Murder and Mayhem in the Brandon Cemetery
Brandon Sun, June 2, 2014
Why are we drawn to tales of murder and mayhem? Of course, these
dramatic events are fascinating. And there is something deeper.
These stories remind us of life, of community, and of the
uncertainty we face each new day.
There are 20,000 stories in the Brandon Cemetery. Here are a few of murder and mayhem . . .
CYCLONE, JUNE 30, 1912
Sunday, June 30, 1912, was a sweltering day in Regina. Then, at 4:50 in the afternoon, a great storm hit the city. At the time, it was called the Regina Cyclone. Today: an F4 tornado. The tornado touched down close to the Legislative Building in the park by Wascana Lake. Heading north, it left a swath of destruction through the capital’s finest residential neighbourhood. In minutes, it was all over. The tornado killed 28 people, the deadliest in Canadian history.
Two of the people in the tornado’s path were Francis and Marjorie Harris. They were renting a room at 2138 Lorne Street. Marjorie, 36, was from Brandon. Her maiden name was McKinley.
After the tornado struck, the injured couple was pulled from the wreckage of the house. Marjorie died soon after in hospital. Francis was taken to a temporary shelter in a nearby church. Two days later, Francis had recovered sufficiently to accompany Marjorie’s body to Brandon for interment.
Marjorie Harris is buried in the Brandon Cemetery, Section 1, Block CE, Plot 24. “Marjorie Ellen McKinley, the darling wife of R. W. Francis Harris,” her headstone reads, “killed in the Regina Cyclone, Sunday, June 30, 1912.”
HANGING, JUNE 20, 1902
In July 1900, Walter Gordon, a 22-year-old Boissevain farm worker, shot and killed farmer Charles Daw during an argument. When a friend of Daw’s asked questions, Gordon killed him, too. Fleeing the province, Gordon volunteered to fight in the Boer War. He was arrested in Halifax hours before shipping out for South Africa. Gordon was brought back, found guilty, and sentenced to hang.
“The penalty paid,” the Friday, June 20, 1902 Brandon Daily Sun said. “Walter Gordon the murderer hanged this morning. Displayed wonderful nerve, did not make any statements.”
Gordon was one of four people hanged in Brandon. Two were buried in the jail yard, Gordon and one other in the cemetery.
Walter Gordon is buried in Section 16, Block B, Plot 25. The grave is only identified by his initials on a simple marker.
CRASH, JANUARY 12, 1916
Wednesday morning, Jan. 12, 1916 in Brandon was bitterly cold. After a fierce blizzard, snow was being removed along the CPR tracks. A freight train collided with another train doing storm cleanup; 19 men were killed.
All but one of those killed were day labourers. Born in what was then Austria, they spoke Ukrainian or Polish and lived in the North End. They were buried in a row in Section 20, Block B, Plots 4 - 21.
Most of the graves are not marked. Their names: Joe Dryla (Plot 4), Stephen Batycki (5), Joseph Bielawski (6), Anthony Jarnowski (7), Mike Robeck (8), Tony Rutkowsky (9), Wasyl Balicki (10), Alex Meskowski (11), Harry Moroz (12), John Lisawski (13), Shenik Lowestian (14), Wasyl Sojczik (15), John Lacarski (16), Antoni Rzemyk (17), Stephen Greskow (18), Ignace Kucharsky (19), Michael Balawyder (20), Andrew Malnozok (21).
The other man killed was Scottish-born George McGhie, a CPR section foreman. Back then, Brandon’s citizenry was split between those who were English-speaking and those who were from eastern Europe. Even in death, the train wreck victims were divided. George McGhie is buried apart from the others, in Section 16, Block C, Plot 46.
The 1916 crash – Brandon’s worst – is in danger of being forgotten. As noted here before, there could be a community recognition like the Dugald train disaster plaque in Winnipeg’s Brookside Cemetery.
Storm of the Century: Regina Tornado of 1912 on Amazon.com (Amazon.ca)
Every Stone a Story: Manitoba's Buried History on Amazon.com (Amazon.ca)
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