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It is the summer of 1954, and Susan is on top of the world. The excitement of travelling to a world renowned art school is overwhelming. She has no idea of the extent of what is in store for her, as she quickly takes her wooden suitcase from her father’s hand and briefly kisses her mother’s cheek. Mother tries to hold on temporarily, but Susan is off in a whirl of crinolines and bobby socks.
Susan waves from her window and watches her parents disappear, as the train pulls away from the station. Houses rush by, and quickly they give way to fields and the occasional rail crossing. Susan checks her supply of paint brushes and paints for the fourth time. They are a little worse for wear she fears. Every cent went into her ticket and boarding pass, in lieu of a new set of artist tools. Just to think, she will be able to study alongside some of Canada’s great painters such as Frederick Varley and A.Y. Jackson. Perhaps she will even meet Casson; anticipation sweeps over her. It is hard to sit still when she really wants to scream with joy at the top of her lungs; she checks her art supplies again instead.
Eventually a voice echoes through the train: “Doon Village Station next stop.” Susan’s stomach tightens, and for the first time she feels nervous. The train comes to a stop, and people bustle their way toward the exit. Carried with the crowd, Susan suddenly feels apprehensive. People are greeted briefly by acquaintances and walk away together. Some people head off to The Red Lion Inn, a tavern across the laneway. Alone she stands on a platform in the middle of nowhere. To the left of the platform a gravel road disappears around the bend; to the right there is a small cottage. Susan starts off toward the right and passes by the cottage. She notices lights appear in the little windows as dusk nears.
Before too long she comes to a great river. A path winds south along the flowing water. She’s uncertain. She should have asked at the tavern across from the rail station. The sky is slowly filling with reds and purples, as the sun sets. She can see a chicken coop and a mill to the west, so she ventures over the creaky one lane bridge, past a small dark lake and rushing stream. The lane is filled with shadows and a canopy of thick trees overhead. A strange breeze blows around Susan’s skirts. She now wishes she had accepted her father’s offer to accompany her to the school.
The narrow lane abruptly opens and perched on a hill is a large Gothic style house. There
are gabled windows set high atop the copper roof dormers, and a great stair case stands before her. She slowly climbs the wooden stairs to the impressive porch, and pushes against the heavy wood door.
“Welcome! Welcome! Come along then, don’t dawdle now. If you find Bess Hamilton, she’ll give you an itinerary. Otherwise just find a cabin and a bunk and settle in. Everyone is gathering in the Coach House around the stone fireplace for a critique before a late dinner,” explains the woman as her long skirt rustles around her ankles. Her stiff high collared blouse and hair tied up in a bun at the back of her head, gives Susan the impression this woman runs a tight ship. The woman holds open the garden door for Susan. Susan steps out onto the grounds where she sees artists laughing and joking together. Some carry their completed canvases, as they head from the cabins to the small Coach House at the far end of the property. “Hurry along now you don’t want to miss anything!” insists the woman. Susan suddenly feels at home. Any apprehension vanishes. This is where she is going to have the experience of a life time: immersed in art and culture. This is where she can let her creative spirit soar! Susan turns to thank the women in the long dress, high collar and bun, but she is nowhere to be seen. A small light appears in the top dormer near the back of the house. “She must have gone back to her room,” Susan concludes. Later, at the critique, Susan finds that she has just met Phoebe, the Doon School of Fine Arts resident ghost.
Phoebe can still be seen helping people find their way even today. The latest sighting of Phoebe was roaming the grounds this summer; however, we often suspect Phoebe of helping staff and guests on a regular basis. When they cannot find something, or if they need help with research, it suddenly shows up without explanation! And now and again guests, roaming the gardens at night after the museum has closed for the day and been locked securely, will claim to see a light appear in what use to be Phoebe’s room: the small dormer at the back of the house.