Gone haunting

Exploring the paranormal side of Winnipeg

Kelly Smith and Ashley Barnes are paranormal investigators with the Winnipeg Paranormal Group.

Our city hosts a whole history of haunts, and some Winnipeggers want to explore the strange energy first hand.

People peer into the paranormal to investigate the unknown, explore the untouchable and glimpse all the ghostly figures this city has to offer.

But paranormal believers say spirits don’t rest in peace, and they’re around more often than Halloween. Paranormal groups and walking tours of haunted locations exist all year round. It’s just the October air that brings more haunters out of the woooodworks looking for ghosts.

But how do you hunt for the haunt? There have been so many reports of hauntings in the city, from the variety of old standing buildings, graveyards, theatres, houses and museums.

The Fort Garry Hotel is a good place to start. Its walls have absorbed much of Winnipeg’s paranormal history while they stood watching centuries of time pass by.

Move over, Fort Garry - The Marlborough Hotel in downtown Winnipeg also supposedly holds haunted suites.

Matthew Komus, author of Haunted Winnipeg and founder of seven-year-old Winnipeg Ghost Walk, says people died there before the hotel’s doors were even open.

During construction in 1912, a bricklayer’s assistant by the name of John Leighton died traumatically by falling down an unfinished elevator shaft. The legend says that he lingered for three days before finally dying.

Kumos dug into the history of the place and found that the stories surrounding the hotel check out.

“I tie in the stories with actual historic events,” Kumos says. “Hauntings usually come from accidents, maybe murder or something like that, mostly always trauma-like scenes.”

As for Room 202 in the hotel, an unfortunate event happened there back in the 1920s. Now there are a few permanent guests.

Honeymooners were spending a night in the room when the bride got sick. The groom left to get her medicine and never returned as he was killed in a car accident. Unable to bear the grief, the newly widowed bride hung herself in the hotel room closet.

Winnipeg’s Burton Cummings Theatre is reportedly haunted by ghosts of dead actors.

To this day, the room has a reputation for having a self-opening closet, a reappearing bloodstain on the carpet and reports of something or someone getting into bed with them in the middle of the night.

If you’re looking to explore Room 202, Kristen Verin-Treusch, owner and operator of Winnipeg based tour company Muddy Water Tours for 13 years, can help. She’s conducted many tours in the room and says the ghosts will eerily react to certain people.

“When I begin telling the story of the bride in the room 202 my K2 meters will begin to light up indicating she is present in the room with us,” Verin-Treusch says. “She will generally stop in if there is someone in my crowd who is either engaged, in their late 20s or recently married in the same age group.”

Muddy Water Tours offers ghost walks around Broadway and The Exchange while also hosting other multiple tours in October. Their “Talking to the Dead” bus tour is especially popular as the group visits three locations (Manitoba Legislature, St. Boniface Museum, Elmwood Cemetery) to experience and explore the supernatural with legitimate investigation equipment and guidance from not just the living.

“I don’t see myself as a researcher per se but rather an interviewer of sorts,” Verin-Treusch says. “I present to the group that we are students and spirits are the teachers and we are attending the tour to learn from them.”

Paranormal investigators use gear such as this M.E.L. me ter to detect paranormal activity.

Learning is great (from either the living or dead) but visiting a ghost with a group for a quick lesson is much different than having to live with one full time.
Kelly Smith and Ashley Barnes from the Winnipeg Paranormal Group understand all too well how the power of the paranormal can affect people in day-to-day life. They offer services to those who are afraid, not during a haunted tour, but in their own homes.

“The majority of what we do is private residences,” Smith says. “People contact us, telling us they are scared or their children are scared and they have seen and heard things they can’t explain. I think people’s biggest fear is that they are crazy.”

“We have all of the equipment and gadgets to record audio and video. If we record anything that is beyond explaining we’ll show that to the clients,” Smith says. “We are here first and foremost to ease the client’s mind and help them to feel safe in their homes again.”

Whether it’s commercial or private, working in the paranormal almost guarantees facing skepticism in one form or another.

“I think one of the biggest challenges that we face in this field is the stigma that comes from people not knowing or believing,” Barnes says. “A lot of people still look at us as if we're weird for doing this. But seeing the relief on a client's face is the best benefit.”

Paranormal investigators Ashley Barnes and Kelly Smith silhouetted in front of the St Boniface cathedral.

Jeff Richards is a member of the team behind The Other Side, a show on APTN that investigates paranormal activity with a First Nations twist. He reminds us that although ghosts are hard to explain, having the right mindset matters with spirits.

“I encourage skepticism. It's vitally important to the work that I do,” Richards says. “But there is a big difference between an individual who is a skeptic, and someone who is closed minded. I invite people to have an open mind, explore the experiences I've had, and the evidence I've captured.”

Recorded evidence of the paranormal activity is what makes stories about ghosts feel more believable, and it’s what people are out for when they hunt haunts. They crave phantom proof to make everything more palpable, including the past.

Winnipeg Paranormal Group’s aim is to help people answer the lingering questions of what happens when we move on.

Investigating the St Boniface cemetery.

“Where does our energy or soul go when we die? I think we all ask ourselves that question at least once during our lifetime,” Smith says. “Whether it’s our own contemplation with mortality or maybe the death of a loved one or something more spiritual related.”

Kumos says his research for Haunted Winnipeg shows people have been trying to make connections with those who passed on for sometime.

“Around the First World War people were really trying to reach their deceased loved ones,” Kumos says. “They wanted to see if there was that other world so they could make connections.”

Ghosts are not just always about creepy hauntings and kitschy Halloween decorations. Richards stresses that spirit can also be a powerful tool for the living.

“The reason why I do what I do, is to bring new light, understanding, and respect to the paranormal world,” Richards says. “All too often spirit is portrayed in culture as ‘evil.’ Not every ghost wants to possess, or scare people into leaving their home. Sometimes all they want is contact. The paranormal is not always a scary thing.”

Winnipeg Paranormal Group’s aim is to help people answer the lingering questions of what happens when we move on. 

“Where does our energy or soul go when we die? I think we all ask ourselves that question at least once during our lifetime,” Smith says. “Whether it’s our own contemplation with mortality or maybe the death of a loved one or something more spiritual related.” 

Kumos says his research for Haunted Winnipeg shows people have been trying to make connections with those who passed on for sometime. 

“Around the First World War people were really trying to reach their deceased loved ones,” Kumos says. “They wanted to see if there was that other world so they could make connections.” 

Ghosts are not just always about creepy hauntings and kitschy Halloween decorations. Richards stresses that spirit can also be a powerful tool for the living. 

“The reason why I do what I do, is to bring new light, understanding, and respect to the paranormal world,” Richards says. “All too often spirit is portrayed in culture as ‘evil.’ Not every ghost wants to possess, or scare people into leaving their home. Sometimes all they want is contact. The paranormal is not always a scary thing.”

Published in Volume 70, Number 8 of The Uniter (October 29, 2015)

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