David McConkey - Columnist, Consultant, Citizen
Columnist. Consultant. Citizen.

Take a Brandon Ghost Walking Tour

Brandon Sun, June 12, 2010 - David McConkey

With “Gossip in the Graveyard” returning to Brandon, now is an ideal time to visit some of our local ghosts.

Take a stroll along our city streets and become acquainted with some ghosts – spirits and memories of Brandon’s past.

Here is a three-kilometre walking tour of Brandon real-life dramas. (An extra Louise Avenue loop is an additional three kilometres.)
  • Start at the corner of 10th Street and Rosser Avenue.
On April 6, 1953, a fire engulfed the popular Olympia CafĂ©, which stood on the southwest corner. The building originally was constructed in 1883 as the Bank of British North America. 

Firefighter Fred Brown lost his life battling the fire. He is the only Brandon firefighter ever to have been killed in the line of duty.
  • Walk south on 10th to 333 10th Street.
A murder took place here. On July 5, 1899, Hilda Blake, a 21-year-old domestic servant, shot her employer, Mary Lane. 

Blake, one of thousands of orphaned British “home children,” had been sent to work in Manitoba when she was 10.

Blake was hanged on December 27, 1899.
  • Walk south to Louise Avenue. If choosing the extra Louise Avenue loop, walk east 1.5 kilometres, into the park and almost to Franklin Street.
The Rideau Park Personal Care Home stands on the site of the old jail and incorporates the original courthouse, built in 1884. Under the new building are buried the bodies of Hilda Blake and two others who were hanged here.
  • Walk west on Louise Avenue to 11th and south to the 400-Block of 11th Street.
A homicide took place here in 2004 that has not been solved. The victim was Diana Rattlesnake. Somebody knows what happened. If you have any information, or if you saw her between October 24 and 26 of that year, please contact the police.
  • Walk south to Victoria and east to 10th Street and Victoria Avenue.
The old Winter Fair Exhibition Building was built here (southwest corner) in 1907. The building was used during the First World War to intern Ukrainian Canadians and other “enemy aliens.”

More than 700 men were imprisoned. One man is known to have been shot and killed while trying to escape.

Stories from former prisoners, however, have been passed down the generations. These stories tell of seven men dying here – they were either killed or committed suicide.

Where the bodies are buried is not recorded officially, but there are rumours . . .
  • Walk east on Victoria Avenue to Ninth Street and north to Brandon City Hall grounds.
The Brandon Internment Camp plaque was placed here in 1997 to honour the internees, who had been “unjustly imprisoned.”
  • Walk north on Ninth Street to Princess Avenue, east to Seventh Street, north to Rosser Avenue, and west around the corner to the 700-Block of Rosser Avenue.
Built in 1892, the imposing three-storey Syndicate Block once stood here (south side).

On January 17, 1916, the building, occupied by the clothing company Doig, Rankin & Robertson, was destroyed in a horrific fire.

Four clerks jumped to safety from the second floor.

Moments before the elevator crashed into the basement, five other staff were saved with the help of the elevator boy and the head dressmaker. 

Four employees died: one man and three female dressmakers.

The former Eaton’s store at this location now houses the library and art gallery. There are staff reports of a ghost haunting the premises . . .
  • Walk west on Rosser Avenue to Ninth Street and north to Ninth Street and Pacific Avenue.
Look down onto the CPR tracks. January 12, 1916 (just days before the Syndicate Block fire), was an extremely cold day. A blizzard had been raging. 

A freight train here crashed into another train that had been clearing snow. Fourteen men died at the scene. Another five died later in hospital. 

The Brandon snow train wreck is Canada’s ninth-worst train disaster.
  • Walk west on Pacific Avenue to 10th Street and south to the starting point.
If this tour has piqued your interest in our local stories, then later this month consider attending Gossip in the Graveyard. This two-hour interactive theatre walking tour highlights some of the colourful people buried at the Brandon Municipal Cemetery.

“Gossip” will take place Saturday evening, June 26, at 7:00 and 7:15; and Sunday afternoon, June 27, at 3:00 and 3:15. Reserve your $15 ticket from Kelly Lumbard, 724-2682. (Participation is limited.) Sponsored by Brockie Donovan Funeral Home, proceeds will be donated to Westman Hospice.
Our fascinating local history invites us to notice our city with fresh eyes, to visit a museum, or to listen to a reminiscing old-timer.

And to read books like:
Brandon: A City 1881-1961 (free download),
Every Stone a Story: Manitoba's Buried History, and
Walk Towards the Gallows: The Tragedy of Hilda Blake, Hanged 1899.

Join me in visiting more ghosts in the future.

* * * *
See also:

Discovering Historic Downtown Brandon

Driving Tour of Brandon Finds Historic Places

Walking Tour of East End Brandon History

Historic Downtown Brandon Walking Tour

Manitoba History – A Citizen Appreciation



David McConkey,
Brandon, Manitoba
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