There is arguably nothing in this world more fitting than being inside a Victorian mansion at Halloween. Better yet, a haunted Victorian mansion at Halloween. For those of us who live in Winnipeg, we are lucky to have this combination made in spooky heaven in the form of the Dalnavert Museum.
Built in 1895, Dalnavert was first a home to former Manitoba premier Sir Hugh John Macdonald, and then sold and turned into a rooming house before the Manitoba Historical Society rescued the house in the 1970s. In 2013, the Victorian behemoth had its doors closed once more before its current guardians, Friends of Dalnavert Museum, gained custody.
A house with such a long history has spurred historians and spook enthusiasts alike. Once again, Dalnavert welcomes a broad list of Halloween-related events throughout the month of October.
And yes, according to programming and marketing director at Dalnavert Charlene Van Buekenhout, the house is “reputed to be haunted.”
The main event this October is an encore of last year’s popular adventure, the Empty House.
Running from Oct. 15 to Halloween night, the Empty House is an immersive experience inside the Dalnavert centred around Victorian author Algernon Blackwood’s short story of the same name.
The short story “tells the story of an aunt and her nephew who decide to explore a haunted house and spend the night in a haunted house,” Van Buekenhout explained.
“It’s pretty perfectly aligned to Dalnavert, which is […] basically empty — as in there’s no one living there right now.”
“The story logistically will take place on your own device — streaming on your device — or we have MP3 players in case you don’t want to use your own phone.”
Participants follow the characters around the house, Blackwood’s short story lining up as much as possible with Dalnavert itself.
“It’s very scary,” Van Buekenhout said.
“When we piloted the program last year and I had to do a rehearsal to make sure everything lined up, and I went into the basement and I was like ‘I don’t know if I can do this.’
“You know, it’s a story about a haunted house and you are walking through a dark — a very dark — old house.”
The lights of Dalnavert are turned off and replaced by the light of LED candles for a “spooky atmosphere.”
The audio is more than just the story, including a guide to direct you where to turn and where to go, and there will be volunteers in the house to help out guests in need.
Tickets for the event are a pretty student-friendly $25 and can be purchased online until four hours before doors open. Disposable headphones are provided.
It is asked that participants arrive 10 minutes early, and because of staggered entry, maximum group size is two people per timeslot.
The limited entry event was necessitated by COVID-19 restrictions but ended up ultimately being a success.
“Last year, we had some restrictions in place due to COVID and the pandemic, but we were able to allow a certain number of people in the house at once, so that led us to do this kind of story, as everything would be guest-led,” Van Buekenhout said.
“The house is quite narrow — the hallways are narrow — so it actually works better for us.”
The Empty House experience has returned for a second year because there was more demand than allowable guests last year.
For the haunted house enthusiasts who prefer to be spooked in the comfort of their own home, Scriptum Summatus is a new, online event.
Offered three times, twice in October and once in November, participants will Zoom with actor Theresa Thomson for “a horror game” event.
“It blends theatre and effects and escape room and book club,” Van Buekenhout said.
“The host is inside Dalnavert live streaming [from the museum]. When you play the game, you get a package before the event and you read the story, and there’s a couple other things you have to do […] What it ends up being is a choose-your-own adventure. So, you kind of are at the helm of choosing what happens that night that you’re playing the game.”
Van Buekenhout also warns that this event is much more for the proper horror fan.
“It is a horror-style kind of game, so be comfortable with the occult and be prepared for some scary things to be happening.”
For those on a tighter budget, there is a free online lecture on Bram Stoker and his inspiration for Dracula on Oct. 24 by Kevin Klassen. You must register for the event online prior to the lecture.
If you prefer few-to-no frights, in-person tours of the Dalnavert are led almost every day of the year, with virtual options available on the Dalnavert’s website.
Finally, Van Buekenhout insists those interested should stay tuned for even more Halloween-related “late-in-the-work stuff” at the museum.
“I know a volunteer who has had many ghostly experiences in the house and she said she was willing to talk about them with everyone now,” Van Buekenhout said.
“That might be happening at the end of the month as well, just a discussion about the ghostly, haunting happenings at Dalnavert.”
For more information about all events and the museum itself, visit friendsofdalnavert.ca.