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TATAMAGOUCHE - When Mathieu Giguere looked across Tatamagouche Bay in mid-January and saw a brightly lit ship it didn't seem like anything out of the ordinary.
The 17-year-old was used to viewing late night harbour cruises on the St. Lawrence River near his home in Sorel-Tracy, Quebec but soon he realized the bay was blocked by ice causing him to question what he was staring at.
"It was bright white and gold and looked like a schooner with three masts, like the Bluenose," he said.
"I was like, 'that's cool to see a ship here.'"
Giguere is participating in a Katimavik program in Tatamagouche and was taking advantage of an unscheduled night to work out at the Shapen-Up fitness centre in the Byer's Building on Main Street when he stepped outside for fresh air around 10 p.m. noticing the glowing ship.
He called out to another Katimavik participant to come see the ship in the harbour but she continued with her workout, leaving Giguere to admire the sight on his own.
He watched the glowing ship for several minutes then returned inside to finish his workout and when he left the building around 11 p.m. it had disappeared, a feat he thought impossible because of its size and the ice in Tatamagouche Bay.
One of the province's most famous ghost stories tells the tale of a Phantom Ship that has appeared periodically in the Northumberland Strait since the 1700s.
Some people who have witnessed the phenomenon say it resembles a three-masted square rigger that is glowing with fire and a few believe they have seen people jumping from its decks to escape a tragic end.
Before arriving in the small rural village, the teenager said he had never heard of the legend and it wasn't until he was billeting with local historian Dale Swan who shared a wealth of local history with the young man that he understood what he saw.
"I was like, 'oh wait, that is actually what I saw' and we talked more and more about it," said Giguere.
"Sometimes people are afraid to tell things like that because people will react badly, people can think what they want, I know what I saw."
Swan said the young man was genuinely surprised to hear the local folklore.
"All of a sudden it was the expression on his face as I talked," said Swan.
"No mention was made by me of how many masts were on it.
"He was animated when he was telling me about seeing it."
Swan is convinced Giguere knew nothing of the Phantom Ship legend before their conversation.
Tatamagouche artist Barb Gregory captured the Phantom Ship on canvass in 1991, an image she developed by researching documented sightings of the local legend.
Around the same time she opened the Phantom Ship Art Gallery in Bay Head, dozens of people who witnessed the burning ship shared their first-hand accounts
"Basically they are all interconnected and one doesn't contradict the other," she said.
Gregory said the Phantom Ship has been seen at varying times throughout the year and in all seasons by people of all ages.
The visiting teenager isn't the only person who has sighted the ghostly vessel in recent months.
Tatamagouche Mountain resident Melvin Langille is convinced he saw it one evening in October while star gazing out across the bay.
"I saw this ball of flame above the horizon.
"At first I thought it was a light on land then realized it was over the water," said Langille.
"I believe in all that stuff and I don't know what else it would be."

Geographic location: Tatamagouche Bay, St. Lawrence River, Quebec Bay Head Tatamagouche Mountain

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