CBC Digital Archives

Tornadoes: 1912 'Regina Cyclone'

A tornado is the stuff of nightmares. Amid heavy rain and hail, huge thunderclouds roll in and the skies turn greenish-black. And then a rope-like funnel cloud punches down, smashing everything in its path. Tornadoes can be the most violent storms on earth, and Canada averages 80 of them each year. From scientists and storm chasers obsessed with their destructive power to the victims left in a twister's wake, we look at Canada's deadliest tornadoes of the past century.

Regina had never experienced a tornado. Its first hit on June 30, 1912, and is still considered the deadliest in Canadian history. As residents prepared for Dominion Day celebrations, a tornado with wind speeds over 300 km/h ripped through the heart of the city. Regina's wooden buildings were flattened, 28 people were killed and another 2,500 were left homeless. As two historians tell Morningside, the survivors had tales almost too bizarre to be believed. 
. Environment Canada estimates that there are an average of 80 tornadoes in Canada each year, resulting in two deaths, 20 injuries and damage in the millions of dollars. Canada ranks second, behind the United States, for the most tornado occurrences in the world.
. In the United States, the highest number of tornadoes occur in "Tornado Alley" (which includes parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska) as well as in west central Florida and an area south of Lake Michigan.

. According to the BBC, the United Kingdom is actually the most tornado-prone nation in the world. This is based on the number of yearly tornadoes per square kilometre. The United Kingdom has 33 twisters a year in an area almost 40 times smaller than the United States, which experiences about 800 a year.

. Other world tornado hot spots include Argentina, Australia, Europe, northern India, New Zealand, South Africa and Uruguay.
. The terms "cyclone" and "tornado" are often used interchangeably to indicate violent storms affecting a limited area, usually with circular wind motions.

. The word "tornado" is believed to come from the Spanish tronada ("thunderstorm") and has been used in English since the 16th century. "Cyclone" is more recent; the Oxford English Dictionary says the term was introduced in 1848 by H. Piddington, "as a general term for all storms or atmospheric disturbances in which the wind has a circular or whirling course." "Twister" is an informal word for a tornado.

. In 1912, Regina was a booming city. A constant influx of new settlers from Eastern Canada and Europe made the city of 10,000 the fastest-growing in the area.
. The June 30, 1912, tornado destroyed farms in the southeast, tore through residential areas and downtown, the warehouse district and the railway district. Most major municipal buildings were damaged or destroyed.
. According to some sources, Regina Cyclone winds reached speeds of up to 800 km/h.

. At the time, the Regina cyclone was the worst disaster in Canadian history. Though it passed through the city in just three minutes it caused more than $1.2 million in property damage (about $25 million in 2005 dollars).
. Actor Boris Karloff (Frankenstein, The Mummy) who was travelling in the Regina area, was canoeing west of the city when the tornado struck. He returned to find his accommodations destroyed. Karloff soon organized a benefit concert for the city's victims.

. The tale of Bruce Langton's aerial canoe ride is the most famous of the many strange stories emerging from the 1912 Regina Cyclone. Langton, 12, and friend Philip Steele were canoeing on Wascana Lake when the tornado hit. As they paddled for shore, the funnel lifted the canoe right out of the water. Steele was hurled from the canoe and killed instantly. Langton held on and was deposited, still in his canoe, in a park hundreds of metres away, still gripping his paddle.

. In the wake of the tornado, the city of Regina undertook a rapid reconstruction effort, assisted by surrounding communities and the federal and provincial governments. Regina was rebuilt quickly but it took 10 years for the city to pay off its storm debt. The province of Saskatchewan remained in debt until 1958.
Medium: Radio
Program: Morningside
Broadcast Date: Oct. 27, 1976
Guest(s): Allan Anderson, Betty Tomlinson
Host: Harry Brown, Maxine Crook
Duration: 11:30
Photo: Library and Archives Canada / C-033275

Last updated: March 28, 2012

Page consulted on December 5, 2013

All Clips from this Topic

Related Content

The Wrath of Hurricane Hazel

On Oct. 15, 1954, the most famous hurricane in Canadian history struck Southern Ontario. Hurri...

Banding Together: Singing Out for Disaster Re...

Floods, famine, fire and drought -- when disaster strikes at home and around the world, Canadi...

Deadly Skies: Canada's Most Destructive Torna...

A tornado is the stuff of nightmares. Amid heavy rain and hail, huge thunderclouds roll in and...

The Ocean Ranger Disaster

Valentine's Day, 1982: a terrible storm rages off the coast of Newfoundland. On the Grand Bank...

1963: Trans-Canada Air Lines crash kills 118

Just four minutes after liftoff, flight 831 crashes outside Montreal.

1998: Swissair 111 crashes off Nova Scotia

More than 200 people perish after Swissair flight 111 crashes into the water near Peggy's Cove...