Stories to tell in the dark

An evening of sophisticated chills at Dalnavert Museum

Illustration by Gabrielle Funk

With a history of hosting seances and more than a few ghost stories, it’s no surprise Winnipeg locals embrace Halloween with open arms. Those looking for a memorable night of chills can head to the Dalnavert Museum downtown.

Tired of juvenile haunted houses that use little more than jump scare tactics, Charlene Van Buekenhout, program and marketing coordinator at Dalnavert, has put together a spooky evening for the refined Halloween enthusiast.

Expanding on past events at Dalnavert, Obsessed: Victorians and the Macabre will give guests a chance to learn about Victorian death culture by candlelight. 

“We’ll do a little bit of a chat in the summer kitchen of the house,” Van Buekenhout says. “Then everyone gets a candle, and we send you into the dark house.” She notes candles will be electric to ensure safety.

As patrons travel through Dalnavert, they will be treated to audio installations featuring Victorian-era ghost stories. Wendy Sawatzky and Danishka Esterhazy are offering up film and photography, including a project with macabre images from seances. 

Filmmaker Esterhazy says the para-normal has always been an interest of hers, inspiring many of her artistic projects. 

“I just love the imagery. The melancholy of it. It is pure fantasy to me. But very compelling,” she says. “Perhaps because I grew up surrounded by ghost stories. My mother loves a good ghost story.”

Van Buekenhout says this is a trait many Winnipeggers seem to share, possibly because of the weather. 

“Sharing stories in the darkness of winter, because there’s nothing else to do, has been sort of an isolation tactic.”

Photographer Sawatzky echoes these sentiments. 

“Oh, I think the darkness does play a role. And also all those elms, barren of leaves in the winter, their branches reaching over the streets and breath visible from our mouths,” she says.  “Just the setting lends itself to spookiness in the fall.”

Obsessed is a natural fit for her, as she prefers psychological thrills to gore. 

“Like, The Haunting but not Saw,” she says. “I feel like a lot of the work we’ve created gives a chill or a cold breath on the neck.”

The artistic duo is showcasing some works that have been part of past events at Dalnavert, including a film called The Woman in White.

“That was a fun project to create. We shot it in the banks of the Red River near The Forks. Very gothic,” Esterhazy says.

Sawatzky is still very proud of the work, which frightened even her when revisiting it this year. 

“I remember being there and seeing a child be honestly afraid, which seemed like a five-star review,” she says.

After touring the house and all of its tricks, patrons will be treated to a ghost story in the attic, presented by Van Buekenhout.

“We will have our bar open,” she says. “So beforehand, you can have a drink to get ready or afterward to calm your nerves.”

Be careful on the stairs though. Van Buekenhout says there have been reports of a presence in the house that makes herself known with a waft of perfume.

Obsessed runs from Oct. 27 to 30. Shows are at 8 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 and are available online at

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

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