March 26, 2024

O’Leary: Inside the CFL Combine’s spooky encounters

Andrew Mahon/

It was a thought that lurked around the back of Brendan Taman’s mind for years.

Taman, the Ottawa REDBLACKS’ director of pro personnel, worked for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers from 1999-2008. Through that time and while working for a number of teams over a 30-plus-year run in the CFL, he’d always heard stories about a haunted room at the Fort Garry Hotel in downtown Winnipeg.

It wasn’t until this past week that he got to stay in it. Taman didn’t happen to land in the infamous Room 202 by coincidence. He sought it out and spent four nights there during the CFL Combine presented by New Era.

“My friend that lives out on the west coast where I live, his relative runs the hotel,” Taman, who looked no worse for wear after a few nights in the room said near the end of the combine.

“So I was talking to him in jest and said I wouldn’t mind staying in that room. So he actually put that together through the hotel and it worked out and I got the room. So yes, to answer your question, I’m in the room and requested it. Indirectly.”

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For the uninitiated, Room 202 at the Fort Garry has some notoriety. A document that the hotel gives out to anyone curious tells the story of a newlywed couple in the 1920s that stayed in the room. The bride asked her new husband to get her medication for a headache. As he left, he was struck by a horse-drawn cart and died. The document says that soon after, the bride took her life. A 2017 Toronto Star article notes that the hotel disputes the notion that her suicide took place in the room.

Urban legend bleeds out of history, though and the story of the young bride forever in mourning, waiting in her room for her husband to return perseveres to this day.

There are stories of other encounters. The ghost of a woman that was at the hotel opening in 1913 apparently enjoys checking in on guests from the foot of their beds and sometimes sees herself out through a window. Guests have felt what they described as the weight of a person on their bed while they sleep. In 1989, a hotel staffer reported finding someone eating in the main dining room at 4 a.m.; when they returned with another employee, the room was empty and the door to the main dining room had been locked from the inside. On Oct. 3, 2016 an overnight security guard discovered 10 lit candles on the floor of the ballroom in the shape of a star. There were no events in the ballroom that evening, the doors were locked and all of the lights were off.

“It’s a little bit of a weird vibe to it, you could say,” Taman said of the room. “The lights have worked. I haven’t looked in the closet too much. My lights are working. Nothing has flickered.”

The ghost became a common talking point among CFL staffers — several of whom slept with a light or their TV on — team members and the prospects that helped fill the hotel, as the combine took place. For the prospects, the chatter was sparked on the ride in from the Winnipeg airport, when a bus driver informed them of what could be waiting for them at the hotel.

“She started to say, ‘Don’t stay in room — ‘ and I told her, ‘I don’t need to know that,'” laughed Global linebacker Eteva Mauga-Clements, who reported no suspicious activity in his stay at the hotel.

“Room 202, right?” said receiver Ajou Ajou, whose eyes lit up at the mention of the haunting.

“My agent, Rob Frye told me. He said, ‘I don’t want to say the room number,’…then he blurted it out. I’m not going on that floor.”

Avoiding Room 202 is a common thing. Taman said that one member of the REDBLACKS’ football ops staff would go as far as meeting him in the hall, but wouldn’t go near the room.

“My dad’s from Winnipeg,” said UBC defensive back Jerrell Cummings. “When I told him we were staying here he hit me with, ‘Oh, they’re having you guys there?'”

Defensive line prospect Daniel Okpoko had a couple of unsettling moments in his room at the Fort Garry Hotel in Winnipeg (Cameron Bartlett/

Aside from getting shocks every time he touched the elevator — which can be attributed to the cold air that Winnipeg had felt the past week — Cummings hadn’t noticed anything out of the ordinary at the hotel. There was a nightlight from the bathroom, he pointed out, but said that was the request of his roommate, Montreal Carabins tight end/fullback Paul Antoine Ouellette.

Laval receiver Kevin Mital was asked on Saturday about the haunting and cut the conversation short, saying he still had to sleep there for a night and didn’t want to hear it.

One prospect that did have a story from his stay was defensive lineman Daniel Okpoko. He was also tipped off about the haunting by the driver from the airport. He immediately looked it up (scouts are encouraged to add ‘fearlessness’ to their reports on Okpoko).

“I had some crazy things that actually happened,” he said.

“The first one, the bathroom window was kind of open. It was shut when I walked in and when I was about to leave it just flew open. Then the second, there’s a light in the room (in the closet) that’s a motion sensor. I was the only one in the room, but I was on the other end and I’m doing stuff and I hear a flicker. Then I look back and the light’s on in the closet.”

Aside from a general sense of shock that Taman sought out Room 202, the prospects all laughed off any supernatural vibes that may have been in the hotel.

Ajou wasn’t worried about what may be floating around in there. “God’s on my side,” he said, “but it’s interesting. I’m intrigued by it.”

Linebacker Joel Dublanko took a similar approach. The grandchild of pastors, he wasn’t stressed by the idea of a ghost.

“The bible didn’t talk about ghosts. It talks about angels and demons,” he said. “So if it’s not an angel it’s a demon and I walk in the power of holy spirit. So (I’d) send that thing out of out of that room, so it’s no longer a story,” he said, laughing.

On Saturday night, after a dinner with a number of colleagues where there was ample ghost discussion, we made our way back to the hotel bar.

Fran, whose sensational service at the bar will make you feel like you’ve travelled back almost 111 years to the Fort Garry’s opening, told our table that she was married in the hotel years ago and that her wedding photos are riddled with ghost orbs. There’s definitely something here, she told us, but it never once gave her reason to feel unsafe.

Going into this firmly in the skeptic-but-intrigued category, one thing that Taman said during our conversation continues to creepily stick with me.

He cited a story that Global Winnipeg did on Room 202 around Halloween 2022. The hotel’s director of marketing mentioned that people who have stayed in 202 have gotten sick in the middle of the night and can’t explain it. Taman had made it through his stay without incident, but I told him that I was inexplicably sick on my second night in the hotel, up in my room on the ninth floor.

“Your room is probably haunted,” Taman said.

It made my stomach drop in a different way than it had earlier in the week.

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