Author’s note: There are some events that were so long ago, that there is a sentiment that they are irrelevant, no matter how impactful there were at the time.
Although the following event took place over 100 years ago, the outcome and survival of those involved have direct effect on the person I am today.
‘Cyclone hits Regina. City in ruins.’
That six-word message, received in the Winnipeg Telegraph Office shortly before five p.m. on Sunday, 30 June 1912, announced the most destructive cyclone in Canadian history.
-John E. Stewardson
June 30th 1912
It was a humid, muggy day, and there was a strange stillness over the streets of Regina on that Sunday afternoon. Banners and decorations hung from lamp posts and buildings in preparation for Dominion Day (1912 was Canada’s 45th birthday), giving the city a celebratory air.
Ominous clouds were seen folding together outside of the city limits. Thunderstorms were common in this area, and there was no way for Regina’s citizens to know that this was no ordinary storm clouds. A large cloud funnel formed and touched down with great force at Wascana Lake, just South-east of the city.
Instruction was given to immediately sound the alarm to warn the city, but by the time it was sounded, the tornado was already on it’s destructive path. With winds estimated to exceed 300 kilometers per hour (186 miles per hour), the twister destroyed several farms on the outskirts of the city.
Author’s note: My great grandparents were in one of these farms. Their wooden house was obliterated, and they were thrown without warning over 100 feet from where there house once was. My great grandmother began searching in panic, looking for their baby, who had also been in the house.
It took only took 20 minutes for the tornado to carve its path through the city. Accounts describe the funnel as being up to 500 feet wide, splitting into two funnels, and then rejoining back together. Those in the midst of the cyclone found it difficult to later describe the terror “it sounded like 40 million shrieking devils” and “it was darker than the ace of spades” were some of their quotes. There was a path of destruction approximately one kilometer wide. Many buildings were instantly destroyed.
Immediately after the tornado came a torrential downpour of rain mixed with hail.
Author’s note: Franticly searching in the rain, my great grandparents at last spotted the lifeless body of their baby covered in mud in a ditch. “She’s dead,” my great-grandfather flatly stated. Unwilling to accept this answer, my great-grandmother gently pulled out her child and began cleaning the mud out of the baby’s mouth. She began to breathe! After further cleaning and assessment, their daughter seemed completely unharmed.
Meanwhile, further in the city, chaos ensued. Some were screaming, and others were trying to rescue people from the wreckage. There was a steady stream of all available vehicles taking wounded and injured to the hospital. 28 lives were lost, and more than 2500 people were left homeless, making this the most devastating tornado in Canadian history.
A Titanic Fate
Frank and Bertha Blenkhorn were married in England and had booked their wedding voyage on board the Titanic. But their wedding and after party went on so long, they missed its sailing on the evening of 12 April. As we know, the Titanic would sink off the east coast of Canada on April 15th 1912. The Blenkhorns took a later boat, and had now settled in Regina. Although they had escaped the fate of the Titanic just 2 months earlier, the couple unfortunately did not evade the Regina Cyclone. As they were walking, their bodies were picked up and thrown hundreds of feet. They did not survive.
Frankenstein and the Twister
Believe it or not, Frankenstein was also caught in this twister. William Henry Pratt was an actor with The Jeanne Russell Players, a traveling theatre group. The company had gone broke the day before and left him penniless and stranded in Regina. The next day, the tornado struck. William survived, and in fact spent several days moving debris. He eventually changed his name to Boris Karloff and went on to play Frankenstein in Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and Son of Frankenstein (1939). Karloff was plagued throughout his life by chronic back pain, which he attributed to his clean-up work in Regina.
The Following Days
The Mayor of Regina cancelled the Dominion Day (now Canada Day) celebrations. This has been the only time in Regina’s history that it has been cancelled. All stores and bars were ordered closed while the community assisted with the clean-up.
The tornado had sucked out all the examination papers for all grade school students from the Regina School Board offices. For the following school year, students had to be passed or failed to the next grade based only on the recollection of their teachers.
The baby who was rescued from the ditch was my grandmother. She was the firstborn of the seven children my great grandparents had. I would not be here today if she had not survived. My Grandmother married in the 1930’s, and became a school teacher of a one room school house. She became an avid gardener and artist.
Every emergency situation is personal to someone, and it is easy to distance yourself from if it doesn’t affect you. But sometimes we need reminders that preparation and community support are important parts of the fabric of our society.