Downtown walking tours delve into Wheat City's dark side

·4 min read

Delving into the darker side of Brandon’s past, the Brandon General Museum and Archives will be hosting a series of history walks to celebrate the spooky season.

Brandon is unique because Wheat City lore does not typically include ghost stories or hauntings — but there is a secret history of mysterious tales and sensational stories here, said Alyssa Wowchuk, Brandon General Museum and Archives museum administrator.

“Brandon has a ton of super weird, dark and even scandalous history,” Wowchuk said. “We don’t really need ghost stories; Brandon has a lot of other stories to tell.”

Wowchuk created the dark history walking tours by compiling interesting tidbits from Brandon’s past. She unearthed a rich and varied collection of stories capturing the early history of the city to the mid-1950s.

The Brandon Museum general history walks originally began in the summer of 2020 with the Brandon Neighbourhood Renewal Corporation as a new initiative to help people get to know the downtown core better. They were held again this summer with the downtown ambassadors. The events proved successful, she said, as they were an accessible activity for people during COVID-19.

The latest tours were made possible by a collaboration with the Brandon Chamber of Commerce and Brandon Public Library, just in time for Halloween.

It was challenging honing in on the stories to spotlight, Wowchuk said, because Brandon has scandalous pieces of history that are not typically talked about.

“Not too many people know that Brandon’s entire police force was fired on two occasions,” Wowchuk said. “There’s really interesting history, but it’s not really mainstream when it comes to Brandon’s history.”

Wowchuk added the Wheat City is especially rich in stories featuring prohibition, taking place between the First World War and the Spanish Flu. For a period of time both of Brandon’s breweries, Empire Brewing and the Brandon Brewery, remained open and producing beer during prohibition. Wowchuk said the breweries found a legal loophole allowing them to ship their ales outside the province.

“The rumour is some people had alternate addresses. They would ship the beer out of the province, and then they would ship it back to an address here in Brandon,” Wowchuk said. “But, those are people who had that luxury. There are more unfortunate stories of prohibition … A lot of people were using alcohol to fill a void from the loss and the trauma of war. There is a lot of unfortunate stories of people trying to find alternatives to alcohol and poisoning themselves and ultimately killing themselves.”

Wowchuk explained stories like those about prohibition can help unpack the dynamics of the Brandon region over the years, showcasing the classism and racism community members experienced.

She added respect has been a key aspect when it came to acknowledging the Wheat City’s past during tours. It was critical to remain respectful during the walks because she will be talking about fatal accidents and other traumatizing events.

Wowchuk said she wanted to ensure people’s stories focus on their lives, not just their deaths.

“These people — their time was cut short ... and I want to tell their story in an appropriate way,” Wowchuk said. “It’s not sensationalizing it.”

Those looking to join a dark history walk, Wowchuk said, should come with an open, respectful mind and prepare to be inquisitive.

“Be curious about history. There’s a lot going on in early Brandon that a lot of people might not be aware of,” Wowchuk said. “I’m really excited to tell these stories and hopefully garner more interest in Brandon’s past.”

The Brandon Chamber of Commerce Dark History Tour takes place on Thursday from 5:30 to 7 p.m. The tour starts and ends at The Dock on Princess. Tickets are $35 and can be booked through the Chamber.

The Brandon Museum and Brandon Public Library will be hosting “Death, Disaster and Disease in the Wheat City” on Oct. 20 and 23 at 10:30 a.m. The free downtown walking tour will delve into the more grisly pieces of the past, including epidemics, murders, deadly accidents and other shocking stories. The walk begins at the Brandon Public Library. To register email programs@wmrl.ca.

» ckemp@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @The_ChelseaKemp

Chelsea Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun

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