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Doors swing open for ghosts of Winnipeg's past

Walking tours bring history to life during celebration of city landmarks

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/5/2015 (760 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

History buffs will get a chance to check out some old haunts during Doors Open Winnipeg this weekend.

The annual event, where dozens of historic landmarks welcome the public to tour places not always open to visitors, this year includes a Haunted History Walking Tour of downtown Winnipeg.


Dalnavert Museum was closed to the public in 2013 but will be reopened permanently following Doors Open.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Dalnavert Museum was closed to the public in 2013 but will be reopened permanently following Doors Open.


No drinks, but plenty of bars in the basement of the Vaughan Street Jail.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

No drinks, but plenty of bars in the basement of the Vaughan Street Jail.

The tour, led by Matthew Komus, author of the 2014 book Haunted Winnipeg: Ghost Stories from the Heart of the Continent, will visit three of downtown's oldest and spookiest places -- the Dalnavert Museum, the Manitoba Archives Building and the Vaughan Street Jail.

The 40-minute walking tour begins at the Dalnavert, at 61 Carlton St., which was built in 1895. It was the home of Hugh John Macdonald, Manitoba's premier in 1900 and the son of Canada's first prime minister, John A. Macdonald.

Komus is no ghostbuster who spends his nights hunting for paranormal events, he says. Instead, his book details the accounts and recollections of others who believe buildings like the Dalnavert are haunted.

"With Dalnavert, sometimes things are being heard, like footsteps when no one else is in the building or the old kitchen stove doors slamming," Komus says. "There's also a strong smell of tobacco smoke, even though there's hasn't been any smoking allowed in the building for decades now."

Doors Open Winnipeg offers visitors its first glimpse inside the Dalnavert since it was closed in September 2013. Tours of the house take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Next stop is the Manitoba Archives Building, at 200 Vaughan St. Formerly the Winnipeg Civic Auditorium, it has its own ghost stories amid the archives' collection of official documents and historic photographs.

"There are stories of people seeing a woman working, and books and papers being moved around, alarms going off and books flying off shelves," Komus says.

The Manitoba Archives is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

The tour's final stop is the Vaughan Street Jail at 444 York Ave., which was built in 1881 and is one of Doors Open Winnipeg's most popular tours. Stories of those housed in its dark prison cells should be scary enough for curious visitors, but some spooky sightings add to the building's mystique, says Komus.

"In terms of stories, at the Vaughan Street Jail people see a woman at the windows, even when the building is empty," says Komus, adding that it housed male and female inmates during its long history. "Sometimes strange smells there are picked up, including perfume or fresh-cut flowers."

The jail is open for tours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

The Haunted History Walking Tour begins at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. both days.

Ghosts of a different sort are part of another new walking tour for Doors Open Winnipeg in the Exchange District.

The Ghost Signs Walking Tour, led by Matt Cohen of the Advertising Association of Winnipeg, gives folks a chance to look up at the faded, but ever-present promotional signage that dots some of the city's oldest warehouses.

Before the days of vinyl billboards, and today's electronic signs, companies painted ads on buildings to catch the attention of passersby, Cohen says, nothing there are 125 of these vintage signs in the Exchange District remaining. Many of them were painted during the 1930s, but some of the signs in Winnipeg date back to the turn of the 20th century.

"There's one on the east side of Bannatyne, SX Canned Ham, which was painted in the 1950s," Cohen says of one of his favourite old advertisements in Winnipeg. "It's the full size of the building, a huge canned ham."

The 90-minute tour begins at Old Market Square at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. About 50 of those signs are part of the tour, Cohen says.

The association is also working on a website, ghostsigns.ca, that will provide maps and histories of the building signs.

Other walks that Doors Open Winnipeg is presenting this weekend:

 

  • Armstrong's Point Walking Tour -- self-guided tours begin at Cornish Public Library, 20 West Gate, 11 a.m.- 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
  •  Dalnavert Sneak Peek and Upper Fort Garry Walk -- tours begin at Dalnavert Museum, 61 Carlton St., 10 a.m.- 3 p.m. Saturday.
  • Downtown BIZ Walking Tour -- tours begin at 426 Portage Ave., led by Downtown Watch, noon Saturday and Sunday.
  •  West End BIZ Mural Tour -- tours begin at 581 Portage Ave., 11 a.m. Saturday. Call 204-954-7900 for an advance booking.

alan.small@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @AlanDSmall

Read more by Alan Small.

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