Make Downtown Winnipeg your boo with the Downtown Winnipeg Ghost Ride!
Warning: These scary stories include tales about murder, violence and unexplainable events. This tour is best suited for a mature audience.
Cycle, scoot or walk this spine-chilling route, listen to ghastly stories and grab some ghoulish treats on this downtown self-guided tour!
Following the tour is so easy its scary!
Step One: Download to your phone, or print off the route map.
Step Two: Click on each stop as you arrive to listen to, or read the ghost story.
Step Three: Stop at businesses along the way to collect pins featuring our ghostly mascot Boo! There are three colours – and five stops where you can get them!
Tag your photos with #finditdowntown for your chance to be featured on our social media.
Thom Bargen Coffee – If you’re doing the Downtown Winnipeg Ghost Ride on a weekday between 7am and 3pm, fuel up with a stop at Thom Bargen at 250 Kennedy (at the corner of Graham and Kennedy). Grab a delicious house-made Pumpkin Spice Latte and pick up a cute “Boo” button to help scare off the spooks as you ride!
Built in 1895, The Masonic Temple at 335 Donald Street was the first Masonic lodge built in western Canada and is the only building in Canada built by the Masons for the Masons.
Freemasonry is thought to have its origins in the stonemason’s guilds of the Middle Ages. It is generally agreed that the Masonic Order was founded in 1390. The Masons primarily originated in Europe, but some trace their origins to ancient Egypt. Freemasonry has been the subject of numerous conspiracy theories throughout the years.
The Masonic Temple was designed by Montreal-born architect George Creeford Browne, who was himself a Mason. The temple was built in the Romaneque Revival style, with classical elements. The interior of the Masonic Temple featured offices, a library, meeting rooms, kitchen, banquet hall and more, all furnished in the finest of materials. The Masonic Temple was in use until 1969, when the Masons sold the building at 335 Donald and moved to their new home at 420 Corydon Avenue.
The building stood empty for a year until it reopened in 1971 as a restaurant and dance hall called the Rec Room. The Rec Room was not open for very long. GG’s Cabaret and Supper Club had a similarly short run. Mother Tuckers Food Experience opened in 1975 and continued to operate until 1999. A couple more restaurants came and went and now the building has been standing empty since 2003.
It was during the time that the Masonic Temple was a restaurant that stories began to circulate amongst staff that the building was haunted.
There are many stories of flickering lights and objects that would be moved overnight. The same staff that closed in the evening would remark in the morning that it looked like their had been an overnight dinner party, with salt and pepper shakers moved and napkins that had been used by ghostly guests.
It would seem that some of the Masons continue to hold secret meetings and banquets at Winnipeg’s original Masonic Temple…
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!
The Marlborough Hotel opened it’s doors on November 14, 1914, on the eve of the First World War. By May 1915, the hotel had closed. During the war, the building was used by the federal government to accommodate soldiers.
Originally only three floors high when constructed in 1914, a further six floors were added to the building in 1921, with a nine-story addition on the north side completed in 1960.
The original parts of the hotel, constructed in 1914 and 1921, are built in an elaborate Late Gothic Revival style in terra cotta and brick with a polished granite base. The interior Lobby Level restaurant and bar features some of the most beautiful Gothic and Renaissance-influenced interiors in Canada.
It was in room #503 in the Marlborough Hotel that released murderer Albert Westgate housed his young 16-year old paramour, Edith Cook. Albert was infatuated with Edith, buying her a gold watch and new shoes on credit, convincing her to run away with him to Vancouver. They were supposed to leave by train on December 5th.
The problem with the plan was that Albert really had no money – as he had just been released from prison and had no job prospects. He convinced Edith to move out of her parent’s house and get a room at the Marlborough until he could sort out how to get the money for train tickets.
Edith checked into room #503 on December 2, 1943.
Edith’s mom, who had grown concerned after not seeing her daughter for a couple of days, found out that Edith was staying at the hotel and headed straight there. As she approached the room, she noticed an unpleasant smell in the hallway. She got a hotel clerk to open the door and discovered Edith’s body in the bed with the covers wrapped around her head. She had been strangled to death.
Albert Westgate was caught when he returned the gold watch and new shoes that he had bought Edith as a gift. He was executed by hanging for her murder a year later.
To this day, there are many reports by young women staying on the fifth floor of the hotel, saying that a young woman who seems to be trying to warn them of something has woken them up. The legend has it that if Edith appears to you, you need to be cautious of the people you’re socializing with.
Edith Cook seems intent on ensuring that other young women staying on the fifth floor don’t meet the same fate that she did over half a century ago…
Browns Socialhouse Portage – While you’re in the area, make a stop at Browns Socialhouse Portage at 311 Portage Avenue (the corner of Portage Avenue and Donald Street) for some spirits to protect you from the otherworldly spirits you experience along the Ghost Ride! Order an EctoPlasm Shooter and ask for your “Boo” pin before facing the rest of the spooks on this tour!
The land where this park now stands has been inhabited for over 6,000 years. When European settlers came to this area, they saw the advantage of building an outpost at the confluence of our two rivers, the Red and the Assiniboine, as rivers were the main trade routes to other settlements.
Of course – the land was already spoken for…
The first Fort that stood at or around this spot was Fort Gibraltar – built and owned by the NorthWest Company (one of Canada’s oldest companies – you can see their building across from you on Main Street!). Fort Gibralter was built in 1810 and then destroyed in 1816 by Governor Semple and the Hudson’s Bay Company. Fort Garry was built soon after, but then destroyed by massive flooding in 1826 (as a point of interest – this flood is why Winnipeg doesn’t have any buildings that predate 1826).
Rebuilt in 1835 by the Hudson’s Bay Company, Upper Fort Garry (to differentiate itself from Lower Fort Garry, upstream on the Red River) became the administrative and judicial hub of the Red River Colony.
In late 1869, Upper Fort Garry was seized by Louis Riel and his Metis followers during the Red River Rebellion – which was prompted by the seizure of this land by the newly-formed nation of Canada. For nine months, Upper Fort Garry was the home base for the Metis resistance against Ottawa.
For several summers in the early 1900s, the Canadian Mounted Rifles would camp at the Fort and hold summer exercises. At midnight on a summer night in 1907, one of the overnight sentries of the Canadian Mounted Rifles reported seeing a Metis man and woman in a Red River Cart being drawn by oxen. According to the sentry log, the cart passed by a number of times between midnight and two am. Deciding that they must be up to no good, the sentry called out to the drivers of the cart to halt – and as soon as he did so, the ox, cart and it’s Metis inhabitants disappeared into thin air!
It was speculated that some of the original inhabitants of the Red River Valley had come back to express their displeasure at the Canadian Mounted Rifles summer occupation. The ghostly appearances continued nightly for several weeks, until the Canadian Mounted Rifles left the Fort.
Do you feel brave enough to stay in the park between midnight and 2am to see if you, too, see the phantom ox cart and it’s ghostly riders?
Fete Ice Cream and Coffee – Head in to Fete Ice Cream and Coffee at 300 Assiniboine Avenue for a special spooky treat! Let them know you’re on the Downtown Winnipeg Ghost Ride and ask for a scoop of their “Candy Thief” ice cream. Someone raided the candy aisle at the grocery store and threw it all into their ice cream! Filled to the brim with everyone’s faves, there is no trick to this treat! Pick up another free “Boo” button to make your visit a spoooooky success!
Built in 1913, by the Grand Pacific Trunk Railway, the Fort Garry Hotel is one of Canada’s grand railway hotels, built at a time when Winnipeg was the booming “Chicago of the North”. Located one block from the railway’s Union Station, the Hotel was the tallest structure in Winnipeg when it was built.
While there have been accounts of ghostly activity throughout the Fort Garry Hotel, it’s most famous for it’s haunted hotel room – room #202.
The story goes that a newlywed couple stayed in room 202 one night in the 1920s. The young bride felt poorly and her husband went out in search of headache pills. Tragically he was struck and killed by a horse-drawn cart. Overcome by grief, the wife committed suicide by hanging herself in the closet. To this day, guests staying the night in room #202 have reported glimpsing a person sitting at the foot of the bed, forever waiting for her groom to return.
During a 2004 Liberal Caucus retreat, former Ontario MP Brenda Chamberlain, a guest in room #202, claimed that she was woken twice during the night by the sensation of some one getting into bed with her! She was so spooked that she ran down to the front desk in her night gown and insisted on a change of room for the rest of her stay.
The bride from room #202 is also said to haunt the Palm Lounge and has been seen by staff and guests crying to herself in a corner.
There have been other reports of ghostly presences in other rooms throughout the Fort Garry Hotel, with many feeling a presence at the foot of the bed. Another legend claims that a regular hotel guest requests a specific room in the hotel which is visited by a lady in a white ball gown. There is proof that a Lady McMillan who wore a “white laced brocaded gown” stayed in the hotel for it’s grand opening on December 10, 1913.
With over 100 years as a hotel, the Hotel Fort Garry has definitely had some hotel guests check in….who have never checked out….
Now renumbered as 50 Hargrave, with a brand new apartment building standing in its spot, this used to be the location of the old Kenilworth Court.
Kenilworth Court was constructed as an apartment building in 1910, with it’s first residents moving in shortly after completion. The apartment building and it’s residents had a pretty quiet existence, for the most part, until the 1970s.
In 1973, Lorraine Joan Bachnyski, a 19 year old Eatons employee, and her common-law partner lived in suite 24. After a night on the town at the Westminster Hotel (now renamed the Sherbrook Inn), the couple and two acquaintances came back to the apartment to have a few more drinks. An argument broke out and Lorraine was violently stabbed to death.
Kenilworth Court remained an apartment building until it closed in 2007 and was then more-or-less abandoned. It wasn’t too long until the 100 year old building fell into disrepair, becoming a subject of spooky fascination for residents in the Broadway-Assiniboine neighbourhood.
Colloquially called the Demon Hotel, there are stories of sightings of a woman in a white dress or nightgown on the street outside the building, calling to her lost cat. She pleads with anyone who will stop to engage with her to enter the abandoned building in search of the missing kitty, who she claims can be found upstairs, on the second floor. The chivalrous few who have tried to help have regretted doing so. Once inside, they’ve reporting eerie noises such as doors slamming, sounds like furniture scraping the floors above as well as howls that sound otherworldly and not at all-catlike.
As each would-be helper runs from the building without the cat, reports are that the woman in white angrily calls out to them to help her, while ghostly faces appear at the windows above.
Could this be poor Lorraine, all these years later trying to enact her revenge on the man who stabbed her?
Kenilworth Court, after having been abandoned for years, burnt to the ground in 2015. At that time, there were several social media photos circulating that claim to show figures dancing in the flames.
It remains to be seen if any of the new residents of the new apartment at renumbered 50 Hargrave Street see the woman in white and her cat or any of the other ghostly faces that used to peep out of the former Demon Hotel.
Oh Doughnuts – While you’re in the neighbourhood, pop in to Oh Doughnuts at 326 Broadway (the corner of Hargrave and Broadway) for any of their delicious, unique doughnut creations! Let the staff know that you’re on the Downtown Winnipeg Ghost Ride and ask for your “Boo” button – free with purchase!
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?
Poke Mono – Pick up a delicious dinner deal at Poke Mono, located at 77 Edmonton Street (just off Broadway). Mention that you’re on the Downtown Winnipeg Ghost Ride to get a special meal combo that includes any house poke bowl + kombucha for $15, or 15% off any menu item! Don’t forget to get a free “Boo” button with your meal!
There is so much that’s interesting and spooky about the Manitoba Legislative building, it’s almost hard to know where to start!
Remember the Masonic Temple that started out your Downtown Ghost Ride Adventure? Well – the Manitoba Legislative Building was designed by architect Frank Worthington Simon and contains a HUGE amount of Masonic AND occult symbolism!
A few of the spooky features of the Leg are:
- Egyptian hieroglyphics written on the roof, invoking the Egyptian Sun God, Ra.
- Sphynxes that flank either side of the triangle over the main entrance, that have the name of the Egyptian king Thutnose III engraved on their chests. Thutnose III – who lived 3,500 years ago – is believed to be the original founder of Freemasonry.
- The number 13 figures predominantly – there are 13 stairs in the 3 flights of the main interior staircase, 13 stones in the archway, 13 lights in every hallway and the bison, flanking the steps, are each precisely 13 feet in length.
- The number 666 also features, with the main room measuring 66.6 feet in length by 66.6 feet in width.
- The Pool of the Black Star – a room beneath the Rotunda, with a black star on the floor- is built in such a way that if you stand dead-centre of the star in the middle of the room and whisper, anyone else in the room can hear you as clearly as if you were speaking right beside them.
- There’s a depiction of the Ark of the Covenant – supposedly where Moses placed the 10 Commandments (see Raiders of the Lost Ark…) on the roof above the East Entrance. It has been sealed and requests to open the Ark have always been denied. Who knows what it may contain!
According to Winnipegger, Dr. Frank Albo, who has written a fascinating book on the Manitoba Legislature entitled “The Hermetic Code: Unlocking One of Manitoba’s Greatest Secrets”, Simon built the Manitoba Legislature according to the layout of the ancient Temple of Solomon.
Many different ghosts have been spotted wandering the halls of the Leg – with the hallway to the right of the grand stairway seeing the most activity. Nightly “meetings” can be heard as you walk down the hall, even though there’s no one else around. There’s also a ghost in a top hat that has been seen descending the staircase and other ghosts in 1900 garb who have been witnessed in a heated debate.
Is it any wonder that the Manitoba Legislative building, the building designed as a Temple, has a number of spirits that even death hasn’t deterred from showing up for meetings?
CONTENT WARNING: The next three stories tell the particularly gory tale of Earle Leonard Nelson. Caution: sexual content.
CONTENT WARNING: This final part of the Downtown Ghost Ride – with three (3) different stops – tells the particularly gory tale of Earle Leonard Nelson – also known as the Gorilla Man, Gorilla Killer or Dark Strangler. Nelson is the first known serial sex killer in North American history – so this tale is not for the squeamish or the faint of heart!
Caution: Sexual content.
Earle Leonard Nelson was born and raised in San Francisco, California. Growing up, he exhibited bizarre and disturbing behaviour which grew worse after he sustained a head injury while bicycling at age 10 (don’t forget to wear your helmet, folks!)
Nelson’s killing spree began with the murders of three young women in Philadelphia in October 1925.
His murderous rampage lead him to criss-cross the United States, working up the West Coast, then through the Midwest and Eastern Coastal cities. Nelson’s victims were primarily landladies and he would pose as a prospective boarder, carrying a well-worn Bible to disarm the women. Once they were alone, Nelson would strangle them. He is known to have killed at least 20 young women in the United States, but suspected of at least an additional four more, before he headed up into Canada for what would be his last two victims.
With the authorities catching up, Nelson walked across the North Dakota/Manitoba border at Emerson, and made his way to Winnipeg.
The location of the Parkade in front of you is the spot where Katherine Hill’s Boarding House used to stand, at 133 Smith Street. Within hours of taking a room at the boarding house, Nelson killed 14 year old Lola Cowan, who had been selling artificial flowers door-to-door and had made the fateful error of knocking on the door of the boarding house shortly after Nelson arrived. A day later, he killed his final victim, Emily Patterson, who had advertised a room for rent in her home at 100 Riverton Avenue, in Elmwood.
In a June 2nd, 1927 police search of boarding houses, the Winnipeg police discovered Cowan’s body underneath the bed in Nelson’s room at 133 Smith Street. The body had been mutilated in a way that was described as “reminiscent of Jack the Ripper”.
Now – using the map – head on over to the Manitoba Law Courts at 408 York Avenue to find out more about the fate of Earle Leonard Nelson.
Earle Leonard Nelson was finally arrested in Wakopa Manitoba, where a clerk recognized him and reported him to the police.
While detained, he managed to make his escape using a rusty file on the lock and hopped a train. Unfortunately for him – but happily for the rest of Manitoba – the train happened to be filled with police sent from Winnipeg, on their way to help look for the escaped prisoner.
At the time of his capture and trial, Earle Leonard Nelson was wanted in six US cities and was to be tried for the murders in Winnipeg of Lola Cowan and Emily Patterson.
It was in the Manitoba Court House right in front of you that, on November 4, 1927, after less than an hour of deliberation, a 12-man jury convicted Nelson of the murder of of Emily Patterson. He was sentenced to death by hanging at Vaughn Street Jail.
For the end of this chilling tale – take a look at your map and head to Vaughan Street Jail, located at 444 York Street.
Earle Leonard Nelson was housed in the Vaughan Street Jail for about a year, awaiting execution. In the days leading up to his death, women were often seen lingering outside of the jail, hoping to catch a glimpse of the notorious killer.
A jail guard who oversaw Nelson noted that the prisoner had become fixated on a specific Biblical passage from the Book of Proverbs –
My son, give me thine heart,
and let thine eyes observe my ways.
For a whore is a deep ditch;
and a strange woman is a narrow pit.
She also lieth in wait as for a prey,
and increaseth the transgressors among men.
Earle Leonard Nelson was the thirteenth and final person to be executed at the Vaughan Street Jail since it was built in 1884. Nelson was executed by hanging at 7:30am on Friday, January 13, 1928, after walking 13 steps to the gallows.
If you’re feeling very brave…wheel your bike around to the courtyard on the East side of the building…this was where Nelson was executed. Legend is that on certain nights, he can still be seen, floating eerily as if swinging from a ghostly gallows…
Thank you so much for joining me on the Downtown Ghost Ride! I hope that you enjoyed learning a little more about some of downtown Winnipeg’s most gruesome and spooky former inhabitants!