Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

It's no trick, this place is magic

Private museum keeps son's dream alive

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GIROUX -- How the heck did you do that? Gordon Hornan asked his budding magician son, Philip.

"Can you keep a secret, Dad?" Philip asked him.

Well, yeah, sure, said his father.

"So can I," Philip replied.

It would be a shame if Philip's Magical Paradise, the only magic museum in Western Canada, were a secret to many Manitobans. It's a delight for kids and grown-ups alike.

When Philip, the Hornans' youngest of four sons, was dying of cancer, he wrote a letter with the instruction that it only be opened after his death. He even sealed the envelope with Scotch Tape and wrote across the tape in such a way that he would know if anyone opened it.

The envelope contained individual notes to family members and other loved ones, telling them what made them special in Philip's eyes. There was also a request for Mom and Dad: Don't throw out his magic stuff!

Gordon and Marilyn did better than that. They turned the Giroux United Church, built in 1904, into a museum with a castle exterior, and called it Philip's Magical Paradise. There they keep Philip's magic and many other magic tricks and optical illusions, as well as artifacts donated by magicians from across North America.

None of this is new. The museum opened 18 years ago. What's amazing is the farm couple has kept the museum going -- and kept it fresh and fun with new tricks and added artifacts from across the magic world. That's another kind of magic.

"Why didn't it just peter out, you mean?" said Gordon, rephrasing the reporter's question.

Marilyn explains. "Philip's motto was, 'Keep the magic in life.' And that's what we carry on for him."

The museum is in the hamlet of Giroux on Highway 311, just before you get to Steinbach. Manitoba magicians perform there between 2-4 p.m on Sundays in July and August.

One section of the museum is dedicated to old padlocks and skeleton keys and even a collection of handcuffs. Picking locks was a big part of Philip's magic act.

"He loved nothing better than to go to any RCMP detachment and ask to be locked up," said Gordon. Then he would pick the lock and escape. It was even better if they would put him in handcuffs.

He did the trick at Stony Mountain Penitentiary, too. The penitentiary later donated the jail cell to the museum.

World famous escape artist Dean Gunnarson mentored Philip. They began to hang out together when they met after a performance by Dean at the Children's Hospital. (Philip would also perform magic in the hospital for other patients.)

They once travelled together from Winnipeg to Regina, and, as Marilyn tells it, "the boys had to stop at every police station and ask to be locked up. I just stayed in the car and read."

The parents kept two doves Philip used in his magic tricks. One dove was taught not to fly off his hand, to bow to the audience, and to give Philip a kiss. The dove continued to do those tricks years after Philip's passing.

"In our house, there was never a dull moment with Philip," said Gordon.

The museum is augmented with all kinds of trick displays and moving things. A giant rabbit pulls a magician out of a hat. A static ball makes your hair stand on end. There are moving dolls, like one of a boy performing the old saw-a-woman-in-half trick.

"That little guy is cutting his sister in half," quipped Gordon. "He's got a lot of half-sisters."

The leg-pulling by Gordon and Marilyn is part of the museum experience, too. They come across as the two most trustworthy people in the world. By the end of the visit, you may not believe a word they say.

"Hey, we have fun," said Marilyn.

"The fun of it is we get to meet so many people," said Gordon. "As they say, laughter is the best medicine."

There are showcase displays, like those donated by Dean Gunnarson -- including a barrel Gunnarson escaped from -- and some from the late Winnipeg magician Doug Henning. There's also a magic-themed gift store attached.

It's a private museum, so it's compact. Visitors can also bring lunch to a picnic grounds and shelter, with a playground, that's a half-block away.

Philip was spiritual, hence the museum's name. "He believed he was going to meet the greatest magicians of all, God and Jesus Christ. He called it the Magical Paradise," explained Marilyn.

Philip passed away in 1986, a little over two months after the road trip to Regina, at the age of 15.

Philip's Magical Paradise is open 7-9 p.m. Monday to Friday, and 1-6 p.m. on weekends. If neither Marilyn or Gordon are in, there will be a note saying to fetch them from two doors down, where they live. The season runs from mid-May to the end of September.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 7, 2009 A4

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