No bull — this Winnipeg tour is fun


Bison in Winnipeg Legislature Building. (Tamara Baluja/

This bison in the Manitoba Legislature could hold clues to an architectural mystery in Winnipeg. (Tamara Baluja/

Story by Tamara Baluja Writer

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA — It all started with a sphinx atop the Manitoba legislature. The fresco showing a woman holding wheat made sense — this is prairie land after all. But the sphinx? Not so much.

What did the mythological Egyptian creature have to do with Manitoba? That’s the question that gnawed away in the mind of Winnipeg architectural historian Frank Albo. He decided to decode the seemingly random and cryptic mythology, and the result is the Hermetic Code, which he developed into a book and a tour. The tour aims to reveal secrets and occult meanings of the building that are tied into its hieroglyphics and what Albo says are numerological codes.

Call me a skeptic.

When I first heard this tour made it onto the Canadian Tourism Commission’s Signature Experiences list, I was a little confused. I thought it would be about as cheesy as Dan Brown’s wildly imaginative novels like The Da Vinci Code, which strung together a series of facts into a major conspiracy that gave Jesus a wife. And yes, this Winnipeg tour does take a leap of imagination but what follows is a thoroughly enjoyable tour that instills a healthy respect for Canadian architecture.

“What’s really amazing is that this house of government is masquerading, when in fact, it’s a temple in disguise,” says our tour guide Don Finkbeiner.

An Ancient Temple in Winnipeg?

He points to the bison that welcome visitors to the legislature. “Okay, so you totally expect that, right, because it’s the prairies and there are bison here,” he says. But in fact, Finkbeiner continues, that’s exactly what you would expect in a Greek pagan temple with bulls guarding the entrance.

“They’re exactly where you would expect them to be … providing protection and telling visitors that they are about to step on sacred ground … like a temple,” he said. “It’s sitting right under your nose in plain sight, but it’s accessible to only those who are in the know.”

As we continue on the tour, our guide shows us more of the secrets. The Golden Boy — Winnipeg’s famous landmark — is actually Hermes, so hence, the Hermetic Code name for the tour and the book. The Ark of the Covenant supposedly sits between a helmeted warrior and a native chief outside the lieutenant governor’s office.

But couldn’t you argue that it was a series of coincidences? Turns out the architect and brains behind the project, Frank Worthington Simon, was a Free Mason. And the research Albo has done shows that Simon had a deep-seated interest in mythology and his architectural drawings have been revised over time to make the mystery only accessible to the initiated. The Golden Boy, for example, used to have Hermes’ wings, but those feathers were ditched in a later sketch that eventually became the final design.

I don’t want to give away more of the secrets of the tour, but even if you’re not a believer — and I’m not sure I am — it’s still super fun and totally worth the experience. At the very least, it’s a spin through Canadian history — and human history, too — that you’re not likely to come across at any other legislative tour.


More About Hermatic Code Tour

Tour information: A 90-minute tour of the Manitoba Legislative Building.
Location: Manitoba Legislative Building, 450 Broadway Avenue, main entrance, around the security desk
To Book: Space is limited for these exclusive tours and reservations must be made in advance. Call Heartland Travel at 1-204-989-9630 (toll free at 1-866-890-3377) or email To book online, click here.
Tour Times: Every Wednesday to October 2 from 6-7:30 pm.
Cost: $39.30 per person for the tour, or $59.25 per person for the tour and copy of the Hermetic Code book (includes all taxes and fees).

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