Dalnavert was built in 1895 for former Manitoba Premier, Police Magistrate and lawyer Sir Hugh John McDonald and his family. The home was designed by architect Charles Wheeler, who also designed Holy Trinity Anglican Church at the corner of Donald Street and Graham Avenue. Dalnavert is the best surviving example of the Queen Anne Revival style in Winnipeg.
Dalnavert was built towards the end of the Victorian Era. Victorians, like the McDonalds who lived in this home, were fascinated with death and the supernatural. Spirit boards – commonly known as Ouija Boards – were a popular post-dinner parlour game where guests would try to contact the dead.
People who claimed to be able to contact the dead and communicate with them through an elaborate system of knocks were called “Mediums”. You could guarantee a great turn out at your next dinner party if you boasted a Medium as the evening entertainment!
Winnipeg was known as a hub of paranormal activity at the time the time the McDonald family lived in Dalnavert. So much so that Sherlock Holmes author and avowed spiritualist, Arthur Conan Doyle visited in the summer of 1923. The famous author stayed just up the street at the Hotel Fort Garry, and while there is no evidence that he visited Dalnavert – one can only assume what a subject of interest his stay would have been for the family.
Dalnavert, to this day, hosts spiritualist and paranormal investigations in the weeks leading up to Halloween and around Christmas. These usually take place in the attic at the top of the house – which houses an assortment of Victorian oddities, including two elaborate wreathes made of human hair as well as the baby booties of Sir Hugh John McDonald.
Volunteers working at Dalnavert Musuem over the years have reported a scent of flowers that seems to waft from room to room, even through there are no flowers in the house, and despite being the dead of winter. There are also reports of creaking floor boards that sound like a woman’s footsteps on the floors above.
Could it be that spirits in Dalnavert are still trying to contact us all of these many years later?