Paranormal Prairie Town
Nothing brings you closer together than a good scare, and some of the strange apparitions and spirits that haunt Winnipeg will ensure plenty of opportunities to cling tightly to each other. Climb on board the Haunted Historic Winnipeg tour bus and get ready to share that tingly sensation when the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and you feel goose bumps all over your arms—get close to the ghosts of Winnipeg and to each other.
I decided to sneak onto this tour and scare myself silly firsthand. Before embarking from the VIA Rail Station at Main and Broadway, I calmed my nerves for the chills ahead at Eat! Bistro, just a few blocks away on Fort Street. The crab cakes and delicious dips were just the right start to an evening of ghost hunting.
The lady in white
I hear voices echoing under the giant dome of Union Station. Clearly some of them are our fellow travellers on the tour, but is there a hint of something else? At one time, this station was the first stop for anyone moving to our province, so this building may still embody the spirits of all the early Manitobans. Perhaps those voices are a hint of the ghosts that once passed through here on their way to settle our new land.
Or perhaps it is the voice of the phantom elevator operator that always takes passengers down to the basement. Glance up at the balcony that surrounds the foyer and you may catch a glimpse of the ‘lady in white' as she slips through the station, searching for the unknown person or object that can bring her the peace she seeks before passing over to her eternal resting place.
On the bus, you and your partner can cuddle together in the cosy back row, as your tour guide tantalizes you with spirited tales of strange phenomena and sightings that could only stem from the supernatural. As you pass the Fortune Block, there is the story of the mysterious index finger that perhaps plagued former tenants of the block, until they properly disposed of the finger, and all sense of discomfort was dispelled.
Further along, listen carefully as you pass the Winnipeg Archives Building. You may hear the strains of a Mozart concerto trapped in the limestone from the long ago days when the building was known as the Civic Auditorium, and the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra played there. But this is just the prelude to your next stop, the Vaughn Street Jail, former home of murderers, pickpockets and thieves, right across the street.
As you disembark from the bus to cross Memorial Boulevard and approach the jail, keep a watchful eye on the second floor windows. I keep my camera at the ready, watching the windows, snapping pictures as quickly as I can, hoping to capture some of the strange orbs and spirits that have been seen here. Maybe I'll be lucky enough to catch something to enter the photo contest. Could that be another mysterious lady in white passing through? Could she be the former matron of the jail, still looking out for the spirits of her former charges? Or it is simply a trick of the light from the setting sun reflecting off the glass?
The ghost nun
Back on the bus you pass by the Roslyn Block, whose labyrinthine interior may still hold the spirits of former residents yearning to find an escape. No time to enter the block, because you might never find your way out, and you move on past the Fortune Mansion on Wellington Crescent. What powers does this building possess, that caused its owner to book passage on the fateful voyage of the Titanic in 1912? Though he met a watery death in the Atlantic almost a century ago, he may still be haunting the stately home, in a vain attempt to reunite with his family who survived the disaster.
A block away, you pass the venerable learning institution St. Mary's Academy, where many mysterious sightings have been reported, but none so strange as the ghost nun in full habit who still appears in the school, long after her contemporaries have adopted more modern dress.
Hamilton House on Henderson Highway is the sight of some of Winnipeg's most noted ghostly phenomena, with regularly scheduled séances, table tippings and communicating with the dead. I remember this place—didn't Sir Arthur Conan Doyle participate in a séance here? Or maybe it was just his spirit that appeared. But you proceed on to Elmwood Cemetery and a chance to connect with the spirits there.
You may notice a definite chill in the air as you descend from the bus to conduct some ‘experiments' in the cemetery. The wind whistles through the branches of the large elms, the shadows darken, and your senses become more heightened as you anticipate communicating with the spirits that have resided here for a century or longer.
You and your partner clutch each other as you approach the carved stone cherub that oversees the grave of young Joseph, who died before his third birthday in the early years of the 20th century. Why is his graveside covered with toys? Is he feeling restless tonight? Your guide holds the dowsing rods and asks Joseph if he is present tonight. If you are feeling adventurous, you may decide to take the dowsing rods yourself as you try to make contact with the spirit of this young boy whose cause of death and family background still remain a mystery. As you hold the rods, does it feel like a powerful energy is entering your hands? Is Joseph trying to tell you something? I'm glad I have my camera for this. How do they make those rods move? It can't be just a trick!
The phantom bride
You head back to the bus for the final stop on the tour, the Fort Garry Hotel, just a block from the Union Station where you began your exploration of the ghosts and strange phenomena of Winnipeg's past. Inside the front lobby of the hotel, to your left, is the Broadway Room, where many guests have reported sighting the Phantom Diner, happily feasting on the sumptuous Fort Garry brunch. He has been known to speak with other guests, but grows strangely silent when asked if he will pick up the cheque.
After your night of ghost hunting, stop in for some spirits of a different sort at The Keg down the street or for a nightcap in the Palm Court at the Fort Garry Hotel. If you are feeling particularly adventurous, you may decide to stay for the night. Put on a brave face and ask for Room 202. But be wary of another lady in white, otherwise known as The Phantom Bride, who is said to roam the elegant halls even now, though it has been decades since she purportedly fell to her death on her wedding day in the midst of an altercation with the father of her new groom. It is rumoured that the prospective father-in-law did not approve of the match, so it is not known whether this lady in white is seeking revenge or simply hoping to be reunited with her husband.
Dare to dig deeper
If the night has only whetted your appetite to dig a little deeper into the paranormal side of the city, sign up for the Haunted Winnipeg Investigates Bus Tour—your chance for some hands-on research into mysterious lights and orbs and other phenomena. For the very daring, you may choose the Haunted Winnipeg Vigil at St. Boniface Museum, a more intense search into the spirit world, using dowsing rods, table tipping and other techniques to communicate with the other side. And don't forget your camera on any of these tours. You may just capture an image of an orb or apparition that could win you a famous brunch for two at the Fort Garry Hotel.