Different Seasons of Witches in Lanark County



Different Seasons (1982) is a collection of four Stephen King novellas with a more serious dramatic bent than the horror fiction for which King is famous. The four novellas are tied together via subtitles that relate to each of the four seasons. The collection is notable for having had three of its four novellas turned into Hollywood films, one of which, The Shawshank Redemption, was nominated for the 1994 Academy Award for Best Picture.

In July of 1995 Stephen King’s Different Seasons became the centre of a hot literary discussion in Lanark County. English heads of the local schools chose this collection of novellas to be the standard senior high school reading list partly on the basis of its  reluctant readers, and later the board of trustees voted to have it removed from the list. Unruffled by it all and maybe thrilled it was on a short banned list King offered free copies to all those who were interested. (Writing Horror and the Body- The Fiction of Stephen King etc.)

Why did they ban the books with supernatural content I asked myself?


Was it because some had remembered the stories of a forgotten feature of Lanark County that was once full of charms, divination and superstitions?  It has been said the folklore came over from the old countries and the goblins and faeries were still seen from time to time.

There were still the tales of children disappearing and substituting faeries in their place in the highlands. Some still thought there were folks that held mystical power  like  poor *Reverend Buchanan was allegedly charged with.  You had to watch your neighbour carefully as the evil eye to make crops shrivel up and cow’s milk dry up was still afoot. Some even tried to end quarrels by creating effigies of clay of their suspicious neighbours donned with pins and then placing it in a stream. If you did it correctly it was said to end the quarrel of all quarrels.

In 1823 ghosts and witches were reportedly still seen in Beckwith and supposedly interfering with maple sap, milk and crops. But the house gatherings continued if there was no local churches to ward off bad luck. The crozier, the holy Quigrich a relic of St. Fillan, which had spiritual and healing  had been dipped into the water of Andrew Dewar’s farm on the 8th concession in Beckwith. It still drew locals to obtain some of the holy water on Dewar’s Farm to remedy sick cattle. Bibles were supposed to be invested with magical powers and the settlers held a trial by ordeal and spun a bible to see who the culprit was in the community was. Farmers would hire strangers said to remove the bad charms or hexs on their cows.

In the 1840s and 1850s  The Carleton Place Herald launched an attack on the continuing belief of the supernatural in everyday life. Editor James Poole was horrified to learn the sheriff consulted The Witch of Plum Hollow on a murder case and made his point in the press.

But eventually superstition gave way to religion and the locals cast their many doubts on churches instead of hexes on cows. The Carleton Place Herald flip flopped from witches over to religion in a fight with the United Church of England and yes once again- Ireland. The paper tried feverishly to distance the Anglicans and the Presbyterians  and pit them against each other. Of course Carleton Place led the foray and one day in 1852 a group of Presbyterians threw a pig in one of the windows of the local Anglican Church.

There were no fewer places to worship there than three in the village: a stone building that was so run down God would certainly pass it over and not venture in the shattered windows and two wooden buildings that the doors were locked and the voice of prayer hushed. Carleton Place was described on Sundays with hardly a living creature seen except for the occasional pig. There were only two things to do on Sunday in town: go to church or enjoy the tales of *Napoleon Lavallee at his hotel who could keep you up to date with the Sciences and Arts and maybe Australian sheep.

Did you know that Carleton Place’s twin city Comrie in Scotland is just 15 miles from where the witches were  mentioned in Shakespeare’s Macbeth?

Scotland fully accepted the Christian witch theory so that when one witch was found, others were hunted out– so it is no surprise the Scots that emigrated here brought their superstitions. Prior to 1590, it seems that witchcraft was seen as a minor issue by those in power in Scotland.  Witches were accused of attempting to drown  King James by calling up a storm while he was at sea with his new wife. Other charges include trying to kill the wing by melting a wax effigy of him (note clay effigy in stream above). They were also accused of performing perverted rituals in a church in Berwick – though it is not clear what this had to do specifically with trying to kill the king. However, it did point the way to witchcraft and it is thought that over one hundred witches were actually put on trial. It is said that a large number were executed but there is accurate no figure for this. I can happily report that no witches in Lanark County were harmed–at least I think so. Your story might be better than mine:)


Witches. —Because we are deriving very little and in some cases no butter from our
travelling starved cows, many believe the cream is bewitched by a maliciously inclined
man or woman, supposed to receive power from the devil. It is astonishing how many Protestants, even church members,believe as strongly in superstition than they do in the Bible. We are inclined to ask what Protestant religion is doing when superstition is cultivated to such an alarming extent, W e must be getting back near the time when the witches were burned, and perhaps in our next we can give you the gratifying news of the capture and burning of this one.–Almonte Gazette Pakenham August 6 1880

The relic was actually a filigreed silver case which enclosed the original bronze head of St. Fillan’s staff of 750 AD, and it was here in Beckwith from 1818-1850. Son Alexander, the last Keeper, sold it to the National Museum of Antiquities in Edinburgh Scotland on 30 Dec 1876 for 700 dollars. Rumour was they needed the money, but I can’t even imagine having to part with something that was in the family that long.

With files from Beckwith by Glenn J. Lockwood and Lanark Legacy by Howard Morton Brown

Come and visit the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page– what’s there? Cool old photos–and lots of things interesting to read.

Information where you can buy all Linda Seccaspina’s books-You can also read Linda in Hometown News and now in The Townships Sun


*The Gnarled Beckwith Oak

What I Did on Beckwith Heritage Days – Alexander Stewart – Ballygiblin Heroe

Beckwith –Settlers — Sir Robert the Bruce— and Migrating Turtles

Crosier, known as The Coigrich, associated with St Fillan of Glendochart

The Dewar Plaque

The Witches of Rochester Street

Hocus Pocus –Necromancy at Fitch Bay

The Witch of Plum Hollow – Carleton Place Grandmother

The Witch Hollow of Lanark County

*The Napoleon of Carleton Place

About lindaseccaspina

Before she laid her fingers to a keyboard, Linda was a fashion designer, and then owned the eclectic store Flash Cadilac and Savannah Devilles in Ottawa on Rideau Street from 1976-1996. She also did clothing for various media and worked on “You Can’t do that on Television”. After writing for years about things that she cared about or pissed her off on American media she finally found her calling. She is a weekly columnist for the Sherbrooke Record and documents history every single day and has over 6500 blogs about Lanark County and Ottawa and an enormous weekly readership. Linda has published six books and is in her 4th year as a town councillor for Carleton Place. She believes in community and promoting business owners because she believes she can, so she does.

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