Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Haunted Winnipeg Hotels: The Guest Who Never Checked Out

Guest Post by Matthew Komus.
Edited by Laura McKay, on behalf of Heritage Winnipeg Corp. 
To follow up on this or any other articles on the blog, contact Heritage Winnipeg's Executive Director. 

REMINDER: Heritage Winnipeg's Fall Fundraiser is only a month away! Support Doors Open Winnipeg, the Annual Preservation Awards, as well as our many other projects and programs by buying a ticket or becoming an event patron here or by contacting the Heritage Winnipeg Office.

The Fort Garry Hotel ca. 2014. Image courtesy of Matthew Sinclair.
As Halloween is close at hand it seems the time is right for another post about Winnipeg’s haunted history. In my previous article I wrote about the many haunted theatres in Winnipeg. Although there are not as many haunted hotels, they have equally spooky stories. The most famous haunted hotel in Winnipeg is the Fort Garry Hotel. 

The Fort Garry Hotel ca. 2014. Image courtesy of Matthew Sinclair.
In fact its reputation has grown to the point that guests staying in room 202 (the spookiest room in the hotel) have been woken up at night by strange knocking sounds. Upon investigation it turns out these sounds were not caused by spirits but by people knocking at their door asking if they had seen any ghosts. 

With so much having already been written about the Fort Garry, I will focus instead on another hotel in Winnipeg. The Marlborough may not be as well-known as the Fort Garry but seems to have just as many ghosts.

The Marlborough Hotel ca. 2014. Image courtesy of Matthew Sinclair.

On November 18th, 1914 there was a great deal of joy and optimism in the air. Another luxury hotel was opening, showing once again how progressive a city Winnipeg was becoming. The mayor and important businessmen all came out to attend the opening celebrations. The Manitoba Free Press described the opening as “a notable addition to the high class hotels of Winnipeg.”[i] 

Image courtesy of Matthew Komus.
Only the best would do for the Olympia Hotel. “Fine marbles were imported from Italy, stained-glass windows and doors and specially made furniture from England, silk brocades and luxurious tapestries from France. Tiffany chandeliers, expensive carpets and rich mahogany furniture, fittings and woodwork added an era of elegance unique in western Canada.”[ii] 

Image courtesy of Matthew Komus.
The hotel was equipped with a grill room, stately dining room, tea room, lounge, bar, ladies’ reception room and a barber shop with no less than twelve barbers on duty. Sadly after only six months in business, the hotel was forced to close, as the start of the First World War had led to an economic collapse in Winnipeg. 

World War I recruits line up outside the hotel, 1915. Photo courtesy of the City of Winnipeg Historical Report.

Once the war was over the building returned to its role as a luxury hotel and six additional floors were added. In 1923 the hotel was renamed The Marlborough, after John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough. In 1925 the hotel was so pleased to have Sir Winston Churchill as a guest they renamed their banquet room in his honour.

Image courtesy of Matthew Komus.

There are evidently a number of ghosts haunting the Marlborough but it is the ghost haunting the fifth floor that has the most tragic tale. She has been seen on a number of occasions, often by teenage girls or young women. Usually the girl is staying by herself, away from home with no supervision for the first time. At some point during the night she awakes with a start to see another teenage girl is in her room. It is only when she looks closer she realizes this is no ordinary girl but a girl who is pale and transparent. The ghostly girl soon fades away. The young woman eventually falls back asleep, waking the next morning she wonders if it was all just a dream. As the girl is leaving the hotel for the day she casually mentions it to the front desk clerk. The clerk does not doubt the girl’s story but responds with a word of caution for the young guest. He tells her that the ghostly girl often appears as a warning to young girls that they may be in danger and should be extra careful with whom they socialize. 

Image courtesy of Matthew Komus.

The hotel is confident they know the identity of this spectral girl and it involves one of the most dreadful incidents to have taken place at the Marlborough. On December 5th, 1943 a sixteen-year-old girl was found strangled to death in room 503 of the hotel. The events that led up to this murder started many years before. In 1917, a seventeen year old named Albert Westgate arrived in Winnipeg. Soon after arrival he enlisted to fight in the First World War where he was wounded in combat. 

Image courtesy of Matthew Komus.
After returning to Winnipeg he entered into an unhappy marriage. It wasn’t long before he started looking for companionship from someone besides his wife. He met Lottie Adams and the two became close friends but Westgate was looking for more than friendship and wanted Lottie to run away with him. After Lottie’s refusal to leave her husband, Albert became even more infatuated with her. On February 16th, 1928, Westgate once again asked Adams to leave her husband and once again she refused. Deciding that if he couldn’t have her no one would, Westgate drove to a secluded area and brutally murdered Lottie. He then covered her body with snow and drove away. 

Image courtesy of Matthew Komus.
An investigation into the disappearance of Adams began right away and her body was soon discovered. Westgate, who had been a suspect from day one, was arrested and tried for her murder. Found guilty he was condemned to hang. Though it was a horrific crime, a petition was circulated to save the life of Westgate. The petition worked and his sentence was commuted to life in prison. Even though he was sentenced to life, he was released in June 1943 after only 14 years behind bars.

Image courtesy of Matthew Komus.

While out on parole Westgate met Grace (Edith) Cook, a sixteen-year-old girl who had recently dropped out of school and moved away from home. The two became friends and then just like with Lottie Adams, Westgate became infatuated. He bought her expensive presents and told Edith that he could get her a job in Vancouver. The problem was that Westgate had no money to pay for the gifts, had no connections to employment in Vancouver, and even if he did it would not matter because he was not allowed to leave Winnipeg due to his parole. He had created a fantasy for young Edith but had no way to make any of it come true. Westgate’s lies worked on a naive Edith and she happily agreed to move to the Coast.

Image courtesy of Matthew Komus.

It is at this point in the story that we return to the Marlborough Hotel. Before leaving for Vancouver Edith planned to return to her parent’s place for a few days. Westgate was against this idea and encouraged her instead to get a room at the hotel. On December 2nd, 1943 Edith checked into the hotel and was given room 503. Hotel staff saw Edith and Albert spending time together at the hotel over the next two days. Though only Westgate could say for sure exactly what happened, it is pretty clear that at some point in time on Saturday December 4th all of his lies caught up to Westgate and rather than lose Edith from his life, he strangled her to death in room 503.

Image courtesy of Matthew Komus.

Edith’s mother became suspicious when her daughter did not come home to say goodbye. She went out looking for her daughter. At Edith’s rooming house she found Westgate who informed her that Edith had taken a room at the Marlborough. After going to the Marlborough with Westgate, Edith’s body was discovered in room 503. Westgate was a prime suspect from the very beginning and was soon arrested for her murder. He was found guilty and this time could not escape the hangman’s noose as he was executed on July 24th, 1944. The case of Albert Westgate is a rare example in Canada of someone being sentenced to death at two different times for two completely different murders.

(Editor's Note: More information about this murder case can be found among the Winnipeg Police Services Historical Stories found here.)

The Marlborough Hotel ca. 2014. Image courtesy of Matthew Sinclair.
Many ghost stories are said to be connected to a murder but in most cases no actual proof of a murder ever happening is found. This is clearly not the case with the Marlborough Hotel. After the murder room 503 was sealed off from use. The only reminder at the hotel of this event is reports from guests and staff of a tragic young woman seen floating through the fifth floor corridors and guest rooms. The Marlborough opened with dreams of being a landmark luxury hotel for the city. 

The hotel has had many different owners and has run into financial difficulty several times, causing the hotel to close and reopen on a number of occasions. Yet with all of its ups and downs the Marlborough has managed to remain a Winnipeg fixture for over a hundred years. While no one would consider it today to be one of Winnipeg’s luxury hotels, when it comes to ghosts it’s second to none.

The following stories are recounted in great detail from Haunted Winnipeg: Ghost Stories from the Heart of the Continent. Matthew Komus works as a tour guide and heritage consultant with many of Manitoba’s heritage sites and museums. 
Additional information on Winnipeg Ghost Walk can be found at

[i] "New Olympia is Splendid Hotel." Manitoba Free Press 19 November 1914: 16.
[ii] Ibid.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Heritage on Main: Main Street Bridges - Guest Post by David Loftson

Guest post and images provided by David Loftson, amateur historian. 
Edited by Laura McKay, on behalf of Heritage Winnipeg Corp. 
To follow up on this or any other articles on the blog, contact Heritage Winnipeg's Executive Director.

Upper Fort Garry, Main Street Winnipeg Manitoba, ca. 1874. Demolished. This was the fort, viewed from the south, on the eve of the removal of its walls. Image courtesy of the Manitoba Archives.
There has been a crossing over the Assiniboine River at the foot of Main Street for a very long time. Even before the first bridge was built, there was a ferry that crossed the river at that point just below Upper Fort Garry. 

View of Main Street ferry over the Assiniboine River below Upper Fort Garry, with the Hudson's Bay Company warehouse on the right. Image courtesy of website.

Manitoba Department of Public Works. Image courtesy of the University of Manitoba Archives and Special Collection.
The first Main Street Bridge was built by the Hudson's Bay Company in 1881. It was a steel truss bridge. 

First Main Street Bridge, 1881 to 1937. Looking towards Upper Fort Garry. Image courtesy of the HBC Archives-1987-363-W-200-17a from Abigail Auld.
This was one of two toll bridges the company built; the other was the Broadway Bridge connecting Broadway and Provencher. The city bought the Main Street Bridge from the HBC in 1882, only a year after its construction. It was later demolished in 1897. 

Second Main Street Bridge, 1897 to 1931. Looking east with St. Boniface Hospital in the background. Image courtesy of the Peel Collection, University of Alberta.
The second Main Street Bridge was built in 1897 and demolished in 1931. This was a steel truss swing bridge. Early bridges in Winnipeg had to accommodate river traffic so they were built as swing bridges, like the current Bergen Bridge at Kildonan Park, lift or draw bridges like the old railway bridge at the Forks, or they were built high enough to allow traffic to pass under it, like the original Disraeli Bridge.

Bergen Swing Bridge. Image courtesy of Google.

An example of a lift bridge is the Old Railway Bridge at the Forks. Courtesy of the Forks website.

Old and New Disraeli Bridge. High bridges allowed river traffic clearance under the bridge deck. Image courtesy of the AXIS Inspection Group Ltd. website.

The third Main Street Bridge was built in 1931. This was a concrete bridge and the nearby Norwood Bridge was built to the same design. The original steel bridges were both only two lanes wide; the new 1931 bridges were both five lanes wide. The fifth lane, the middle lane, was reversible - northbound in the AM and southbound in the PM. Of course, this was after the streetcars were removed from the bridges in the 1950s. 

Third Main Street Bridge ca. 1931 (lower left corner). Image courtesy of the Forks website.
In 1938, the Main Street Bridge was renamed "The Bridge of the Old Forts" to commemorate the many forts built nearby. The plaque commemorating the new name was on a limestone base at the northwest corner of the bridge. Both were moved when the current bridge was built, and now sits at the northwest corner of the new bridge.

Third Main Street Bridge - plaque commemorating the new name of the bridge as "The Bridge of the Old Forts". Image courtesy of David Loftson.
The forth Main Street Bridge was built in 1996/1998, which is the bridge we use today. It is a twin span with three to four lanes in each direction, plus bus and bicycle lanes. 

The fourth Main Street Bridge, twin span complete in 1998. Image courtesy of Wiki Common.

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Wednesday, 14 October 2015

The First Mosque in Manitoba: The Hazelwood Mosque at 247 Hazelwood Avenue

Article by Laura McKay, on behalf of Heritage Winnipeg Corp.
Thank you to Tasneem Vali, Laila Chebib, and Jameela Inayatulla for their assistance with this piece.
To follow up on this or any other articles on the blog, contact Heritage Winnipeg's Executive Director.

A new piece of Manitoba history is planned to join Doors Open Winnipeg - the first mosque built in Manitoba. Located at 247 Hazelwood Avenue, the Hazelwood Mosque is a testament to the hard work and determination of its congregation. Just in time for Islamic History Month, here is our visit to the mosque!

On August 24, 2015, Summer Students Rushika Khatkar and Laura McKay were graciously hosted and given a tour of the Hazelwood Mosque by Tasneem Vali, Office Manager at the Manitoba Islamic Association, as well as Laila Chebib and Jameela Inayatulla, founding members of Manitoba Islamic Association and the mosque. 

The Chebibs were also among the first Syrian immigrants to the area, with Laila arriving in approximately 1958. Her husband Dr. Farouk Chebib was among the early computer programmers at the University of Manitoba and eventually became a professor there. Jameela joined the Manitoba Islamic community in 1968. Both had many memories of the early days of the mosque to share with us. 
First Eid, 1976 Men's Section. Photo courtesy of the late Khaleel Baksh.
First Eid, 1976 Women's Section. Photo courtesy of the late Khaleel Baksh.
Muslim pioneers began arriving in Winnipeg and rural Manitoba in the early 1900s, primarily from Turkey and Lebanon. Unfortunately, the community has been unsuccessful in tracing them before the 1950s, although research continues.

Artwork donated to the mosque in 1975. Artist details below.

The Manitoba Islamic Association came first, incorporated in 1969 to enable the organization to raise funds to build a place of worship, starting with two donations for a total of $200. The fundraising efforts then began in earnest - dinners were held at the Ramada Hotel, they participated in Folklorama and the University of Manitoba's Festival of Life and Learning, and baked goods were sold after prayer times, as well as at an "Hajje Baba" booth at the Red River Exhibition. 

Some of the mosque's beautiful artwork.
Letters were written to numerous Muslim governments, requesting financial assistance. King Faisal of Saudi Arabia was the only one who answered, with a $25,000 no strings attached donation that as seed money for the mosque. 

Mosque construction, the foundation hole. Photo courtesy of the late Khaleel Baksh.
Mosque construction, the dig. Photo courtesy of the late Khaleel Baksh.
At this time, the main source of immigration in the Muslim community was young professionals or grad students seeking to complete their education at Canadian universities. The congregation consisted of approximately 100 people, and until the mosque was completed in 1976, prayers were held in the basements or more often in the apartments of various members of the community. The community was made up of both Shia and Sunni Muslims, although the mosque's congregation is now primarily made up of Sunni Muslims.

Mosque construction, the foundation. Photo courtesy of the late Khaleel Baksh.
Mosque construction, foundation from the parking lot. Photo courtesy of the late Khaleel Baksh.
Construction on the mosque began in 1970, but due to lack of funds, the construction was not completed for nearly six years, with the mosque officially opening in 1976. Part way through the project, the contractor went bankrupt, leaving the rest of the building to be slowly completed by the hands of the members of its congregation. As context, this was also right around the time that Winnipeg was unified into Unicity, gathering in the surrounding communities under one umbrella.

Mosque construction with congregation member Dr. Hyder. Photo courtesy of the late Khaleel Baksh.

Mosque construction. Photo courtesy of the late Khaleel Baksh.
The total cost of the mosque's construction was approximately $80,000, including the purchase of the land. To give you a sense of how much money this was, the ladies told me that they remember the Ramadan Fitrah (a sort of traditional tithe, with a specified amount paid for each member of the family) being 50 cents in 1978. The Fitrah this year, by comparison, was $10. Although this amount is based on the cost of one meal and thus fluctuates with the price of wheat, it gives you a pretty good idea of how much more the building would cost to build today.

Almost there! Photo courtesy of the late Khaleel Baksh.
The completed mosque, open for the first Eid in 1976. Photo courtesy of the late Khaleel Baksh.
Initially, the neighbours weren't big fans of the mosque built in their community, but inviting them to visit, along with other courtesies has encouraged tolerance and understanding on both sides. For example, the ladies told me that flyers are put on doorsteps and tucked into mailboxes after Ramadan to thank the neighbours for their patience during the period of fasting and celebration. 

The mosque is very simply built, with one main area called the musahallah, the sanctuary where people pray. The carpet in this particular musahallah has thick stripes to signal the rows in which people should sit, since there are no pews or chairs to guide them. Markings of some variety are common to most mosques for the same purpose. 

The musahallah is sometimes segregated with a curtain or partition or by men and women each taking a side, but this depends heavily on the preferences and home cultures of the congregation. I'm told that the partition in the Hazelwood mosque was introduced in the early 80s by well-meaning members of the congregation and its use is only really upheld if there are a large number of attendees to prayer. 

A small alcove in the wall, facing towards the shortest distance to Mecca, is called the mimbar and is where the leader of the prayers takes his or her place. An imam, or religious leader is not necessary to lead prayers and if one is not available than the most knowledgeable member of the congregation in the readings of the Quran fills that role. I was told that a woman may lead prayers for an exclusively female congregation and a man may lead prayers for both genders.

The decoration above this particular mimbar translates from Arabic to "God is Great" or "God is the Greatest". 

When the mosque was first built in 1976, it was thought that the shortest distance to Mecca was facing southwest. This later changed when it was realized that the distance over the North Pole was in fact shorter, causing the mimbar to be moved to its current location, facing northeast.

Classroom space in the basement. Photo courtesy of Laila Chebib.

Photo courtesy of Laila Chebib.
The basement of the building has classroom and kitchen space where classes are held on the Quran for children as well as the men and women of the community. Originally, it was also a space where children could be taught how to read and write in Arabic, as this was the mother tongue of many when the mosque was first built. 

Photo courtesy of Laila Chebib.

Photo courtesy of Laila Chebib.

Using the basement space. Photo courtesy of Laila Chebib.
Feeling a little ignorant? I know I did! Here's a handy link to help you touch up on your knowledge of Islamic beliefs and practices. There's even a documentary about the first Muslim immigrants to Canada!

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