Review writing was the topic of last Tuesday’s CNC’s citizen journalism class.
The group is so filled with talent there was no need for guest speakers – a lively and informative discussion took place between the remarkable CNC writers who regularly cover a wide variety of events.
Contributors who cover music shows, movies, plays, theatre, and cinema spoke of their experiences. Even a regular writer landing a publicist gig for a theatre group spoke of the nuances of writing a performance preview. It was a full and behind the scenes look at the craft. The discussion was filled with adventures!
On this rather cloudy day, I decide to take in the annual Halloween Haunt at the Selkirk Marine Museum and write a review about it. But I must wait until darkness when the Haunt opens its nautical doors at 6 p.m.
To while the time, I continue my recent and long overdue renovation project painting the original backyard gazebo.
Hey! The gazebo’s old fashioned horizontal wood planking with its peeling paint looks exactly like the old wooden hulls of ghost ships in horror movies (not to mention some of the historic ship restorations in progress at the Marine Museum).
The season is upon us!
I wait for night. With every brush stroke the fall day seems to turn a little cooler. A school yard straggler runs by in the back lane; branches rustle somewhere in another yard. A sudden, strange feeling at the back of my neck makes me turn, and I realize my neighbour’s husky dog with the light coloured eyes is staring at me through the leafless, once lush summer vine.
Now the day is becoming so cool I fear the paint might not dry at all. The day’s light begins to diminish. With each passing moment I feel the gazebo is coming to more and more darkly resemble a ships wooden hull… like this peeling wooden gazebo, old ships are kind of creepy, and who likes black waters at night?
My mind casts back to last week’s CNC class. It was really about what to ask yourself about the event, and perhaps why. It explored how the writer simply felt, in a logical way.
The pale sun has fallen suddenly in my backyard. The old gazebo’s hulk, like that of the fabled Ozark Mountains, has prematurely blotted out the last, long light. I recall valley legends of wayward behaviour brought on by the sudden premature shade.
I jump with a start as the large plastic pumpkin and orange outdoor lights flash on with the timer I have set for this very moment of evening darkness.
For now, the hour is upon me to travel to the old ships within the assembly of the dry docked. As for the gazebo, spring will surely come.
I walk to the car and carefully open its door. As a precaution I check the back seat, dispelling any visions of horror that seem to be creeping up in my mind’s eye. The back seat is empty except for a few notebooks. I climb in and turn the ignition.
But a sudden manifestation clouds my senses and I am overwrought!
The sweet sounds of love, sun and fun of the Beach Boys fill my vehicle from the CD left in the player from last night. Now, how could any fears possibly reach me?
The cheery gal at the local Tim Horton’s drive thru places a spiced pumpkin coffee (a fall seasonal favourite) – in my hand. In high spirits, Brian Wilson accompanies me on the drive to the town of Selkirk, home of the wonderful and historic Selkirk Marine Museum, its vessels of yore and the giant cat fish!
I arrive at the museum at the stroke of 6 p.m., avoiding any rush. It is located at the entrance to Selkirk Park, where huge ships loom up dry docked and majestic in the darkness. It is all very creepy.
Historic and charming lighthouses made of horizontal wood planks (just like my gazebo) are lit up for the night. They sit like entrance way pillars to the Museum.
I feel as if I am walking up to Castle Dracula, except the castle is not one structure but many ships. The most majestic the 1897 MS Keenora – the main site of all spirit activity tonight.
Its wheelhouse beacons an orange glow where a disturbing silhouette of its captain can be seen. To yet further amplify my hesitation, I remember the darn thing from a childhood day trip when it sat in the Selkirk slough, listing to the side with the waterline almost up to the rail on one side. It looked dangerous, frightening and compelling all at once. I feel the same way about the grand dame to this very day.
Through the moonlit darkness, screams and pounding sounds can be heard from the vessel.
I turn to see a friendly, smiling face welcoming me at the doorway. It is Shaylene (Shay) Nordal, the Museum’s manager.
“You’re going in by yourself?” she asks with a bit of surprise, or teasing. She lets me know there is a “half way point” if it proves too much to take.
Suddenly, a young boy bounds up the stairs from the horrors in the basement.
“Is this half way? Is it?” He demands to know. He clearly didn’t want to go any further.
“You made it!” calls out Shay. “That’s the end!” They exchange congratulatory high fives.
To me, all these things are not good signs.
I line up at the stair that rises to the deck level where visceral shrieks can be heard. I look back to see a long, dimly lit hallway that runs the length of the ship in a slight curve. I conclude that a stroll through the moody glow of the 1897 ship without its haunted theme is good enough for me. Why gild the lily?
But I steadfastly line up before the staircase with the warning of low headroom with its original 1897 signage.
Along with an enthused group of kids I continue to wait within the themed hallway. I considerately usher the children ahead of me, since they can first enjoy themselves when various zombies, serial killers, and cloaked figures bound out at them from the darkened corners above. (I need to remain an objective, unmoved reporter behind this group of valiant children, in order to finish my review safely from home).
Finally, we all climb up the staircase, watching our heads in the process. Upon the deck, the eager children bound ahead exuberantly into the darkened wheel house and in an instant I am left completely alone.
Suddenly, a face resembling a darkly brooding rag doll pokes out of the wheel house at a 180 degree angle. It lets out a cackle worthy of folkloric legend.
More horribly, this rag doll face seems to instantly move downwards along the doorway, to stop about a foot from the floor where it lets out an unearthly keening sound.
I simply turn, descend the stairs and head for the door.
Quietly, I hear a little girl’s animated voice quaver: “Friends?”
I stop in my tracks. How could I possibly refuse a rag doll face requesting my friendship, even though she moves like an extraterrestrial?
I tentatively walk back to the wheelhouse where this ghoul seems to reside. There, in the footlights, is a zombie nun of sorts and a tiny little scary doll seemingly floating in air – all apparently inspired from the movie The Conjuring. My resolve to leave is cemented and I descend the staircase once more.
Thinking quickly, I conclude I could just tell everyone at CNC the car had broken down, or I had suddenly developed some strange and delicate heart condition or those mean kids waiting with me in the staircase made me cry too much to go in.
Seeing Shay’s smiling face back at the door, I admit my dilemma.
“I’ll take you through,” she happily offers.
The idea I might have a shred of dignity left quickly disappears when I latch on to her arm like a child as we are absorbed into the complete blackness past the wheelhouse.
Creatures – I know not what kind – lay in wait to make their sudden appearance. There are exploding flashes of light and horrible scenes, black figures jumping out from the next corners, figures dropping directly in my path from the ceiling, and a strange hallway with giant tentacle-like limbs dangling from above where a black cloaked figure silently emerges and moves much too close to me for comfort. He/she disturbingly remains stuck to my side for the length of the horrible hall. He/she is brooding deeply.
Shay and I are suddenly delivered into the many chambers that cause me to drop my eyes to a spot on the floor directly at my feet where they would stay until we emerge from these nightmare spaces.
Occasionally, I see a bit of the wheels of the gurneys that hold the dramatic displays. I do recall (in the 1/100th of a second that I view the first display) there is a lot of red.
I exit at the halfway mark, refusing the werewolf who, with beckoning claw, tries to entice me into the basement.
Dear readers, I tried my best.
The Keenora is an 1897 passenger ship with suites to each side of a central hallway on its upper deck. It also holds a grand oak staircase. It holds the perfect lay out for the many characters that make such horrifying mischief once a year at the Halloween Haunt.
“Those who traveled aboard the Keenora in the past, fondly remember her days as a proud lake steamer.” (From the Selkirk Marine Museum website).
Imagine the intrigue this ship has seen!
Operating with a crew of about 26, it held a captain, first mate, many deck hands, waitresses, an engineer, and cooks. Rising costs to update passenger safety standards caused the ship in 1966 to become a freight vessel, and by 1973 it was laid to rest in the Selkirk slough.
But in 1917 it was shipped to Winnipeg after being cut in half and then reassembled with a 50 foot section added to the middle, where, according to the Museum’s website “a syndicate of Winnipeg lawyers used her for a season as a floating dance hall!”
The MS Keenora and many more interesting, dry docked ships can be toured all summer long at the Selkirk Marine Museum.
The Halloween Haunt is the Museum’s biggest fundraiser.
“All funds raised are put right back into the museum’s budget,” says Shay, who is leading me to the back exit. Once starting out as a tour guide at the Marine Museum, she is now program manager. The Haunt is the Selkirk Marine Museum’s most popular event of the year, and through each season it has greatly developed.
“I’m already thinking about next year,” says Shay, who has been working since September’s season close to choreograph and decorate the ship. Shay’s father and brother are also volunteering on this night. (Her Dad is a welcome site for me as he sits at the oak staircase with a flash light).
Jonathan, a security person at the Haunt, says actors and support people return year after year to volunteer. I discover him at ship’s exit, casually speaking with Michael Myers, the celebrated serial killer character of Halloween movie fame.
Jonathan describes to me how his grandfather William “Bill” Flett was a captain on the Granite Rock, a tugboat built in Winnipeg’s 1913 heyday for the Brown and Rutherford construction products company. The tugboat was used on Lake Winnipeg to haul granite stone and lumber for use in a rapidly growing city dubbed the “Chicago of the North”.
A large part of the Granite Rock’s sturdy hull, propeller, engine components and smoke stack are on display at the museum. The ship, like the Keenora, was retired to the slough in 1961, listing and taking on water. After it was set on fire, components saved by the river waters were retrieved by the museum. They now provide a curious and creative cross section of a ship that was once a common site as it plied the Red.
Along with Colleen, another of the many security persons at the event, Jonathan shows me the scary clown exhibit nearby. Beside the display is a ferocious looking clown riding a tricycle.
“Look at this.” says Jonathan, as he activates one of the clowns to reveal red eyes that blink as its feet kick repeatedly. “I hate that thing,” smiles Jonathan. “When we’re setting up that clown goes off for some reason,” he says.
“I don’t like clowns,” adds Colleen, turning away. I make a swift exit towards the kiddie displays.
The kiddie spaces are on the 1942 Chikeema (a freighter and passenger ship) and 1944 Northland M.S. Lady Canadian (a fish freighter and survey boat for Manitoba Hydro). Visitors can walk to and from each vessel.
In its day, the Chikeema took freight across Playgreen Lake from the Keenora, moving it along the lake’s shallow waters where the Keenora could not navigate. I enjoy these charming spaces immensely, despite the shrieks and bumps in the night that ring out from the Keenora that looms alongside.
The Haunt is very, very, scary. Yet it is also exhilarating (once I learn that screaming at the top one’s lungs feels a lot better than cowering). It actually is kind of fun!
“Scare ya later!” cries Shay as she bids me goodbye.
This proves correct; the evening does not end there. On the way home, I stop at a McDonald’s for a Big Mac at its drive through. After paying, I am shocked to see the automatic window of the drive through station begin to close on the attendant as she is leaning through to give me change.
“Press the button for the window! Press the button!” she cries to a co-worker as she holds back the window from crushing her.
The window finally retreats and stays back. The attendant is unaffected and cheery. I just sit there, mouth agape. Now that is a Frankenstein monster!
“Oh, you get used to it,” she smiles. “I just keep on talking and the window just keeps on closing on me all the time,” she chuckles.
Taking my to-go bag, I hit the Beach Boys CD, forwarding it to the “Sloop John B”.
I, too, will be glad to be home soon, where I will try to remember some of the pointers of the past week’s CNC class about writing reviews.
What a night!
The Halloween Haunt is open October 28, 29 and 30 from 6 to 9 p.m. Last line ups at 9 p.m. will be admitted.
Tickets:$10; located at the entrance to Selkirk Park.
Directions: From Winnipeg, travel up Main Street north to Selkirk, Manitoba. Once in Selkirk, continue north until Queen Avenue. Turn right and travel one block to Eveline Street. From this corner you will see the entrance to the Marine Museum of Manitoba.