is fascinated by the chilling events that lend themselves to the birth of alleged spooky encounters—despite her scaredy-cat status.