The 5 Fishermen Restaurant is housed in a building that was originally constructed as a schoolhouse in 1817. Across the street is St Paul’s Anglican Church, the oldest building in Halifax, built in 1750, the year after Halifax was founded.
History of 5 Fishermen
The building then changed hands to its new proprietor, Anna Leonowens. Her purpose was to start up an Art school, thus the Halifax Victorian School of Art was born. Anna was a verbose and overbearing character well known not just in Halifax, but also in other places in the world. Before coming to Halifax, Anna was the governess to the children of the King of Siam, an experience she would later write a book about called “Anna and the King of Siam”. That book would be translated into a Broadway musical, an Academy Award winning movie and many other versions of “The King and I”. Eventually the art school moved to a new location and became the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. Among the many distinguished artists on staff was the late Arthur Lismer, of the Group of Seven fame.
It wasn’t long after Anna left the building that it was taken over by the Snow family. Snow and Sons would enjoy a bustling business running a mortuary. John Snow & Co. Funeral Home would play a significant part in two of the world’s greatest disasters.
The local paper has run a picture on the anniversary of the explosion of this building with rows and rows of coffins lined up outside.
The Argyle street building enjoyed many other uses over the years, including a warehouse, but more recently it has been refurbished and restored and in 1975, opened its doors as the 5 Fishermen, operating since that time as a fine seafood restaurant, known for its great seafood, friendly, courteous staff and its rich history. It is because of this history that the building – they say – exhibits some odd signatures, some albeit of a nether worldly sort. Ask anyone who has worked there and they’re sure to have a story or two.
Many of the staff of the 5 Fishermen Restaurant are so used to odd occurrences that they wouldn’t even bat an eye when a glass flies off a shelf with no one near, or when cutlery on a table shifts then falls to the floor by itself. There are many sinks in this building, and with so many sinks come many taps… taps that like to turn themselves on and off with no human assistance. One server related a story about being there late at night and he was sure he was the only one left in the dining room. As he was checking the lights near the salad bar, he heard someone go through the swinging doors leading down into the kitchen. He turned quickly enough to see the doors swing shut, but on further inspection, he could find no other human presence.
Another waitress tells of being there late at night. As she nears the grand stairwell that leads down to the Maitre’d stand, she sees a gray apparition, a fog-like mass moving down the staircase… she chose not to linger.
Many staff members can relate to you the feeling of passing through cold air pockets on the warmest of nights, or the sensation of what it feels like to have a spirit move through you. Nor is it uncommon to hear voices, especially your name being whispered or even called out when there’s no one else around.
In the middle of one busy night, a server was using the credit card machine when he felt a tap on his shoulder, trying to finish what he was doing before turning to respond he felt a second tap… “Whaaat!” he turned, impatiently, to find no one there.
In behind the salad bar, the 5 Fishermen has a private room (The Captain’s Quarters), commonly referred to as the P.R. by the staff who work there. One night, after all the customers had left, a waiter passed the PR and heard two people arguing, the voices of a man and a woman he says. When he went to investigate the commotion, the voices stopped – the Captain’s Quarters was empty. On another occasion a server, the last in the building, was locking the doors and turning out the lights. When she approached the PR, she noticed someone enter it. Relieved that she had not locked the sole remaining customer into the building for the night, she entered the Captain’s Quarters and checked it thoroughly, but found the room empty… how odd considering that the entrance is the only exit!
One day in the middle of the summer, on a sunny afternoon it fell to this certain young fellow the task of setting up the salad bar. He would arrive at 3:00 in the afternoon. The salad bar items were brought from the floor above on four large trays, through the swinging doors, around the bar to the salad bar area. On one of his passes he heard a loud crash, but because his hands were full, he could do nothing about it. Upon returning for the next load, he decided to investigate the noise he had heard. When he looked around the corner of the bar, he found several pieces of an ashtray on the floor. He bent down to retrieve the pieces and when he stood up he was looking directly into a mirror, and in the mirror he could see the reflection of an old man, walking away from him down the aisle. He was tall with long gray hair and was wearing a long black coat that seemed to be from another time. Startled, for he was sure he was the only person in the restaurant, he turned to see who this could be but there was no one there. When he turned back to the mirror, the image had disappeared. Thinking his eyes were playing tricks on him, the brave young fellow shrugged and returned to his duties.
Several years later, the assistant manager was having a conversation with a customer on the phone at the station across from the salad bar. Again it was 3:00 in the afternoon and he was the only one in the dining room. At one point he saw an elderly man standing on the landing below. “Excuse me sir, I’ll be right with you.” After he finished his conversation he went to see how he could help this gentleman but couldn’t find him anywhere. He wasn’t on the landing, and he wasn’t in the foyer below. He checked the doors, and they were locked so there was no way anyone could get in. Later on that evening he described this odd experience to some of his fellow staff members, one of whom was the same young fellow who was setting up the salad bar several years before. “Was he an older gentleman with long gray hair, and was wearing a long black coat, like an outdated greatcoat?” Apparently they had both encountered the same apparition!
It was late one night as another server was resetting her section, looking forward to going home. Suddenly she heard a loud tapping coming from behind her. When she looked around she couldn’t establish where it was coming from, so she returned to her work. Again she heard the tapping, this time she surmised that it was coming from the window across the room. As the restaurant is high on the second floor, she found this to be very odd and slightly disconcerting. She went to investigate, and as she approached the window she could see a misty gray shadow hovering outside the window. She hesitated but eventually gained the courage to continue forward. By the time she reached the glass pane, the image was gone.
Most of these occurrences seem to happen before the restaurant opens or after it closes when there are few people about, but not always. This final story took place in the middle of a busy night. A hostess was in the process of showing a young couple to their table, when she stopped at the salad bar to explain its offerings. Suddenly she felt a harsh brush against the side of her face, but when she glanced around she could detect no cause for it. She finished sitting the couple and upon returning to the hostess stand the Maitre’d asked, “What happened to your face?” There was a red handprint on her cheek as if she had been slapped, though if you ask her it was nothing so violent. In fact, the antics that have occurred at the 5 Fishermen Restaurant seem to be just that, mischievous, maybe, unable to ignore, but in the end harmless.
So the next time you’re at the 5 Fishermen Restaurant enjoying a wonderful evening of dining and you hear a crash, have no fear – no one will blame you…[/ls_toggle]