I had a lovely Saturday doing some “tourist in my home town” activities. There is a fabulous lady here in Winnipeg who did a masters thesis on local history. She has spun that interest and research into a business called Muddy Waters Tours. It is called Muddy Waters because the name “Winnipeg” is a Cree Indian word meaning muddy waters. In 1866 a newspaper called the Nor’ Wester labeled this area Winnipeg (I’m guessing because our two rivers are a muddy brown color). Who knew? I didn’t, until I came across this tour company.
Muddy Waters Tours likes odd historical facts that run a bit into the dark side. So ghost tours and cemetery tours are on the agenda. Muddy Waters also likes to take some of the pretty gild off of our historic facts by showing some of the tarnish. For example, Nellie McClung is celebrated as helping bring the vote to western Canadian women. Yeah, Nellie. But, what doesn’t always make the history books was she was only fighting for white, upper class women of British heritage. The other ladies were not desirable as potential voting persons. Whoa, Nellie. I guess even baby steps forward are still steps forward.
Anyway, I took Mr Victorian-Not on a tour of our old jail.
It is the oldest provincial building still within city limits. At 133 years old, it is enough of a heritage site for them not to mow the thing down even though it is on prime downtown land, but not enough for them to do anything with it other than store junk for the maintenance guys employed by the other law court buildings right next to it. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get into the building but Muddy Waters made it a fun tour anyway with old photos and fun stories. My favorite story was of the 5-year-old who was jailed for 3 weeks for general mischief. (Inner cringe.) He was younger and smaller than his accomplices and it didn’t take him long to figure out that he could squeeze between the bars. I wont spoil the punch line for anyone wanting to take the tour themselves but I will say for a 5-year-old he was a crafty little twerp! I hope he grew up to use that brightness for good not evil! There also was some not so fun stories about how the inmates were abused. Now, I’m not for turning jails into resorts, but in some cases they went to far.
If you look at the middle of the building, that is where the jailer and his family lived. Nope, not me. Hubby would be looking for a new job…. The wing on the right hand side was for the criminals of a more hardened nature…murderers, rapists, arsonists who killed someone, etcetera. Criminals of a lighter stripe (petty thieves, vagrants…) were in the left hand wing. They were called “lighter stripe” because the stripe on their prison garb was a lighter grey.
As an aside, while walking around the jail, the guide pointed out a local monument across the street.
There’s a funny story about this monument: there was a design contest for the memorial with a $2000 prize. There was a winner and all was a go until someone realized that the winner was born in Germany. Even though he came to Canada as a child and was out of Germany long before there was even a hint of war, it was decided his design was not appropriate. They let him keep the money and tried again, this time specifying the winner had to be of British decent. The second winner was a woman who was gifted in her own right. They awarded her the $500 prize and were all set to create her monument when they realized she was married to the first guy. The third winner did get his monument built but there was no prize money.
Round the back of the jail we saw the addition that was added to the building.
Prior to the addition, the women and children and mentally ill were housed with the men. (Another inner cringe) On one side of this wing was the gardens and on the other side was the area for hanging. Nice. Anyway, the tour guide has been fighting to get this building put to a better use (other than storage). Her dream is to restore some of the cells and the jailer living quarters to their original state. She wants to set up a replica of a court room on the third floor. She wants to have rooms for over night stays (for folks looking for ghosts I’m thinking) on the second floor. She also wants to have a nice period representing restaurant with a patio that opens out onto the hanging area. What a fabulous dream! I hope she pulls it off!
Now, I wrap up my story with a yippy moment for myself and Shirley! The Muddy Waters Tour Company had set up the event that Shirley and I went to earlier in the month. I had told the guide that I was the one in the red dress who had won the costume contest. She got all excited and said she had lost our contact information and she had been wanting to get a hold of Shirley and I! The Art Gallery is putting on an event and the guide had told them she may know some ladies that would come in Victorian Costumes and then couldn’t find our contact email! So I hope to hear from the Art Gallery soon. Then the guide offered to add us to her website. If you click on the link I gave for Muddy Waters at the top of the page and then click on Victorian Group you will find us. At this writing, the bugs were not worked out but soon….
Shirley has not been idle in the drumming up of club business herself. She did a talk at a local beauty school on Victorian fashions. The girls were very interested in what all goes on (and under) a Victorian outfit. May be one of those girls will get interested in Victorian fashions and help keep that history alive!