Anthropology Parapsychology

University of Manitoba reveals its spiritual side to the public

The University of Manitoba’s Investigation of the Human Psyche: Spiritualist & Parapsychology Collections was a project four years in the making for its Head of Archives, Shelley Sweeney.

The 59-year-old met up with the Survival Research Institute of Canada’s president at a conference in Utrecht, Netherlands. During that time, collectors of psychical research papers were looking for another place to meet and Sweeney offered her workplace in Winnipeg. Thus, the Elizabeth Dafoe Library opened its doors May 11.

The University of Manitoba has been sitting on a large collection of photos and psychical research since 1979. The paranormal investigations of the Dr. Thomas Glendenning Hamilton during the 1920s to early 1940s was spurred on by the death of his son Arthur Lamont during the Spanish flu epidemic of 1919.

The house at 185 Henderson Highway, where many of the experiments were performed, is currently up for sale, which provided some consternation for Sweeney.

“(Winnipeg) isn’t a place where there’s great reverence for historic buildings,” she said. “The person that owned it before was quite sympathetic. Now, maybe it won’t survive.”

Still, the collective works of the Toronto-born doctor, Hamilton, are included with over 50 more archives at the university in the hopes that more people will research the state of spiritualism in the early 20th century.

“Because of the strength of that collection, other people have donated here,” Sweeney admitted. “We’ve been working quite closely with the Survival Research Institute of Canada. They have played a major role in getting other collections to the University of Manitoba.”

There are some frauds that were exposed during that time, and they’re included in the works, particularly Camp Chesterfield in Indiana, but most of the collections are Canadian based, including the investigations of Iris and George Owen – made famous by the Philip Experiment in Toronto.

PHOTO COURTESY BRIAN HUBNER
The opening case for the exhibit, Investigation of the Human Psyche: Spiritualist & Parapsychology Collections at the University of Manitoba Archives. The exhibit runs until Dec. 19.

“The thing is that we do have a lot of people who just love it for it its own sake,” Sweeney told The Superstitious Times in a late-May phone call. “We have an international following of people who have used the material for experiments with 3D imagery, grief and trauma studies, the change in women’s authority and power.”

It’s not just an interesting exhibit for Sweeney. Her family background can be traced back to the Czech Republic where the people view ghosts and precognition “pretty casually”. Plus, there was a medium in the family.

“It’s just a part of life. I like to keep an open mind,” she said. “We don’t understand much about it, but I think there’s definitely phenomenon there that hasn’t been explained.”

The goal of the exhibit, which runs until Dec. 19, is to make the curious aware that this body of records is available at the University of Manitoba.

And there’s plenty of hunger in the city for unknown.

“Winnipeg has been and has been for a long time a centre for this kind of interest,” Sweeney said. “People who don’t have a belief are still quite indulgent.

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