By Chris Rutkowski
For The Bulletin
At this time of year, ghosts and goblins are on the minds of many people. In an academic, scientific setting, one might expect that such things are not topics of discussion, yet the University of Manitoba has its share of spooky stories and ethereal connections.
"We have a very unique collection that chronicles historic scientific research into paranormal phenomena," says Shelley Sweeney, head, archives & special collections of the University of Manitoba Libraries. She is referring to the Dr. T.G. Hamilton Fonds, a large collection of manuscripts, correspondence and photographs of spiritual apparitions.
In 1915, Hamilton was president of the Manitoba Medical Association and was elected a member of the provincial legislature. In 1918, soon after his young son’s death, he began to experiment with psychic phenomena. His aim was the scientific investigation of paranormal phenomena such as rappings, psychokinesis, ectoplasms, and materializations under scientific conditions that would minimize any possibility of error. Between 1926 and 1935 he presented 86 lectures and wrote numerous articles published in Canada and abroad. Hamilton’s wife Lillian carried on his paranormal experimentations following his death in 1935.
All positive prints taken from the photographic negatives have been retained with the written records of the experiments which they illustrate. Almost all the glass plate negatives were photographed for archival purposes, and the black and white glossy print collection is also available for researchers today. Much of the material has now been made available online at the archives website.
In addition, the archive contains several other collections of material related to psychic and other controversial phenomena. Books and other documents collected by noted Canadian architect Bernard Rasch are preserved here as well. A longtime donor to The Winnipeg Foundation, Rasch also collected books and other materials on UFO sightings, paranormal phenomena and occult societies. He donated his collection to the University of Manitoba in 2004.
As noted above, computer science instructor Christina Penner published a novel about the experiences of a young woman who learns about the Hamilton House experiments after she moves into the building.
Beyond the documentation of paranormal research, buildings at the University of Manitoba, like many throughout the province, have been sites where people have claimed to have had paranormal experiences.
Alumni House, the former "Practice House" of the Faculty of Home Economics, has a reputation of haunting. Staff there have claimed to have heard footsteps on old wooden staircases when the building was otherwise empty, and "cold spots" have been reported moving about the upper floors.
In the Art Barn, students and staff have claimed to have seen the ghostly apparition of a former art professor, sitting quietly before a large canvas in an unoccupied room.
Other buildings where eerie events have been claimed include the present Faculty of Human Ecology, Taché Residence and the School of Art FitzGerald Building.
But perhaps the best-known ghost at the University of Manitoba isn’t even in Winnipeg, but at the Delta Marsh Field Station along Lake Manitoba. It even has a name: Murray.
Many students and staff have claimed to have experienced odd phenomena there, such as hearing chains rattling, windows and doors opening and closing of their own accord, and lights appearing in buildings that are unoccupied. Murray is said to have been a former caretaker of the Station, whose ghost still maintains a watch on the premises.
So, as we approach Hallowe’en, the University of Manitoba continues to demonstrate it is a source for information – and speculation – not only about what is known, but what is unknown.