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Our spooky city

When ghost children started dancing, my skepticism flew out the window

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When I was a kid, I had an infinite curiosity for ghost stories. I remember staying up way past bedtime to watch scary movies on TV or reading Grimm's Ghost Stories by flashlight under the covers. They gave me goosebumps, yet I never felt afraid.

Then I became an adult.

These days, for whatever reason, I tend to avoid all things spooky. Horror films in the theatre? No way. Paranormal shows on television? Forget about it. Frightening fiction? Not a chance.

So I surprised myself recently by going on a haunted excursion. Muddy Waters Tours offers year-round outings that include three different "dark tourism" trips. Deciding it would be fun to be a tourist in my own city, I chose the Haunted Winnipeg Investigates bus tour -- a three-hour adventure for the "spirited" personality. Time to get my ghostbuster on.

Part of me was definitely skeptical that we'd actually encounter ghosts. As I gathered with 18 strangers at Union Station listening to host Kristen Verin-Treusch explain what we'd be doing, my skepticism held strong.

Our mission was to visit four Winnipeg locations suspected of being haunted and investigate using basic tools and techniques. It sounded like an exciting way to spend an evening, since I have a secret yearning to be a crime scene investigator -- kind of like Dexter, but minus the serial-killer-on-the-side part.

Here was my chance to play detective and I found myself thrilled by the chance to piece together some of our haunted history. I just hoped the ghosts would be friendly.

As Verin-Treusch talked about sensations we might feel during the evening, like dizziness, changes in temperature or even being touched, I also hoped they wouldn't be too friendly.

"Don't worry, we've never had a ghost follow someone home," she joked. This was good to know because I once had a dog follow me home, and it ended up staying for 16 years. I really didn't want another pet, especially one I couldn't see.

Verin-Treusch showed us the tools we'd be using: dowsing rods, pendulums, and K2 meters (machines that measure electromagnetic field activity). She also had an array of simple kids' toys and music on her phone. My skepticism was still strong, but I was willing to keep an open mind.

"Be sure to take lots and lots of pictures," Verin-Treusch advised, "because that's often how we see spirit activity."

Our first stop was the Manitoba Legislature, reputed to have a number of spirits roaming its hallowed marble halls.

We gathered in a circle in the brightly lit hallway of the building formally opened in 1920, and armed ourselves with ghost-hunting weapons. Er, tools. Verin-Treusch handed me the dowsing rods, gave out the K2 meters and pendulum, and placed some toys on the floor. Then she started asking questions, inquiring which spirits were present.

When she asked if the spirit was a woman, the lights on the K2 meter flickered to orange and red. Weird, but not enough to convince me yet. The dowsing rods also started moving, but I really couldn't tell if it was the lady ghost, or my lady nerves.

The next stop was St. Boniface Museum. Built for the Grey Nuns who arrived in the Red River Colony in 1844, this is Winnipeg's oldest building. It's also downright eerie, and with a history steeped in sickness, death, war, and religion, it had to be the ideal location for reaching out to the other side.

This time we gathered in the darkness, with only flashlights casting dim light on our tools. As Verin-Treusch asked her questions, the K2 started flickering. This time, we had connected with a child, or possibly children. Since little ghosts apparently like music, together we sang Frere Jacques. They seemed to like it somewhat, as both the pendulum and K2 slightly indicated.

The something chilling happened. Kristen put a children's song, called Promenons-nous dans les bois, on her speaker phone, put it on a small table in the middle of our circle, and informed the kids that if they liked the song they could dance. At that moment, the K2 lights went wild. I felt a chill down my spine.

At that moment, all my doubt flew out the window. I truly believed. My heart went out to the little ghost children who came to dance to our music in the middle of the dark museum.

Whoever they were and wherever they came from, I hoped they found some fun, and maybe even some peace, in our circle.

And as much as I love kids, I also hoped they wouldn't follow me home.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 28, 2012 A8

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