Brendan Taman embraced haunted hotel room, paranormal assistance at CFL Combine

Photo: Michael Scraper/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

The CFL Combine is all about evaluating prospects but Brendan Taman used this year’s talent showcase in Winnipeg as an opportunity to take a step into the paranormal.

The Fort Garry Hotel, where everything except the on-field portions of the event took place, is widely considered one of the most haunted places in Canada. The hotel was built by the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway and opened in 1913 while Winnipeg was one of the fastest-growing cities in North America. It has since been deemed a national historic site.

Taman, who is entering his third year as the director of pro personnel for the Ottawa Redblacks, has known about Fort Garry’s supposed spookiness since his 10-year run with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, which included a five-year stint as the team’s general manager from 2004 to 2008. He’d previously stayed at the hotel but never in the place that is cited as the source of the building’s paranormal activity.

Room 202 is said to have hosted a tragic honeymoon during the 1920s. According to legend, a man left to buy medicine for his newly-wedded wife while she sat on the bed to await his return. He was killed in an accident on the road and, after learning of his death, the woman was overcome with grief and hanged herself in the closet.

Taman has a close friend whose cousin owns the hotel. He mentioned in passing that he was interested in staying in Room 202 during the CFL Combine and learned the day before he arrived that his wish had been granted.

“The first time I went down the hall and got in the door, I’ll be honest with you, it was a little bit weird. I was really tired the first night I was there, so I went to sleep once I got settled,” Taman told 3DownNation.

“I woke up, which was a start, and then I didn’t really notice anything. Throughout my next four days there, it was like a normal room to me. The first night was a little bit weird with all the reputation that it had, but nothing happened — that I remember, anyway.”

There are countless reports of guests encountering strange sights and sounds in the room but the most common claim is the sensation of an unembodied figure sitting on the bed.

The hotel made national headlines in 2000 when Brenda Chamberlain, who was then a Member of Parliament for the riding of Guelph-Wellington, was awoken twice by the feeling of someone getting into the bed beside her. She was reportedly unaware of the Fort Garry’s reputation and later asked to switch rooms.

When asked if he believes in ghosts, Taman seemed skeptical.

“Not really, but I was always under the impression that they could exist. After the last four days, I’m starting to believe that maybe they don’t. But then again, maybe they do. I was very kind to the room. You’re told that you’re supposed to say hello when you go into the room to make sure she’s OK with you being there, which I did,” he said.

“Before I went in the room, I was like, ‘Am I crazy to do this?’ But I figured, ‘Aw, hell, here we go.’ The MLA story was the one that sort of freaked me out. I mean, my God, what the hell happened? She felt like there was some kind of person in the room there, so I was like, ‘Oh, that sucks for her.'”

Though the 57-year-old native of Saskatoon, Sask. didn’t go out of his way to invite people into his hotel room, word quickly spread around the CFL Combine that Taman might be bunking with a spirit. Only one person, a coach from another team Taman declined to identify, took him up on the offer to visit the space.

“I had some people come up to me and say, ‘Are you the lunatic that asked for the room?’ A couple of the league office people thought I was absolutely insane — they may have thought of me already that way, but that cemented it, I guess,” he said. “It did get around, so a lot of people were checking on me, so that was nice.”

One of Taman’s colleagues refused to walk anywhere near the room. He later claimed he heard someone utter the word “hello” in the middle of the night despite his room being located on a different floor. Upon hearing this the following morning, Taman told his colleague that he’d sent the ghost up to his room.

A different Redblacks staff member experienced an oddity in his room as a motion-sensitive closet light randomly turned on despite the door being closed. He opened the door to turn the light off and it immediately went out. Feeling spooked, the staffer ended up leaving the closet door open for the rest of the trip.

Ottawa had no respite from the hotel’s macabre ambiance as the suite where they conducted meetings had a painting of a man sleeping beside a woman who was standing near a fruit bowl with a knife in it. One of Ottawa’s staff members felt that it was as if she was going to use the knife to stab the sleeping man. There was also a painting within the painting (paintingception?) that depicted two little girls, which was reminiscent of the twins in The Shining.

The spookiness carried over into the testing on Thursday afternoon when the players did the vertical jump on the stage in the seventh-floor ballroom.

“Most of the chandelier lights were out. There was one light that was on but when certain guys would jump — not many, but the odd guy that really landed heavily, the light would flash. I made a note of it when flashed because I thought that was the ghost telling me who to pick,” said Taman, channeling the dry sarcasm of a Bob Zany comedy special.

“I think what it’s telling you is that I was very kind of this ghostly thing and it was being quite friendly to me by helping me. … I’ve taken scouting to a different level in the last four days, I believe. All this on-field stuff and all this stuff you’re seeing that everybody else sees? Yeah, whatever. I’m going deep.”

This year’s CFL Combine was Taman’s first trip back to Winnipeg in 10 years, a city he said he’s always liked. He drove by the former site of Canad Inns Stadium, which has remained mostly undeveloped since the building was demolished in 2013. Though he appreciates the glitz and glamour of the new facilities in Winnipeg and Regina, where he spent six years after departing the Blue Bombers, he will always cherish his memories of Canad Inns Stadium and Taylor Field.

“They were old and decrepit but I loved both of them because they had character and they were both so freakin’ loud. I loved it. I loved both of them,” he said. “The stadiums now? Of course, they don’t compare, but the old ones had character.”

When asked if he thought either building may have been haunted, Taman wasted little time in offering an affirmative answer.

“Yes, I do,” he said. “I spent many an hour and many a late-night hour at them and there was some crap going on and sounds that I don’t know what the hell they were.”

Taman indicated that he would be happy to stay in Fort Garry’s haunted room again and would even recommend it to prospective guests.

“They may not have the experience that I had — they may have a rough go with the ghost — but I tried to keep her thoughts in my mind when I was in the room. I might have turned the TV on once and that’s rare for me, it’s usually always on. But they say when there’s a disturbance or a lot of people in the hotel, that’s when she gets mad. I was just trying to do my business and get on with it.”

The hotel was jam-packed during the final days of the CFL Combine as weekend guests mixed with players, coaches, personnel people, and league staff. As of the publishing of this article, there were no reports of ghost activity.

It remains unclear if teams around the league plan to employ Taman’s paranormal scouting techniques next year when the annual talent showcase is held in Regina.

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.