Membertou filmmaker shines light on Mi’kmaw ghost stories in new TV show

A Mi’kmaw filmmaker from Membertou First Nation is creating a television show about the unexplained and paranormal tales of Cape Breton.

Six years ago, Dawn Wells had nothing but a love of horror films, an iPhone and support from friends and family. Today she’s busy producing six episodes of her show Creepy Cape Breton for one of Canada’s biggest media companies.

“You don’t really see Mi’kmaq as part of ghost stories and legends,”  Wells said. “I think that’s something really interesting that people never really heard of.”

In 2017, Wells started uploading videos for fun to her Youtube channel, Cape Haunts Till Dawn Film Production. She also made other short films on ghost stories and the island’s legends. After being laid off from a job in radio due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she decided to go back to school and focus on film.

“I hope the show grows more because I didn’t think I’d be doing this,” Wells said. “It was a joke with my sisters at first, saying ‘it’d be cool if we could make horror films,'” Wells said. “And here I am now.”

It’s the perfect opportunity to broadcast stories she and other community members grew up with, she said, including examples of Mi’kmaq folklore like Kukwes (a Bigfoot-like creature), and even UFO sightings.

‘One day I’m going to work for her’

Donna Davies, an executive producer on the show who is based in Halifax, said the focus of the series on Mi’kmaw stories and Cape Breton’s landscape makes it unique.

“I’ve got every paranormal supernatural book out there,” Davies said. “I’ve never heard the versions of some of these stories that people are telling, with the perspective they have.”

women taking photo in the woods with cast and crew
Years of dedication and commitment will pay off this October on Dawn Wells new ‘Creepy Cape Breton’ series that explores the islands unexplained phenomena. (Dawn Wells)

Wells said she first heard of Davies while watching one of her productions years ago, and she said to herself: “One day I’m going to work for her.”

Wells said that making Creepy Cape Breton is a “game changer” for her career, recalling how she used to shoot, edit, and write all of her videos by herself. With the help of Davies, she was able to strike a deal with Bell Canada to produce the show for the company’s Fibe TV1 channel.

“It makes us all so happy to see someone that has true artistic skill and talent and taste listen and work with us,” Davies said. 

Wells said some of the stories have never been told outside of the community. The show is scheduled to be released in October, ahead of Halloween.

“Some of the episodes are from a skeptical view. But you never know, we try as best to be diverse and not do the same stories as everyone else. As a Mi’kmaq, I try to get more perspectives and interesting topics as best as I can.”

Wells said the show will also talk about superstitions unique to Membertou.

‘We’re keeping the culture alive’

“On the reserve, we have this old saying that if a dog howls at night, that’s a sign that someone within the community is going to die. And that’s something you don’t hear in other places,” Wells said. “It’s scary and bone chilling.”

It was essential to get Mi’kmaw elders involved to talk about their stories based on oral traditions or storytelling, she said, because if their voices aren’t heard or recorded, all of that knowledge will be lost.

“We’re keeping the culture alive with modern technology,” Wells said. “Back then, they had oral tradition. And that’s why I think it’s important to get as many elders who know anything about Mi’kmaw ghost stories because you can learn a lot from the past.”

She hopes the project will open new doors for more funding, access to a larger cast and crew and more runtime for her stories.

“What I learned from my journey is to not give up and keep doing what you’re doing if you’re enjoying it,” Wells said. “You’ll come face to face with a lot of things but don’t take no for an answer.”