Standing in front of the Manitoba Legislative Building in Winnipeg, I realise that touring is absolutely the last activity I want to do right now. Having come off two back-to-back plane trips from Australia totalling 17 hours just a few hours ago, discombobulated doesn't even begin to describe how I'm feeling. I need a neck massage and 20 hours of sleep, not an in-depth architectural tour of a government building.
My travel companions and I gather in front of the stately 1920s stone building and are introduced to our guide, a slight, sparkly-eyed gentleman with cotton-ball hair named Don Finkbeiner. I smile at him but really, I'm counting down the minutes until I can head to Winnipeg's Thermëa spa. Finkbeiner's opening line, however, changes everything. "This building in front of us is actually a temple in disguise." Just like that, I'm hooked.
Until 12 years ago, says Finkbeiner, Winnipeggers were as apathetic about this building as I was 20 seconds ago. That's when local history professor Frank Albo started questioning why there was an Egyptian sphinx on the roof of a building in frosty Manitoba, and started poking around. "He found symbols hidden everywhere, including hieroglyphic inscriptions, numerological codes and Freemasonic symbols, that had escaped historians and visitors for almost a century," explains Finkbeiner. Albo, known as Canada's Dan Brown for his Da Vinci Code-style investigations, published a book called The Hermetic Code revealing the building's secret spiritual heritage, then in 2009 he and Finkbeiner, a travel agent fascinated by Albo's findings, started this Hermetic Code Tour.
Finkbeiner points to a golden statue on the roof. "That's Manitoba's most famous icon, the Golden Boy, but most people don't know he was modelled after a 15th century statue of Hermes, Greek messenger of the Gods and the author of esoteric writings on magic, alchemy and astrology." These writings significantly influenced the architect of this building, Frank Worthington Simon, who along with other senior Manitoba government members was said to be a Freemason, a secret society based around spiritual values and rituals.
As we walk into the grand staircase room we're greeted by two bison statues, the symbol of Manitoba, which Finkbeiner says allude to the sacred bulls that historically protect holy places. He also points out lion heads and a bust of Medusa with her snakey hair, more mysterious protection symbols that I'd never have otherwise noticed. "See this?" asks Finkbeiner, pointing to the central staircase, "it's in three flights of 13. The length of the bison statues are 13 feet too, and the number 13 repeats throughout the building. That's no accident," he says, alluding to the associations 13 has with magic and omens. Even stranger are the room's dimensions – exactly 66.6 feet in width and in length – the number 666 symbolizing God's hand in creation.
As our time with Finkbeiner whizzes by, he reveals more mystical elements. Images of Christ and of Freemasonry hidden in a large mural of Canada's efforts in World War I. The Lieutenant Governor's reception suite, the dimensions of which exactly mirror those of the Holy of Holies of King Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem. And finally, the mystical heart of the building, a perfectly circular marble chamber known as the Pool of the Black Star, where Finkbeiner has us stand on the central black star and whisper into the cavern above, which then echoes uncannily through the building.
It's a lot to take in, especially with half a brain, and I'll admit that some of it goes over my head. But I have been completely captivated by this tour, filled with mystery and magic and stories that, as it turns out, were perfectly strange enough to match my flight-addled brain.
Nina Karnikowski travelled courtesy of Travel Marvel.
Air Canada flies to Winnipeg via Vancouver from all major Australian airports. See aircanada.com.
Travel Marvel's seven day Ultimate Arctic Summer Adventure, which runs July 11 to August 24, 2020, is from $7,395 per person, twin share. It includes four nights at Lazy Bear Lodge and two nights in Winnipeg. See travelmarvel.com.au