The Walker Theatre, now known as Burton Cummings Theatre, was built between 1906-1907 by Corliss Powers Walker. The Theatre was the last stop on Walker’s Red River Valley Theatre Circuit, built along the railway route – enabling Walker to bring Broadway plays to Winnipeg. Aside from being used for theatre performances, the Walker Theatre was also used for labour and women’s political suffrage rallies. This included one of Nellie McLung’s Mock-Parliaments as well as one of the meetings that lead to the Winnipeg General Strike.
Staff of the Burton Cummings Theatre have reported hearing phantom crowds clapping and whispered voices emanating from empty rooms as well as massive 200lb steel doors that have moved on their own. These ghostly happenings are generally attributed to Laurence Irving and Mabel Hackney, a notable English acting couple.
In 1914, after finishing a celebrated tour at the Walker Theatre, the ill-fated couple were to sale home on the RMS Empress of Ireland. In a devastating accident, the Storstadt, a Norwegian coal ship, struck the RMS Empress of Ireland in the fog along the St. Laurent River. The collision killed 1,012 people, including Laurence Irving and Mabel Hackney. According to witnesses at the time of the accident Laurence and Mabel were last seen holding on to one another and when Laurence’s body was found, he was still clutching a piece of fabric from Mabel’s nightdress. Mabel’s body was lost, never to be found.
To this day, the collision of the RMS Empress of Ireland and the Storstadt remains the worst Maritime disaster in Canadian History. Next time that you’re in the lobby of the Burton Cummings Theatre look for the plaque that commemorates the lives of Laurence Irving and Mabel Hackney.
Before leaving Winnipeg, Laurence Irving told a Winnipeg Free Press reporter that he and Mabel would return…and it seems that, in spirit at least, they have!