Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION
The ghosts of the legislative building
She walks the upper galleries of the ornate legislative library late at night, when the lights are out and the only real people around are security guards.
She wears a long dress more in keeping with the early 1900s than today's fashion. Her grey hair is tied up in a bun.
She doesn't bother anyone.
Her ghostly shadow moves silently, re-stacking illusory books, folders and binders.
One time a security guard caught her reading at a table. When he asked her how she got into a locked room, she vanished.
Right before his eyes.
She's only been seen a few times, but the staff of the Manitoba Legislative Building library and security guards are keenly aware of her presence.
Although harmless, none of them care to spend the night waiting for her to re-appear.
She's just one of the spirits said to haunt the legislative building, a Winnipeg landmark steeped in hidden-in-plain-sight mystic messages and supposed links to the occult. Its Masonic symbols are and architecture are well-documented.
But its ghosts?
No so much.
There's another female ghost that's said to wander the basement hallways of the building. This one sings, her voice gentle and quiet, but still echoing through the natural night noises of a building opened in 1920. The "ledge" was built on the original site of Osborne Barracks, which was established in 1873.
There are other ghosts, too, such as the one spotted by a security guard during a late-night walk-throughs of the hallways.
"I thought it was an intruder," she said recently.
Within seconds she realized what she saw, although human in form, was anything but.
"My hair just stuck up on end on the back of my neck and I froze," she said.
She said she considered hitting an alarm, but in that instant the apparition vanished. She hasn't seen it since.
Other security guards have heard similar stories, but they brush them off.
Ghosts aren't real, right?
Still, how to explain locked doors that open by themselves? The sound of a woman's high-heels clicking on the marble floors when the building is empty? The books that fall off shelves when the building is closed?
"Sometimes you get a shot of static electricity than seems to float around in a ball," one guard said. "You're on a marble floor so you can't blame it on the carpet."
Other ghost stories include the man who walks the south-east, second-floor hallways wearing a long black suit and top hat. He's even been spotted on the grand staircase and when approached, he either vanishes or passes through one of the thick stone walls.
Then there are the ghosts of three men who have meetings each evening in one of the two large committee rooms. These rooms do not see daily use, but have seen their share of intense political debates. Maybe the walls harnessed that energy and release it... whenever.
Local tour guide Kristen Verin-Treusch says there are more unearthly visitors.
"Apparently, there's some spirit boys downstairs in basement area," she said. "You know how some of the doors have panes in glass in them? It's not clear glass, and from what I understand a security guard was doing his rounds and he saw these two boys inside an office with their hands cupped around their eyes looking at him in the hallway.
"He kind of thought, ‘what-the-heck are these kids doing in here,' and he went into the room and, of course, there's nobody there."
Verin-Treusch conducts tours of haunted places in Winnipeg through Muddy Water Tours.
She tries to get the boys, or their spirits, to interact with the tour group.
"We've had a medium come with us on several occasions and she thinks they're connected to another spirit-person who's been seen in the building wandering around," she said.
Verin-Treusch said it goes without saying it's all very speculative whether these spirits exist.
But. . .
"We have stuff happening. People experience tingling in their hands when they're doing the dowsing rods.
"People start freaking out."
A single gunshot in the morning
It'd be pushing it to say his apparition haunts the building, but his legacy definitely does.
Ralph McNeille Pearson, deputy treasury minister for the province for 26 years, shot himself with a .38-calibre revolver in his first floor washroom of the legislative building on Feb. 19, 1947, at about 11:15 a.m.
His is the only confirmed death in the Manitoba Legislative Building.
His suicide stunned the government of then premier Stuart Garson. In the newspaper coverage that followed, Pearson, 54, was eulogized as one of the most dedicated civil servants to work for the province, but also described as being in "indifferent health" in the months leading up to his death.
Pearson, who took the job Sept. 14, 1920, helped steer the provincial treasury through the 1929 stock market crash, the Great Depression and World War II.
He's also considered one of the architects of what became the modern federal equalization payment system, in which the federal government shares revenue with the provinces. He was also on the ground floor of helping to create Canada's employment insurance system, having witnessed what happened during the height of the Depression when so many Manitobans were out of work and the province got caught with unexpected expenditures.
While Pearson's tenure covered some of the worst years of the past century, he was also dogged by a scandal that broke out under his watch.
On Dec. 30, 1931 police arrested cashier Maurice Jones and accountant James Spawls, both employees of the treasury department, after it was found $102,700 ($1.690 million in today's value) was missing. A year later both men were sentenced to four years in prison. Both men stole the money over five years, using a bookkeeping slight-of-hand, to "clean up" at the horse races, betting on out-of-town horse races with Winnipeg bookies, according to newspaper accounts at the time.
Pearson and other treasury department officials later had to fight off accusations that $1 million had actually been pilfered from the province's coffers.
Leslie Garden and Reginald Maybury made the allegation in a newspaper they printed called The Truth of Canada. They were arrested and charged with the rare offence of publishing false news likely to injure the credit of Manitoba, but were acquitted by a jury March 22, 1932 after two hours of deliberation.
Why Pearson shot himself 15 years later, no one knows. There is no indication given in the press accounts of the time.
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About Larry Kusch and Bruce Owen
Larry Kusch has been a journalist for 30 years, the last 20 with the Winnipeg Free Press. His is one of the newspaper's two legislative bureau reporters.
Raised on a Saskatchewan farm, he received an honours journalism degree from Carleton University in 1975.
At the Free Press, Larry has also worked as a general assignment reporter, business reporter, copy editor and assistant city editor.
Bruce Owen joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1990 after four years working in other media.
He's worked in a number of positions at the Freep, including pet columnist, assistant city editor and police reporter. Right now he takes up space at the Manitoba legislature.
Bruce is one of five reporters who won a National Newspaper Award for the paper’s coverage of the 1997 Flood of the Century. He's also the recipient of the 1996 Volunteer Centre of Winnipeg Media Golden Hand Award and the 1995 Canadian Federation of Humane Societies Media Commendation Award.
In a past life Bruce worked at YMCA-YWCA Camp Stephens. He has a blog where he and others write about camp and the people who worked and played there.
You can also find Bruce on Twitter where he posts and retweets all sorts of stuff.
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