Who Are The Prisoners Buried in Wascana Park?
· 10 min. read
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“Life, I say, is short and the sword is always hanging over us, and we do not know how soon it will drop. It is not worthwhile to be sinful then. That is all I have to say. Good-bye, and God bless you all.”
Those were the final words John Morrison spoke before a black cap was pulled over his face and the Lord’s Prayer was said to him. He would then croak “Deliver us from evil” and with a dull thud, he was dead.
John Morrison was executed on January 24, 1901, at the North-West Territorial Jail and Lunatic Asylum in Regina for the murder of a family of eight. He was not a good man.
That, however, cannot be said for Antonio Luciano, an Italian musician who was sentenced for the murder of Giovanno Peterella. As he stood at the gallows, Luciano pleaded, through his broken English, that he “died innocent like Jesus”. He said he confessed to the crime only so that his partner Antonio D’Egidio would live. Indeed, D’Egidio was spared, but he received life imprisonment at Stony Mountain Penitentiary in Manitoba instead. Luciano gave his life for D’Egidio, with both men claiming innocence until the end.
The stories of Morrison and Luciano are vastly different. One killed a family in rage over a rejected marriage proposal, and the other was a man who may never have committed a crime at all. But both men were still hanged, being the seventh and eighth executions in Regina. In total, twenty-five people would be executed in Regina, with the final occurring on January 20, 1946.
The North-West Territorial Jail and Lunatic Asylum would be host to three of these executions: Antonio Luciano in 1894, John Morrison in 1901, and Sanford Hainer in 1910. However, it would almost be home to a fourth execution. Night Gun, an Indigenous man, was convicted to hang, but escaped his fate by succumbing to tuberculosis instead.
Luciano, Morrison, and Gun were buried north of the complex in the jail yard. A fourth grave was prepared for Hainer, but upon a special order granted by Deputy Attorney General Ford, he was relocated to the Regina Cemetery. Their graves and names were marked to keep their memory, but that has long been lost to time.
If you’re not familiar with the location of the North-West Territorial Jail and Lunatic Asylum, you can be forgiven. The building only stood between 1885 and about 1915, with images of it being torn down circa 1920. The new Provincial Jail would be used following construction after 1913. The old jail was far from the main hub of Regina, but close to the north banks of Wascana Lake. It was a self-sustaining building with employee cottages, a well, a garden, and a barn.
In 1907 it was recorded that the building was settling and that cracks had begun to form in the foundation, archways, and especially in the basement. Thirty-six prisoners were relocated to the employee cottages while repairs were made, and the employees were relocated to a residence on Osler Street. The rapidly decaying state of the jail was most likely due to Regina’s notorious gumbo soil.
Less than ten years later the building would be torn down. However, due to the fertile soil of the jail’s garden, it would continue to be used until 1920. The following years would see new buildings constructed in the area. These including structures, campsites, and cottages. For a time, the land was even used by the Canadian Military during World War II. Following the war, it would be heavily landscaped and become what is now Wascana Park.
The exact location of the graves is speculated, but buildings in photographs show the jail was southwest of the CBC Building, somewhere below what is now Wascana Drive. The unmarked bodies of Luciano, Morrison, and Gun may lay there still.
An archaeological dig could be done to find the foundation of the jail, the jail yard, the accompanying farm buildings, and the location of the bodies, but as they were probably buried without a casket, not much of them would probably be left.
But if these men were found, should they be moved? This was their final resting place and has been for over a century. While having bodies buried in Wascana Park isn’t ideal, these men still had somewhat of a funeral and their crimes were paid for with their lives. In both the eyes of God and the law, these men are absolved of their sins and should be left to rest in peace.
However, a memorial for them would be inappropriate, especially for John Morrison. Mass murderers should not be memorialized. If a marker or cairn was erected instead, then what about the dozen-plus executed men in the Regina Cemetery who have no markers? To mark them all would be a very expensive project, no doubt a controversial one.
Another idea would be to mark out the grounds of the old jail and have an open-air museum. An archaeological dig could show us where the jail, the cottages, the garden, and the barn were. We could then mark off the jail yard and have a sign there instead. It might even be appropriate to have some chrysanthemums to mark the graves. A dig and a project like this would help discover and share the history of early Regina.
Retired archivist and construction historian Frank Korvemaker has suggested an archaeological excavation for years. An archaeological dig like this could show over a century of settler history, and possibly a millennium of Indigenous history. Wascana Creek could be a hotbed for Indigenous artifacts, like The Forks in Winnipeg or Wanuskewin in Saskatoon. In any other municipality, this would make headlines.
Currently there is a plan to construct a new CNIB building on the location of the old jail farm (purple arrow), near the projected site of the old jail (red arrow). The original CNIB building was built in 1955 and probably destroyed whatever was left of the farm. However, the nearby jail site and potential bodies are something that should be considered before any shovels break the soil.
(Hover with your mouse over the photos to see the arrows and their position on the CNIB Building map.)
(Hover your mouse over the below picture to see both maps.)
The purpose of this article is not to debate the merits of building a new CNIB building. I understand both the desire to keep the park green and the desire to honour the original Mawson Plan. With all that being said, if there are bodies buried there, then they need to be acknowledged in some way or another.
Were you aware of The North-West Territorial Jail and Lunatic Asylum? How about the prisoners that might be buried there? What do you think should be done with the bodies? As always, let me know in the comments below.
Thank you to Frank Korvemaker for helping me with this article and for his years of research into this historic site. His report can be seen at: Summary Report for the North-West Territorial Jail, Regina – 6 – Feb. 2, 2021.pdf. As well, my appreciation is extended to the Wascana Centre for fielding my numerous phone calls, and for the assistance of Inspector Trent Stevely of the Regina Police Service.
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Categories: Canada, Dark Tourism, History, Regina, Saskatchewan