The Ghost Lights of Woodridge
JASMINE VAN GERWEN, MyToba.ca
Woodridge, Man., is a beautiful destination tucked away in the forest, about one hour Southeast of Winnipeg.
A town like no other, Woodridge is surrounded by lush trees, tons of sand and literally millions of blueberries. It is known as quad country in the summer, and has excellent snowmobile trails in the winter. Aside from some close calls with forest fires, it is also a town known for its haunted history.
Woodridge developed as a logging town around the turn of the 20th century, alongside the main CPR line. The population increased as families grew, and so did the mystery shrouded deep in the woods.
The town is renowned for the ‘Ghost Lights’ of Woodridge, a tale that was published in the papers back in the 1970s. It is also documented in a published book called Ghost Stories of Manitoba by Barbara Smith. However, the explanation given in the book isn’t the one I was told as a child, in 1979, by my grandfather.
My grandfather was born in 1905. He told me how the menfolk in and around town would wander to the town hall every weekend to drink. Back in the roaring ‘20s, before prohibition took hold, there were no street lights, just handheld kerosene lanterns the men used to guide their way through the pitch blackness of the night.
A resident named Joe, known as the town lush, lived farther down the rail line and would walk down the tracks – as many townsfolk did – to come into town. He made a weekly appearance to have drinks and stumble home along the tracks with his lantern.
But one time, Joe didn’t make it home. When they found him on the tracks the next day, halfway between Woodridge and his house in the woods, he was minus a head.
The local residents figured Joe must have stumbled along the tracks in his inebriated state, fallen and hit his head. Back in those days it was a busy main rail line, and with a locomotive travelling at night, there would be no way to spot something – or someone – lying on the tracks in time to stop. One of the many nighttime trains must have decapitated poor Joe. Where his head ended up was a mystery; it was very plausible that a wild animal could have dragged it off into the bush.
After that, the menfolk still gathered at the town hall for weekend spirits and camaraderie. As they did before the accident, my grandfather and his logging buddy would stand at the edge of town and wait for a third friend, travelling by foot, to join them. One night, as they were waiting, they saw the light of John’s lantern coming toward them in the dark. But as it got closer, they realized there were no footsteps.
Once the light was more visible, it became clear that it wasn’t John – or his lantern – at all. Instead, it was a glowing orb that seemed to float within five feet of the two men. They had never witnessed such an odd thing and stood frozen with fear until the pulsating ghost light drifted off into the distance.
It is said that the orb, which has been seen off and on over the decades, is Joe’s decapitated head searching for its body.