WINNIPEG, MANITOBA -- Norm Beaver can't feel his face.
That whiny update comes directly from him, my travel companion, as we shiver outside the Manitoba Legislative Building in Winnipeg. Our tour guide, Don Finkbeiner of Heartland Travel, is pointing with excitement to a sphinx perched on the peaked roof of the front entrance.
"Everything was right here in front of us, in plain sight. For almost 100 years no one noticed that this building is actually a temple," Finkbeiner says with incredulity.
You've probably heard about the Canadian Museum for Human Rights that opened last month in Winnipeg. But did you know the city's Legislative Building is Canada's very own version of the "Da Vinci Code" -- a real-life pagan temple with deities disguised as gargoyles, guardian beasts warding off evil and an altar for sacrificial rites? And you thought politics was boring!
Sure, "Winterpeg" can be as cold as Mars (minus-50 Celsius degrees at some points last winter) but this boom-bust-boom city is also a hotbed of paranormal secrets and spooky spirits.
Norm's head isn't the only frozen, back-from-the-dead face in the Legislative Building. In front of the Grand Staircase (13 steps, like all staircases in the building that was designed by a mason), Finkbeiner points up. Way up.
There's a screeching gargoyle leering down at us. Nice.
"Look closer. Does she look familiar?"
Frozen scream, snakes for hair, ice-cold rage and a hard stony stare.
Bad-girl Medusa is in the house. But why?
There's a reason the Hermetic Code Tour is 90 minutes long, a designated Canadian Signature Experience and includes a 131-page coffee table book. Every stone, sculpture, painting, adornment and dimension in the Manitoba Legislative Building is encoded with occult symbolism and numerological codes.
You could quite happily spend all day with Finkbeiner or Frank Albo, the young Winnipeg-born architectural historian responsible for decoding the building's secrets, and you'd still want more.
Just remember: The tour starts outside so dress appropriately if you come in winter like we did or you'll stagger into "the temple" like the frozen walking dead.
A Muddy, Bloody Good Time in Manitoba
For Kristen Verin-Treusch, owner of Muddy Water Tours (Winnipeg means "muddy water" in Cree), the walking dead are always welcome on her tours. In fact, spirits are guests of honour and encouraged to make themselves seen, heard and understood.
Verin-Treusch is as kind as she is brave. "No, I'm not a ghost whisperer, no way!" she says with a laugh. "I'm more interested in shifting people's paradigms around what happens after we die."
Our paradigm shift starts at the Fort Garry Hotel in downtown Winnipeg. Built in 1913, the Fort Garry has hosted superstars like Charlie Chaplin, Walt Disney and Brad Pitt. But it's the invisible spirit stars -- some friendly, some fierce -- who've transformed this ornate chateau-style hotel into one of Canada's most spectacular haunting grounds.
Verin-Treusch can't take us into Room 202 because the notorious suite is already occupied.
We walk down the narrow carpeted hallway and stand quietly outside the dark wooden door.
Verin-Treusch hisses ghost stories about what's behind Door 202.
There's the female ghost who likes to climb into bed with guests. Sometimes she stands at the foot of the bed and just stares.
Until you wake up screaming.