The International Brotherhood of Magicians is celebrating its 100th anniversary Monday, and the organization — which includes members in 88 countries around the world — has its roots right here in Winnipeg.
Internationally-known illusionist and comedy magician Brian Glow says the brotherhood, which is the largest organization of magicians in the world, was founded in Winnipeg in 1922.
The city’s long history of magic — which includes a 1923 performance by the legendary Harry Houdini, who escaped from a straightjacket 30 feet above a downtown building — is largely due to its geographic location.
“There’s been phenomenal history of magic in Winnipeg. All vaudeville (performers) went through Winnipeg, because we were the crossroads at the rails,” Glow told 680 CJOB’s Connecting Winnipeg.
“Any acts coming north to south had to go through Minneapolis to Winnipeg, and going east to west had to go through Winnipeg.”
The city will be commemorating the anniversary by re-dedicating a plaque at William and Main, the original location of the International Brotherhood of Magicians.
Manitoba’s Dean Gunnarson, the famed escape artist who bills himself as the world’s greatest, said the organization began as a way for magicians to share the tricks of the trade amongst themselves.
“It’s a brotherhood of people that share the secrets of magic,” Gunnarson told 680 CJOB’s The Start.
“Magic is always kind of close-guarded and protected, and in the old days, you’d have to learn from a mentor or teacher.
“The idea was that they would create this correspondence with a magazine, and every month, you could learn a new trick or so and understand what different magicians were doing, and share… because it’s a very specialized field.”
Although the brotherhood became so popular that it moved to the U.S. less than a decade after its founding, Gunnarson said the city has a long history of famed magicians to this day — from himself and Glow to the likes of Doug Henning, Darcy Oake, and Greg Wood.
“Sometimes we don’t appreciate things in our own backyard… and Winnipeg has such a vibrant, rich history of politicians, entertainers — and of course magic,” Gunnarson said.
The brotherhood’s original founders — including Winnipegger Len Vintus, the organization’s first president — likely never would have predicted the struggles of illusionists a century later, but Glow said many performers managed to find new outlets for their work online during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I did pivot to do quite a few Zoom shows,” Glow said.
“We converted our 6,000 square foot warehouse into a mini TV studio with four cameras, and we would do shows internationally for people at home.
“It was this totally interactive show, so it didn’t feel like you were watching TV — you were actually participating in it.”