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Cemetery tour guide tells stories of Cyclone Regina victims

Cemetery tour guide tells stories of Cyclone Regina victims
Cemetery tour guide tells stories of Cyclone Regina victims

Kenton Dejong leads a group of people between the graves, showing tourists the moss-covered headstones that mark the burial places of Cyclone Regina victims.

The cyclone tore through Regina on June 30, 1912. It is considered the deadliest tornado in Canadian history, killing 28, injuring 300, and leaving thousands homeless.

“It’s tragic,” Dejong said. “It’s so sad because it’s like a library of names, a library of stories here in the cemetery.”

Dejong said he wants to use his tour to tell more about the victims who tragically lost their lives when the cyclone tore through the city.

“It’s so frustrating to me because when you go to a grave, this person has died. That’s all we know, that they died,” he said. “We don’t know where they came from. We don’t know where they went. We don’t know who they were, just that they lived here and that they died, and that’s just so sad.”

The tour includes the graves of 17 cyclone victims at Regina Cemetery on Fourth Avenue and Broad Street. During his research, Dejong discovered that some of the dates of death on the headstones were incorrectly written, and one victim was even buried under the wrong name.

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“It’s sad because the stories are already so fragmented, and now it’s only getting worse because of the missing documents,” he said.

Houses on the street (possibly 11th Avenue) damaged by the cyclone. PAS photo R-A6675-13.
(Saskatchewan Provincial Archives)

According to Dejong, there is no official data on how long the tornado lasted, but it is believed that it passed through the city within minutes.

The tornado formed on a warm summer day and tore through southern Regina, passing the Parliament Building on its way into the city.

The cyclone reached the city at Lorne and Smith Streets, causing many casualties, before moving north, outside the city limits.

During the tour, Dejong shared information that is known about some of the victims.

Arthur Donaldson was walking his dog when the storm hit and blew his dog a block away, Dejong said. Donaldson took shelter under a porch, but it collapsed and he died. The dog waited until his owner’s body was recovered and walked with him to the funeral home. Dejong said reports indicate the dog didn’t leave until after the funeral.

The guide also acknowledged that there were rumors at the cemetery about a Titanic connection.

The story claims that Frank and Bertha Blenkhorn were newly married and were due to board the ‘unsinkable’ ship, but missed the voyage after an alleged night of partying.

(Gillian Massie/ 980 CJME)

Dejong said the story, while interesting, is not true. He found documentation that the couple boarded the RMS Titanic on March 2, 1912.

According to Dejong, they were crushed by the cyclone against the side of the building that served as the Regina Central Library.

Dejong stands next to the gravestone of Frank and Bertha Blenkhorn. (Gillian Massie/ 980 CJME)

Even 112 years after Cyclone Regina hit, Dejong wants the victims’ stories to be remembered.

“We want to bring these stories to life. We want to continue this,” he said. “Even if only a few are remembered after the tour is over, that’s so much more than when the tour starts.”

Dejong said there are some memorials to the victims in the city, but he would like to see plaques on the buildings where the victims died.

Dejong has been giving cemetery tours for a few years now. The money raised from the tours goes back to the city of Regina so crews can repair gravestones and maintain the cemetery.