CRITIPEG: Delivering chills

Haunted Manitoba, Matthew Komus, 200 pages, Great Plains Publications, September 2019

If you’re looking for an accessible ghostly read, Haunted Manitoba by Matthew Komus delivers. Haunted Manitoba is a plain-language book that expands on Haunted Winnipeg, Komus’ previous book exploring haunted sites in the city by widening its scope to the province at large.

Like Haunted Winnipeg, the writing is not exceptional, but it is clear and direct and could appeal to a broad range of readers, including teenagers or people who are even younger. The simple language makes these stories accessible and not overburdened with historical facts, although Komus is indeed the historical expert on haunted sites in Manitoba.

Komus has developed many programs and exhibits for museums around Manitoba, and he operates the Winnipeg Ghost Walk. Komus does a good job of rooting the reader in each haunted site, with a deep description of what these buildings were used for. People who have been to places like Lower Fort Garry may be sufficiently creeped out by the stories he tells.

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Komus tells these stories in a sanitized, PG way, yet they are still disturbing and told as if they are completely true. Komus does not reveal his sources but does provide a robust bibliography for any readers curious in learning more.

This book acknowledges the colonial history of the sites featured and does not shy away from naming some of the settlers as violent and racist, without getting into graphic detail. Haunted Manitoba does not focus on the locus of trauma, but how the dead interact with the living, in order to maintain a broad range of readership.

A little dry at times, the author gives himself away as a historian and museum curator, preferring not to sensationalize the supernatural. However, each of these stories are presented as factual. The book is not concerned with how these stories came to be passed on, only on the fact that they exist.

This technique is chilling. Telling the stories as fact may make even the most skeptical reader feel like they are there when a man appears in the back seat of a student’s car while they’re working at Lower Fort Garry, or in the Delta Marsh Field station when a man appears in the window.

I wanted a deeper dive into the research and to know more about the people who had these ghostly encounters, how they were recorded and if people connected with the sites today still believe these ghost stories. But that’s not what this book is.

Haunted Manitoba is an easy but pleasurable historical read. If you enjoy ghost stories steeped in historical content, you will probably like Haunted Manitoba, but the book may surprise even skeptics, as it roots its stories in the prairies we know so well.

Published in Volume 74, Number 16 of The Uniter (January 30, 2020)

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