From the Archives: The story of Ethel Peake

From the archives brings you old news today. As time passes, the news we report on changes, as does the way we report on it. Conversely, we’ve been covering some of the same issues since 1872. As Halloween draws ever nearer, we reflect on the haunting legends of Ethel Peake. This story from 1972 investigates the ghost story, when its origin was still fresh in living memory.

Thurs. Oct. 14, 1972: vol. 100, issue 4.

Have you had the pleasure of meeting Peakie? Peakie is Mount Allison’s mystery figure. She is one of the better known personalities on campus. Many have heard of her but not many have had the distinction of meeting or seeing her. There have been many stories circulating about her. But like all rumours, where does the truth stop?

No one is quite sure of her exact “haunt” but she seems to wander around campus a lot and keeping with the usual ghost tradition, it is late at night when she walks. There have been tales of Peakie hitting certain music students if they are not playing their selections in the proper manner. One story even goes so far to say that she hit one male student in the face with a book and stitches were required. This however is probably a little exaggerated. From the type of person she was, Ethel Peake does not seem the sort to be a violent ghost. Judge for yourself what type you’d think she’d be, once you’ve read the following.

The “ghost” was at one time the Head of the Vocal Department here at Mount Allison. Her name was Ethel Peake although she was better known to her friends as “Peakie”. She came to Mount Allison after living in Germany and Toronto where she taught at the Toronto Conservatory of Music. Originally from England, she had performed there with many well-known English conductors. She was a very talented woman and loved to teach.

Miss Peake taught here at Mount Allison for approximately eighteen years and lived in Allison Hall which has been removed. She died one summer, in the early fifties, of a heart attack and was buried in Sackville.

She was a very temperamental, though kind, woman and has been described by Professor Crake, Head of the Classics Department, as “probably the most dominant person in the Conservatory.” Her personality was so forceful and vibrant that many people, including her students, were in awe of her. Although her entire life was wrapped up in her pupils and she would help them in any way she could, she would not tolerate sloppiness and laziness in any form and always demanded perfection. One of her favourite pastimes was in mimicking people and according to Professor Allison Patterson of the Music Department, who was a great friend of hers, she was excellent at this feat.

Not only was she striking in her character but in appearance also Miss Peake was a huge woman of six feet and weighed a little over two hundred pounds. Her hair was snow-white, contrasting with dark eyebrows and large, dark eyes. She possessed a deep voice and often people were frightened by her appearance. Professor Patterson says that in his first glimpse of her “she sailed down the stairs like a big queen.” To add to her striking appearance, she did not wear fashionable clothes, but ones which she felt suited her and were usually hopelessly out-of-date.

When asked about the validity of the ghost stories, Professor Patterson stated that many times he has been in the Conservatory at night and has not yet seen the ghost. However he did have rather a strange story to relate. It seems that at Miss Peake’s funeral, Professor Patterson was accompanying the choir on the organ, when suddenly he heard a voice singing two octaves above the normal voice range. Later to verify that it was not just his imagination and nerves, he questioned several members of the congregation, who said that they, too, had heard it. No explanation has yet been offered.

If there is a ghost, it seems that Miss Peake would be the most likely candidate for the part, with her unique and powerful character. Another factor supporting this assumption is that she possessed an uncanny insight of people, similar to ESP. Professor Patterson said that many a time she took an immediate dislike to a person and studiously avoided them.

Because she was the character she was, many of her friends still find it hard to believe that she is gone and her presence is still felt among them. The first rumours of the ghost being sighted in the old Conservatory were started by the nightwatchman who had probably been frightened of her when she was living. Was it just her forceful presence he felt that night so many years ago, or was her ghost really walking and if so, is she still walking now?

Pam Philips