Vaughan Street Jail tour offers rare peek into Winnipeg's sordid past
Jail closed in 1930, but building reopened for tours during Doors Open Winnipeg event
This year's Doors Open Winnipeg gave people a rare chance to learn about a darker side of the city's history through tours of the Vaughan Street Jail.
The building, located near the Winnipeg Law Courts building on York Avenue, opened its foreboding doors in 1881 and served as a provincial jail for nearly 50 years.
The interior of the jail was divided into sections, with the west wing housing criminals accused of serious crimes like murder, arson and rape, while the east wing held criminals "of a lighter stripe," who were accused of things like theft.
It's sat mostly empty since 1984, and is only open to the public a couple times a year.
Dozens of people lined up Saturday to get inside for a guided tour that included vignettes performed by volunteers in period costumes.
Kristen Treusch, the owner and operator of SquarePeg Tours who helped organize Saturday's event, has been researching the jail's history for 15 years.
She said the building is full of stories, like that of Margaret Scott, an early public health nurse, who taught herself nursing after spending her time comforting women inmates who were sick and dying.
The jail also saw 15 executions, most notably of Earle Leonard Nelson, a serial killer nicknamed "The Strangler" who was wanted across the United States before he was caught and later hanged in Winnipeg in 1928.
Treusch said the jail tour is a chance to bring parts of Winnipeg's seedy history to life.
"It's almost like a three-ring circus, Winnipeg was, between 1860 to like 1930," she said.
"That's why I love this building too, because it's history that nobody else is discussing."
Free guided tours are running until 5 p.m. Sunday.
With files from Nampande Londe