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Conflict And Struggle

Story Of Regina Tornado Still Awe-Inspiring 80 Years Later

Saskatoon Star Phoenix
June 29, 1992. p.A7

Regina -- As tall tales go, it's tough to beat the one about Bruce Langton's wild canoe ride through Wascana Park.

Not many people can claim to have ridden a flimsy canoe in the crest of a tornado, hurtling through the air and landing in relative safety in a park hundreds of metres away, still clutching a paddle.

But it happened to Langton 80 years ago.

"It's quite a story, isn't it?" says Bud Allen, a white-haired retired salesman who was seven years old on that sweltering June 30 in 1912 when the twister blew through the booming frontier town of Regina.

"Bruce was a couple of years older than me, in the same school, and I recall he never tired of that story."

Langton, 12 at the time, was paddling a canoe across man-made Wascana Lake near the legislature when the storm blew in. He and a friend, Philip Steele, headed for shore as fierce winds and driving rain swept across the shallow lake.

They almost made it. But a few metres from shore, the water heaved and the tornado lifted the canoe high in the air and spun it like a piece of straw.

Steele was flung from the canoe and killed instantly. Langton hung on as his craft rode the wind. A few hair-raising moments later, the twister deposited the canoe -- with Langton still inside -- in a park hundreds of metres away.

When rescuers found him later, Langton was sitting stunned in the canoe, a vise-like grip on his paddle.

"He didn't know where he was," Allen says. "Couldn't even remember the name of the fellow who was with him in the canoe. Nothing."

There aren't many people left who still remember the tornado that leveled most of downtown Regina, killed 28 people, injured hundreds more and caused millions of dollars in damage.

But Allen, 87, will never forget that Sunday 80 years ago.

"The day was oppressive," he muses. "All of the Sunday schools let us kids out early.

"Me and my brother were walking home when it hit. We were within about a block from home and we had to struggle like heck to make it that last block."

The tornado formed south of the city, which then had only about 10,000 residents, and raced north with terrifying speed.

"It was a great brown cloud with a peculiar edging of black," one eyewitness, an RCMP sergeant, said later.

"Suddenly, as we watched it , it appeared to form a wedge shape and rush towards the city at a tremendous pace. It was possible, even at a distance, to hear the noise. It can best be explained as that of a heavy freight train crossing over a bridge."

The funnel narrowly missed the newly completed legislature building, danced across Wascana Lake and began cutting a swath of destruction through Regina's downtown.

Whole neighborhoods were flattened, brick buildings collapsed and even three sturdy, stone churches were gutted by the tornado's fury. More than 60 buildings in all were destroyed or badly damaged.

"The damage was just unreal," Allen recalls. "Streets were leveled.

"On one building, I saw a board stuck right through a brick wall -- like an arrow."

The first telegraph message out of the devastated city read: "Cyclone hit Regina. City in ruins."

Reporters from across North America converged on the city and soon focused on the incredible tale of Langton and his canoe.