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Little Haunted House on the Prairie

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Criddle/Vane Provincial Heritage Park
Spruce Woods Provincial Park
Portage Spillway Provincial Park
Yellowquill Provincial Park

The wide-open prairie can be a spooky place late at night. I discovered this last weekend, while driving across the lonely stretch of land between Spruce Woods Provincial Park and Brandon. The pale light of the full moon made every cluster of trees seem haunted and gave the mist that hung over the land an unearthly glow.

Why was I travelling across the prairie at one o’clock in the morning, instead of being sound asleep in my tent at Spruce Woods' Kiche Manitou campground? My travel partner and I were heading towards the weirdest provincial park in Manitoba – the Criddle/Vane Homestead Provincial Heritage Park.

The Criddle/Vane Homestead sits at the end of a farm road, off Provincial Road 340, 40 kilometres southeast of Brandon. Percy Criddle brought his family over from England in 1882, hoping to make his fortune by growing wheat on the Canadian Prairies.

This sounds like the story of most immigrants to Western Canada during this period, but with the Criddles there was a twist. The Criddle family wasn’t like most families. Percy not only brought his wife and children to Manitoba, but he also brought his mistress and the children he shared with her along with them. For 24 years, this very unconventional (even by today's standards) family lived in a tiny loghouse on the homestead.

In 1906, Percy built a sprawling farmhouse for his large extended family, along with tennis courts and a golf course. Percy’s descendents excelled at both the arts and sciences, establishing a weather station and Manitoba’s first entomology lab on the property.

The family sold the homestead in 1960 and in 2004 it was preserved as a provincial heritage park. Local legend has it that the farmhouse is haunted by the spirits of the Criddle family. I’m not the type of person who believes in ghosts, but the opportunity to explore a "haunted" house was too great to pass up.

As my travel partner and I drove down the isolated farm road, the farmhouse came into view from behind a small copse of trees. In the moonlight, it looked like it could easily stand in as a setting for a zombie movie. If you’ve seen Night of the Living Dead, you’ll know what I mean.

We had been at the homestead earlier in the day and the house was spooky looking - even in the daylight. At night, the house looked downright terrifying. The light of the full moon and the mist rising off the ground didn't help.

We entered the house, flashlights in hand, and began our exploration. In the main hallway of the first floor, an ominous epitaph, "Get Out!" was carved deeply into the wall, but we attributed that more to local vandals and less to angry spirits. The house was empty, just a few tables and chairs.

We climbed upstairs and wandered through the six or seven bedrooms that housed the Criddle clan. There were a lot of creaks and squeaks emanating from the floor boards, but nothing that sounded supernatural.

Back on the main level, we discovered the stairs leading down to the basement. After a couple minutes of discussion -- mostly "You go first," "No, you go first" -- we decided that it would be better if we stayed out of the basement. We had both seen too many bad horror movies and a vision of the ending of The Blair Witch Project was flashing in both our heads.

Then we heard the howls of coyotes, not far from the farmhouse. Already a little spooked, we took this as a sign to head back to our campsite. In the end, we didn’t see or hear any ghosts, but the house on its own was scary enough. It’s an interesting site to visit during the daytime, but at night it’s down right spooky.

Arriving back at Kiche Manitou, we were pulled over by a conservation officer, who wondered why we were pulling into the campground that late at night. I think my answer, "We were exploring a haunted house," threw her off because she gave me a strange look and hesitantly said, "That sounds interesting…" I can imagine that was one explanation she had not heard before.

Kiche Manitou is the main campground for Spruce Woods Provincial Park. The campground sits on the banks of the Assiniboine River, just off Highway 5, 185 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg. To the north of the campground is one of the most interesting natural sites in Manitoba, the Spirit Sands.

Often labelled a desert, the Spirit Sands actually receives roughly twice the amount of precipitation that a true desert receives. This additional precipitation means that a lot of the sand dunes are covered in vegetation, however there are still many exposed dunes.

These dunes are relics of Lake Agassiz. Over 15,000 years ago, a much larger and more powerful Assiniboine River flowed into Lake Agassiz in this area. The river deposited 6,500 square kilometres of sand at its massive delta. As plants and wildlife colonized this area, only four square kilometres of sand dunes were left uncovered.

At the west end of the dunes is the Devils Punch Bowl. This pond is in a depression between sand dunes and is fed by underground springs, which give it an unnatural lime-green colour.

The hike through the sand dunes and to the Devil’s Punch Bowl is roughly 10 kilometres, and includes a few steep climbs through loose sand. The hike through the dunes is spectacular. The Devil’s Punch Bowl isn’t worth the trek.

Leaving Spruce Woods, we stopped next at Portage Spillway Provincial Park and Yellow Quill Provincial Park, two parks literally across the Trans Canada Highway from each other just outside of Portage La Prairie. Both parks are essentially highway rest stops, so not much needs to be said about them.

For the upcoming Canada Day weekend, I'm heading to the two most northerly road-accessible provincial parks in Manitoba, Zed Lake and Burge Lake, near Lynn Lake. It should be quite the adventure.

Parks in today's post:


View A(sessippi) to Z(ed Lake) in a larger map
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