Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Something strange in the neighbourhood... Who ya gonna call?

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Winnipeg has a ghostbuster unit.

Granted it's not in a warehouse, with a white Ecto-1 parked out front. Instead, it's a fancy brick Victorian style shop on the riverbank at 310 Nairn Avenue.

The talents claimed by the Soul Medicine Psychic Shoppe's consortium of 16 psychics range from tarot and tea leaf reading to communicating with the dead, and getting trouble-making ghosts to shuffle off.

"I like to think of us as a connection point between the living and the deceased," says Bernice Bisson, a 24-year reader and practicing medium. On the main floor Bisson and cohorts have built three exotic silk- and satin-tented reading rooms, a salon with a fireplace for group vigils and psychic experiments and a gift shop with 120 varieties of tea plus crystals, books, exotic tarot cards and spell boxes with labels such as Win in Court and Attract a Lover.

Bisson said she had visualized the centre in detail for about 10 years, and thought she would open it in Kenora by the water after she retired. But one day she happened to be driving toward Nairn Avenue. "I was crying at the time. I had lost everything -- eight people died in one year and my marriage was ending." I pulled up at the red light and had to look at the building. I immediately knew it was my place to be!" She signed the lease and had it open in 30 days. She only had half the bottom floor at that time -- one reading room, but now she and her fellow psychics lease and will use the entire two-storey building.

The social services worker recently teamed up with Chantal Roy, who will be managing the old English tea leaf and tarot reading restaurant for high and low tea upstairs this fall. Ye Olde Tea Shop has antique stained glass windows and a river view.

The pyschic shop stands on prime riverside land near the Louise Bridge originally owned by the Hudson Bay Company. Though it's covered with decorative brick, the original two-storey building is underneath. It managed to stay standing when the unpopular Riverview Hotel (first liquor licence in the neighborhood) burned to the ground in 1918, killing four people. Two other buldings also survived from the era: the handsome, pillared bank building across the street and the LaSalle Hotel, built in 1906.

Bisson claims six friendly ghosts live within the refurbished building, formerly a grouping of shops such as a pharmacy, dry goods store, and butcher shop. "After the fire, it became a bicycle shop." The most recently-deceased visitor to their shop, says Bisson, is a man who used to work on the MS River Rouge, which used to dock there. She says the psychics can sense him coming into the room by the "manly smell" that precedes him. "He likes to come and feed the birds and he demands to see 'that voodoo lady.'"

Other ghosts who hang out in the shop include a young woman named Lana, who escaped the fire but perished when she went plunging back in to get the $800 she had saved to travel to meet her fiancé. "There's also a man with dark hair and a comb-shaped mustache called O'Connell, who owned the Riverview Hotel and rescued his family of eight -- and then died two weeks later, of tonsilitis," says Bisson.

Then there's The Bickersons -- Harry and his nattering wife Mary.The couple still can't get along for five minutes, so they stay in opposite sides of "their" old shop, now shared with the Soul Medicine gang. Finally, Bisson says, a six year old young boy makes his presence known by turning on the water taps and flicking water around the room from the fountain.

While everybody does psychic readings of some kind, they all have specialties. Julie Thompson does psychometry, where people can bring her clothing, photos and objects and she get messages from them. She is one of several psychics in the group who work with families of missing children.

Bonnie Chilton, who's been been reading for "more than 30 years" (people may know her from Catfish Restaurant in Selkirk) says she originally wanted to be a counsellor. "It's natural for me to speak with people and I feel empathy, as soon as I lay the cards down." She says the words come through her and she doesn't remember what she's said after she's done a reading with a client and answered questions. Alan Tocker, a carpenter by trade and the only male psychic, says "I've been a medium for 15 years. I do paranormal investigations and home clensings." No, that does not mean he's going to vacuum. He will, however, remove unwanted ghostly roommates.

People who want a group experience gather every second Saturday for "spirit message" nights, bringing objects from deceased loved ones. During seances, which happen once a month, several psychics from the group "work with spirit through table-tipping and spirit-of-the-glass sessions, which is much like a Ouija board," says Bisson.

While I sat in the vigil salon, there was a little machine that looked like a remote control sitting on the table. It allegedly gathers energy in the room and spits out words. The word "BAD" popped out. That must be me!

But I ain't afraid of no ghosts.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 12, 2012 A8

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