Legend of the Dungarvon Whooper

If you go walking at dusk in the woods near the Dungarvon River – beware. The terrifying screams of the ghost they call “the Whooper” can still be heard deep within the New Brunswick forests of the Miramichi Highlands. Often told around the campfire, the legend of the Dungarvon Whooper (pronounced hooper), has been passed down from one generation to the next.

The Dungarvon River Logging Camps

The Dungarvon River flows through central New Brunswick, meandering down towards the Renous River and then further along into the Miramichi River. The area surrounding the waters is covered in thick dense forests. The legend of the Whooper arose sometime in the early 19th century when these forests had yet to be settled. The bounty of tall trees became a prime location to set up lumbering operations. Back then, you could find lumberjack camps set up all the way down the river. During the long winter months, the men working these forests were holed up in their camps. The stories they shared to pass the time lived on far after their work was complete.

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The Legends

Like most stories that have long been considered folklore, that of the Dungarvon Whooper has many different versions. Despite the differences, it’s the horrible wailing Whoops that they all have in common. Railwaymen claim the mighty wails of the Whooper come from a phantom locomotive that was lost during the Great Miramichi Fire in 1825. Despite the raging flames, the crew persisted and rode the train through the fire. They were never found, but the screaming sound of the steam engine is said to still ring through the forest. What was once a nightly passenger train soon became a small part of the Whooper legend.

The version of the tale most often told around New Brunswick is that of a young Irish cook by the name of Ryan. Some stories describe him as a dark curly-haired lad with quite handsome features and he is sometimes given the surname Garvon. Ryan was hired to work as a cook in one of the many logging camps along the river after his arrival from Ireland.

Dungarvon River at "The Jaws", 1988, CC BY-SA 3.0

It was deep into the frigid winter when Ryan arrived with only his small money belt tied around his waist. He made it obvious to the men at the camp that although small, the belt was full to the brim with his life savings yet he never revealed the source of his riches. The loggers took a liking to the boy, as he always worked hard and served them many warm and delicious meals. His ability to whoop and holler louder than all the men never went unnoticed and was of much value amongst those working in the deep woods. 

One unfortunate morning after Ryan had prepared breakfast and let out one of his mighty Whoops to wake the woodsmen, Ryan was left alone at the camp to continue his day’s work. Sometime later, the camp boss came by and spotted the belt around Ryan’s waist. 

When the woodsmen finally returned from their long day of logging, they arrived at the camp to find the boss standing over Ryan’s lifeless body. The money belt was nowhere to be seen. The only explanation the boss could muster up, regarding the now-dead Ryan, was that he had taken sick and fallen over dead before he could offer any help. Fearing what might happen if they questioned further, the woodsmen quietly carried Ryan’s body off into the woods to give their friend a proper burial. On their way back to camp a storm struck them and it began to rain. As the eye of the storm hovered over top of the camp that night, a dreadful whooping sound deafened the ears of the men. It was as if there was someone out there in the dark screaming bloody murder until the sun rose the next day. When morning came, they packed up their camp and left, never to return.

Wood Carving of Ryan in Blackville, New Brunswick (Frying Pan Missing)

The Whooper Legacy

According to those that work in the logging industry along the river, the whoops and wails are still heard to this day. Some stories claim a priest by the name of Father Murdock had once tried to quiet the spirit by blessing the land where Ryan met his fate – but it seems that the holy words had no effect on the tortured soul. 

Lumberjacks who work along the river warn of the smell of frying bacon that wafts through the forest and fear that it’s Ryan’s spirit attempting to lure his murderer out into the deep woods. Not to mention the many accounts of other folks who have heard the wails for themselves. It seems to only happen around sundown and the sound echoes from different locations along the river’s shore. 

More recently, an updated version of the whooper legend has been making its rounds online. A young lumberjack who was new to the job had been strolling through the Dungarvon Woods when he came across an area that had been dug out. He figured a wolf or coyote had been by recently and dug into the ground. Curious, he brushed back the fallen leaves and to his shock revealed what seemed to be human remains. Believing they could possibly belong to Ryan of the Whooper legend, the lumberjack called for a priest to bless the bones. The spirit instead awoke with such ferociousness that the wailing screams scared both the lumberjack and the priest out of the woods.

In 1912, Michael Whelan wrote a song about The Dungarvon Whooper. Here is a more recent telling of the story by New Brunswick’s Josh Peters & True Grit.

It would be easy to brush off the wailing sound of the Whooper as a timber wolf, coyote, or one of the many other animals that call the Dungarvon Woods home. Yet the ghost story itself is what draws people in and through those that believe something else lurks out there, the legend lives on. Regardless, I know I’ll forever be chilled when I hear strange sounds coming from deep within the woods. Have you been strolling through the Dungarvon Woods and encountered anything unusual? Have you heard the howls of the Whooper yourself? We would love to hear about your experience, our inbox is always open.