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Regina Tornado - June 30, 1912

The tornado that swept through downtown Regina, amidst Dominion Day preparations on an oppressively hot and humid day, left a path of destruction three blocks wide by twelve blocks long. It left 28 people dead, more than 200 injured and at least 2,500 homeless. In addition, over 400 of the finest buildings in the city were destroyed, including churches, the new Carnegie Public Library and the homes of such dignitaries as then-premier Walter Scott, and H.C. Lawson, manager at the time of the Regina Exhibition.

The tornado was a financial disaster. There was an estimated cost of $4.5 million in damages. A loan of $500,000 from the provincial government took 46 years to repay, with interest charges of more than $1 million. The Regina Tornado was also Canada's most commercialized disaster, in part because the city's officials and business men charged the homeless nightly for cots set up in schools and city parks. They also billed ruined homeowners stiffly for removing the rubble of their shattered homes.

Photograph, taken around 1913, of three houses being rebuilt after the 1912 Regina tornado


Rebuilding after tornado, Regina, Sask., ca. 1913

Many strange events happened that day, in the city of 31,000 people. The tornado picked up a canoe and its 13-year-old occupant paddling on Wascana Lake (a man-made lake located beside the Legislative building) and set him down in Victoria Park, 1.2 kilometres (3/4 of a mile) away with no injuries other than a broken arm. The twister also scooped up a real-estate salesman and his boat on the same lake and then slammed him into a 3rd-floor window of a commercial building, resulting in his death. Partial rooms and even partial pieces of furniture (such as the upper and lower shelves but not the middle shelf of a bookcase) were left unharmed, while the wind action sucked out papers from metal filing cabinets. The big cupola of the Baptist church was torn off and sent rolling two blocks away.

The twister was most usually described as an enormous green funnel cloud which, fortunately, became more narrow as it hit the city center (likely resulting in fewer deaths and less damage than what could have been). The tornado was accompanied by flashes of forked lightning and a deluge of freezing rain. The strength of the tornado was such that it picked up grain elevators and tossed them like toothpicks. It also demolished the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) roundhouse and crumpled metres of CPR tracks.

Perhaps the most interesting outcome of the Regina tornado is the volunteerism that ensued. There were immediate efforts to save those trapped under the rubble of their homes. During the 4-hour electrical blackout caused by the tornado, volunteers held kerosene lamps to provide light for those searching demolished buildings or for doctors performing surgery on the injured. Friends and relatives provided shelter for the homeless -- a need that was compounded by a housing crisis caused by a 5-year economic boom. Boy Scouts helped relay messages, and medical personnel and policemen arrived from other cities. Relief supplies for stricken families poured in from across the country.