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I visited one of “Doors Open” Winnipeg’s tours at the Vaughan Street Jail in downtown Winnipeg. What a great event and experience this was. We arrived there and waited a few minutes to get into the building and went on a really wonderful intensive hour and a half tour of the jail with wonderful recounted tales with the past of the jail. It was very interesting and was a trip back in time to see how different culture was back then – especially prison culture.
We were greeted by friendly people in period costumes who directed us around the the building on the tour.
We learned of the women who cared for the sick and pregnant prisoners as the jail was a miserable cold and awful place to stay. There was much disease, rats, coldness and stress that happened there.
1st women doctors in Manitoba at the Vaughan St. Jail!! Dr.s Amelia & Lillian Yeomans.
“The two women practitioners were frequently called to the jails, where the rowdiest of the ravaged prostitutes were confined, and where beaten and homeless women found a shelter of last resort, male and female prisoners housed together in the same wards. As the Yeomans’s indignation grew, they invited their friend Cora Hind to accompany them on their rounds, and to write about what she had seen. She insisted that the newspaper publish a full report, sparing no details:
The cells are totally devoid of light or ventilation, except such as may be had through the doors … No sleeping accommodation is provided, and no bedding is allowed, except that blankets are sometimes given to the women … The wards are infested with vermin, drugs, lice, and cockroaches … Some of the most abandoned are afflicted with syphilis and other loathsome diseases, and healthy prisoners are exposed to the danger of becoming similarly affected. The men and women are obliged to use the same towels, closets, etc., so that those who are healthy can scarcely escape the consequences.”
Excerpt from: MHS. “Give us our due!” How Manitoba Women Won the Vote. By Harry Gutkin and Mildred Gutkin”
The building itself is in great need of repair and love. Much of it seems to be falling in with sections blocked off. The walls are crumbling but it still remains absolutely beautiful even in this state.
“Born in Coburg, Ontario on 28 July 1855, she grew up in Campbellford and married there. Her husband died in 1881 and in 1886 she moved to Winnipeg, where she worked in a law office and was noted as the most expert stenographer in the city. She soon began assisting Reverend C. C. Owen of Holy Trinity Church with his relief work, and before long had organized a facility for assisting wayward girls, which was gradually partially financed by the city. In 1904 the facility became the Margaret Scott Nursing Mission. Scott initiated a local woodyard to provide work for unemployed men; it was taken over by the city. In 1911 the mission began a child’s hygiene department. In 1929, the mission’s report indicated that nearly 3,000 cases had come under its care.
Scott died on 1 August 1931 and was buried in St. John’s Cemetery. The residue of her estate was donated to the Winnipeg Foundation. The papers for the Scott Nursing Mission are at the Archives of Manitoba.” found at the Manitoba Historical Society website.” — Taken from the Muddy Waters Tours Facebook page
We gathered around to hear another tale in this room. You can see the walls are reinforced with cabling to prevent them from falling outward.
“Did you know that Allan Pinkerton (grandson) was at the Vaughan St jail in 1884 for he first execution at that jail? Pinkerton’s had a branch office for the Pinkerton Detective Agency here in Winnipeg and Allan was involved in the case. At one point, he interviewed one of the arrested, Simeon Czubej, in his cell and apparently threatened to shoot him if he did not admit to the murders! In case you are not familiar with the Pinkerton Detective Agency, the original Allan Pinkerton (grandfather) was assigned to be Lincoln’s personal body guard or security guard. After a few years he developed his own agency which later became known as the FBI! Cool or what??!!” — Taken from the Muddy Waters Tours Facebook Page
Exposed timber and dilapidated walls inside the room.
There was another woman dressed as a prostitute who told us of her story of the former red light district that Winnipeg had in the early 1900’s.
A police officer guides us through the jail cells on our tour. Recanting stories of torture and torment amongst the prisoners and how they were bound to the floor and ceiling in cells. And how sometimes the jail guards would strap down the insane (often women) in their cells and sprinkle bread crumbs around their head so the rats would come and eat the bread….and then on the person after the bread had run out. What terror it must have been to have to stay in the cold cells. The cells are pitch dark and concrete – freezing and tiny.
Standing in a tiny cell jam packed with people. Not for the claustrophobic.
We got to see the rows and rows of cells and cots, toilets and sinks in the dark cells lit by modern day lights.
There were iron staples in the ceiling and floor to chain prisoners standing upright. The solitary confinement is pitch dark and prisoners were shacked so they could not sit – and remained this way sometimes for days on end.
I hope this provokes you to go and see and hear some of the amazing stories to be told in this jail. Very interesting! You won’t regret it. Also check out the Muddy Water Tours page on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Muddy-Water-Tours-Dark-Tourism-Specialists/172274596167137?fref=ts
Here is another interesting article on the oldest public building in Winnipeg.