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. 
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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. 

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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.

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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.)



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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 www.winnipegghostwalk.com






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

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