OPINION: Dabbling in witchcraft

George Mathewson

News that a Quebec man has been charged with falsely practicing witchcraft is a reminder that sorcery and black magic didn’t start and end in colonial Salem, Massachusetts.

In fact, one of the most spectacular cases of witchcraft in Canadian history involved a teacher from Lambton County, who was charged following a series of bizarre events that continue to perplex researchers to this day.

Last week, QMI news reported a man named Yacouba Fofana has been charged under an obscure anti-sorcery provision in the Criminal Code of Canada.

Working under the name Professor Alfoseny, Fofana ran ads calling himself a “clairvoyant medium” able to perform a range of personal services with “guaranteed results.”

Two Torontonians have also been charged in recent years under the witchcraft statute, which is designed to prevent fraud artists from bilking the gullible and vulnerable.

But much stranger were the allegations of witchcraft levied against Robert Baker, a schoolteacher from what’s now St. Clair Township in the year 1829.

That fall, the pioneer settlement of Baldoon, about 40 miles south of Sarnia, was plagued with a series of unexplained incident that history books refer to as the Baldoon Mystery.

Windows were repeatedly shot out, fires started up spontaneously and barn beams were suddenly dislodged at the farm of one John McDonald, a Scottish immigrant on the Chenail Ecarte.

Tramping feet were heard in the night, a baby’s cradle was violently rocked by an unseen hand and objects flew wildly about the farmhouse.

Over time the hauntings became more frequent, repetitive and witnessed by many people.

As word spread local tourists showed up, and they weren’t disappointed. One visitor named William Fleury described how, with 20 people witnessing it, a bedstead slid from side to side across the room and chairs moved with people seated on them.

“I also saw the pot of boiling water come off the fireplace, and sail about the room over our heads, and never spill a drop, and then return to its starting place,” he said.

Police constables were dispatched from Toronto and they too viewed the bizarre events but were unable to explain them.

Finally, early in 1830, suspicion fell on Robert Baker, who was a known dabbler in the occult. He was tried and convicted of practising witchcraft and sentenced to a year in London jail.

But the fires and floating objects continued, and the only resident of Sarnia-Lambton ever convicted of witchcraft appealed his sentence and was released.

As ghost stories go the Baldoon Mystery is a remarkable one for its depth of detail and documentation. Books have been written and theories abound, but what really happened at Baldoon 185 years ago has never fully been explained.