Last year, Editor Mark rode his Harley to Port Perry to research this story, which we published for Halloween. Last Thursday, at the annual awards banquet of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC), Mark was recognized with the 2018 Feature Writing Award presented by Subaru Canada, for this story. We’re proud to republish it today, and maybe it will give you shivers all over again…
Sometime in 1968 – or maybe it was 1958, but a long time ago – a motorcyclist rode his bike down The Mississauga’s Trail on Scugog Island, near Port Perry, Ontario. He rode too fast and the end of the road came up too quickly. He tried to brake but lost control and was thrown from the bike and into a wire fence, which sliced off his head. Or maybe he was thrown against the rock at the corner of the junction. Or both. Something like that, anyway.
Whatever happened, his spirit doesn’t rest. If you go to the road at night, strange things are known to happen. You might see the light of his motorcycle coming toward you on the road, passing at great speed, and the red taillight disappearing into the darkness. If you’re in a parked car, you might feel the vehicle shake as if rocked by phantom hands. If you’re brave enough to get out of the car, or if you’re on a motorcycle yourself, open to the night, you might hear a voice in the woods, calling to you from another dimension.
Cool! So I went to the road, to the rock, on my motorcycle, long after dusk. This is the story of what happened next.
Daylight: not so scary yet
Maybe I’m not the best person for a journey to the paranormal, because I don’t believe in ghosts and I don’t have much of a sixth sense. The spirits of the entire slaughtered Fifth Cavalry could be standing right there, on their spirit horses, and I’d probably never notice. But maybe that makes me the best person for this, too. If there really is a Ghost Rider on the Ghost Road, and I witness the presence, then it’s gotta be true.
I live about an hour from Scugog Island but never had reason to venture north of Hwy. 7A, which crosses the island’s southern tip on a causeway and links Port Perry to Peterborough. In fact, the island is not really an island at all but a 12-kilometre spit that sticks out into Lake Scugog. Much of it is native land and there’s a casino there now, which is about the only attraction for non-residents to visit. Off the main road, it gets fairly remote. There are horse farms and lavender farms and some cottages along the waterfront, but little else.
My wife came with me on the Harley earlier this month. She was looking forward to a dinner out in Port Perry and agreed in return to hold the camera. It was a cool day and I made sure to bring extra clothing for her – it would surely be much colder after dark.
It’s not difficult to find the Ghost Road, which is well documented online here, among many other sites. Turn north from Hwy. 7A onto Island Road, ride past Head Road (now that’s ironic) and turn right onto Pine Point Road. Many others have been this way. TV crews have visited, and mediums and spiritualists and teenagers. Lots and lots of teenagers.
We found the rock pretty quickly, with a scattering of Tim Hortons detritus around it and an empty bottle of cheap white zinfandel. It’s been spray painted over the years with graffiti but there was nothing legible for us to see, save a crude, faded pentacle.
Apparently, if you park on the road after dark and wait for a while, you’ll see the ghostly headlight of the motorcycle approaching from the south, in the fields up over the rise. “I don’t know why, but there’s definitely something out there, a spirit of some kind,” a local resident told the Port Perry Star in 1988, quoted by Terry Boyle in his book Haunted Ontario Revisited.
“When we see the light coming towards us, he’s returning up the road to turn around, gather speed, and tear down the road and back into the field. I was standing on the road when this red light just simply went right by me about three feet away.”
The resident, Allene Kane, apparently asked a couple of psychics to visit and they agreed there was a presence there. They even decided it was a man in his early 20s who rode a motorcycle and had curly light brown hair and a gold-painted helmet. Quite how he managed the hair and helmet when he was headless is a matter for debate, but a third psychic went as far as to give the presence a name: Don or Dave Sweeney. Needless to say, there’s no official record of such an accident.
I knocked on some doors but couldn’t find Allene Kane. I did find Joy Coxworth at the honey farm just down the road, but she dismissed the story. “We moved here 10 years ago from Uxbridge but I’ve never seen anything,” she said. “My son would come out here when he was a teenager and hang out with his friends at the rock. At least it keeps the kids out of trouble – let them have their fun.”
We rode over to the horse farm that’s right on the corner and spoke with a woman tending the barn. “It’s all bunk,” she said, “but my friend says she’s seen things. Mind you, she’s bipolar and was probably just off her meds. The horses get spooked sometimes though – there are buffalo in the field opposite and sometimes they come to the edge of the woods and they’ve got those beady eyes and the horses don’t like them.”
And finally, I spoke with a nice lady who didn’t want her name published, but she used to own the horse farm and has lived there since 1955. “Bunk, bunk, bunk!” she said. “They came up here, the TV people, and they proved it’s just headlights on the roads down around Oshawa reflected off the lake. I’ve never seen any ghosts and I’ve never heard of anyone crash here on a motorcycle. It’s just a story to scare the teenagers.”
We shrugged and rode into town, for the dinner I’d promised my wife before we’d return after dark.
Dusk: night prepares to fall
Fair enough, but the story’s never been categorically disproved. According to Boyle in Haunted Ontario Revisited, “In August 1983, a ghost-hunting team gathered at the newspaper office in Port Perry armed with walkie-talkies, CBs, a camera with infra-red film, a high-powered flashlight and three vehicles. Part of the group, with walkie-talkies and CB radios, set up on the Ghost Road.
“The other members of the group drove up and down the West Quarter Line (to the south). Their headlights soon appeared on the Ghost Road as one light floating out of the night sky. Then they stopped, turned off the headlights and figured they had just put the phantom out of business.
“Then the radio started chattering. ‘Okay, we see your lights,’ said a voice on the Ghost Road.
“ ‘We don’t have our lights on,’ replied the group on the West Quarter Line.
“ ‘Well, we see the light.’ ”
Other researchers from a paranormal website visited several times and took photos, and discovered afterwards there were strange orbs on the images, floating near the heads of their researchers who were standing near the rock.
As recently as last April, a woman named Patti commented on another paranormal website that she visited with two friends and they heard voices talking and singing to them, including an old man telling them to get out. But another commenter on the site dismissed the ghost story. “The light you see is that of headlights from vehicles on roads more south down the island,” wrote Rosezilla, a local resident. “I have seen it probably nearly a hundred times. Still fun to scare your friends from out of town or those who believe it… Please don’t litter when you come, my dog and I are sick of picking it up.”
Night: a ghost on the road?
It was long after dark when we returned to the Ghost Road. My wife was in a grumpy mood – she was dressed in many layers and the look was less than flattering. I’d publish her photo here but I promised not to and it’s more than my life is worth.
We headed farther up the Island Road so we could ride down The Mississauga’s Trail from the north and watch for the light approaching from the south. There are woods and fields to each side of the hard-packed dirt road and the way is very dark. It’s a straightaway of barely a kilometre and we stopped half-way to turn out the lights and wait for Don or Dave Sweeney to show himself.
“Are we going to be here long?” asked my wife, not budging from the pillion.
“Dunno,” I replied, with conviction.
“I like this electric vest,” she said. “I think I want one for Christmas, as long as I don’t have to plug it into a motorcycle.”
“Okay,” I said, beginning to shiver, without the reassuring warmth of my electric vest to ward against the cold. I’ve only got the one.
Nothing happened. “Well, this is boring,” said my wife from the pillion.
She was right. There were no lights, no voices, no shaking. The chills I felt weren’t coming from any headless phantom. I started the engine and the Harley’s feeble light came back on and something small in the road ahead scuttled off into the ditch. We rode slowly to the T-junction at the end and parked beside the rock.
If truth be told, it was kind of eerie at the junction – supposedly the site of Don or Dave’s grisly demise. The city lights from Oshawa lit the sky to the south, and a long procession of trees on a farm driveway were silhouetted against the horizon. I tried to take a photo with my fancy Canon camera but it wouldn’t cooperate in the darkness – hmm. Photos worked better with my iPhone. Apple probably did a deal with the devil somewhere along the way.
We walked about and realized we’d never see a spooky headlight against the city light, and besides, my wife wanted to get back on the bike so she could plug in the vest. Again, nothing was happening. We climbed back on the Harley and pulled away onto Pine Point Road, headed for home.
After just a moment, a light appeared in the bike’s mirrors. It looked like just a single light – surely it couldn’t be another motorcycle on such a cold night? I slowed down to let the light catch up, but it held pace and then, suddenly, was gone.
There’s an easy explanation. It must have been a car in the distance behind, travelling up from the shoreline. A pair of headlights often blurs into one beam in the Harley’s mirrors when they shake in synch with the potato-potato rhythm of the engine. It must have turned north, where we’d just come from, up the Ghost Road.
“What is it? Why are you slowing down?” asked my wife, snug now on the pillion.
“I don’t know,” I said, and cracked the throttle to resume speed for the ride home. But maybe, just maybe, Don or Dave was returning behind us to turn around, gather speed one more time, and tear down the road on his never-ending date with destiny.