Haunted history

Winnipeg’s ghost stories of the past

Many know of ghosts at the Fort Garry Hotel who have never checked out, but there’s a lesser known Winnipeg hotel that goes bump in the night.

Marlborough Hotel

The Marlborough Hotel across from the Garrick Centre downtown is said to be haunted by a young woman who was murdered on the fifth floor.

“When a teenager is staying there, or a young woman is staying on the fifth floor, she’ll wake up and see a teenage girl in her room,” says Sabrina Janke, president of the University of Winnipeg Student History Association.

The woman who is forever stuck at age 16 is allegedly Grace (Edith) Cook, who was murdered in room 503 in 1943. That year, Cook met Albert Victor Westgate, who had just served time in prison for murder, according to Winnipeg Police Service archives.

Westgate, 42, was infatuated with Cook. He bought her a gold watch on credit and promised her a job in Vancouver to entice her to like him back.

“She agreed to go because it sounded too good to be true,” Janke says.

They decided they would leave on Dec. 5. The problem was Westgate just got out of prison – he couldn’t leave Winnipeg, he had no job prospects for Cook, and he had no money to buy her gifts or a train ticket to Vancouver.

Cook was supposed to stay with her parents until they left, but Westgate didn’t think that was a good idea and told her to get a room at the Marlborough Hotel for a few days before they would leave.

She checked into room 503 on Dec. 2, 1943.

Cook’s mom started to worry when she hadn’t seen Cook for a couple of days. She found out her daughter was staying at the Marlborough Hotel, and she asked Westgate to accompany her to check on Cook’s well-being.

“There was apparently a weird smell coming from the room, and they got a hotel clerk to open the door, and they found Edith’s body,” Janke says.  

She was in the bed with the covers around her head. 

“I guess he realized he couldn’t keep the lie going anymore, so he just murdered her,” Janke says.

Westgate was caught, because he returned the watch he bought her and her new shoes after he killed her. Westgate was executed the next year.

“She appears to young women to warn them they might be in danger, and if you see her, you’re supposed to be more careful with who you socialize with,” Janke says.

Shane Nobiss, general manager of the Marlborough Hotel, says guests have reported seeing apparitions. Some guests saw a woman in an old fashioned maid’s uniform walking fast into the washroom. She walked into a stall, the door closed halfway, then she disappeared.

“The latest one I heard was last year I heard that on the fifth floor, ironically, somebody heard someone crying,” he says. The guest said the crying was near room 503, which wasn’t being rented that day. “One of my managers on duty went into that room with security and found nothing.”

He says “weird things are going on in certain parts of the hotel.”

Though Nobiss says he doesn’t really believe in ghosts, his staff have reported seeing lights on when they shouldn’t be and items moved. Staff even avoid certain areas of the hotel.

Pantages Playhouse Theatre

Alexander Pantages is allegedly reliving his glory days at Pantages Playhouse Theatre.

“I’ve seen a chair move in the dressing rooms, voices when there’s nobody else in the building,” says front-of-house manager Adrianne Breyfogle. “There’s a closet where we keep toilet paper and stuff like that in the theatre, and I’ve had staff say the doors have closed on them.”

At age nine, Pantages ran away from home and spent years on the sea. He eventually ended up in Yukon during the Klondike Gold Rush in the late 1800s.  

“He stuffed his boots with old newspapers to keep his feet warm,” says Sabrina Janke, president of the University of Winnipeg Student History Association.

Pantages apparently discovered a new business when, one day, a miner offered to pay $10 for a sheet of old newspapers to have something to read, Janke says. 

“Pantages rented out a hall. He got a guy that could read English, because Pantages himself was actually illiterate, and he charged miners $3 to listen to someone read his old newspapers out loud.”

Pantages met performer Klondike Kate Rockwell, who eventually became his business partner and fiancée.

“They made a lot of money. Pantages took his share of the funds and hers and then left and opened up his own theatre,” Janke says. He left Rockwell with no money and married another woman.

“She tried to sue him for breach of promise to marry, because you could sue someone for leaving an engagement,” Janke says. “He said that she was making it up for attention, that they had never been engaged. He gave her the price of a train ticket to get home and left her.”

Pantages opened the Winnipeg theatre in 1914. It was just one of the dozens of Vaudeville theatres he opened across North America.

Winnipeg was the first stop for theatre circuits. 

“This is apparently where you would test good theatre. Pantages himself spent a lot of time in Winnipeg testing out the acts to see in the Winnipeg audiences liked them,” Janke says.

Pantages would apparently fire performers on the spot if the Winnipeg crowd didn’t like the show. 

“Which meant if they were coming from Chicago to try out an act here, they would be stranded in Winnipeg without any social supports,” Janke says. “He was kind of a dick, so it’s not surprising his ghost would play tricks on people.”

Janke leads historic tours of the Exchange District, and Pantages Playhouse Theatre is one of the stops. On one tour, a woman said she was performing there in the 1980s. She was on stage right waiting for her cue to go on and felt a tap on her shoulder from her friend Emily. She ran on stage, looked to stage left and saw Emily.  

“There was no way for her to get from point A to point B that quickly, because she had just taken a few steps,” Janke says. “She was shaken.”

Other Pantages theatres across the country claim their theatre is haunted, perhaps by Pantages himself. 

Published in Volume 71, Number 8 of The Uniter (October 27, 2016)

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