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Vaughan Street Jail at 444 York Avenue (Part 2 of 2)

Guest Post by Kristen Verin-Treusch
Edited by Laura McKay, on behalf of Heritage Winnipeg Corp.
To follow up on this or any other articles on the blog, contact Heritage Winnipeg's Executive Director.

Photo courtesy of Nicole Verin-Treusch

Continued from previous article. To read Part 1, click here!
The former Vaughan Street Detention Centre was originally called the Eastern Provincial District Gaol and opened its foreboding doors in 1881. Over the next 50 years it would serve as a prison for inmates serving 2 years or less that arrived from Western Ontario, the territories of Alberta and Saskatchewan and all of what later became Manitoba. 

Men were incarcerated for various crimes such as theft, cattle stealing, opening letters, drunkenness, arson, rape and murder. Of the more infamous characters were two men convicted of a mass murder, killing a family with a shotgun and axe. These two men were the first to hang at the eastern Gaol. Others include Bloody Jack Krafchencko and Earl Nelson, Winnipeg's first serial killer (click here for more information).

Bloody Jack Krafchencko - Learn more about this famous criminal by clicking on the photo, courtesy of the Manitoba Historical Society Website.

Women often were arrested for similar crimes but in addition, infanticide and prostitution. The youngest of inmates consisted of children as young as 5 years of age who were arrested for such crimes as theft, truancy, harassing horses, and kicking old ladies in the shins. 

Indeed, the building as also utilized as a makeshift insane asylum for several years. People suffering from depression, severe mental illness or Alzheimer's could be dropped off by family members if they became too much of a burden. The belief was that a night's stay would cure them of their ailments. Regretfully, not only other inmates treated these people the worst, but also by staff. Physical and emotional abuse occurred regularly. Once the Selkirk Insane Asylum opened in 1886, many were transferred there where the method of treatment was in some cases better. 

This jail has been mentioned in several books and state that 13 executions were completed here. It is speculated that there may actually have been closer to 15-16. Unfortunately hanging criminals was not something Canadians were especially good at - 70% went wrong. As in other jails, our site experienced some of these disasters too. A criminal on death row could anticipate his/her hanging could be botched by either the rope being too slack, resulting in strangulation, or too short, resulting in decapitation. In addition, these were often but not always, a public event.

The jail served as a Provincial jail until 1930 when Headingly opened. After 1930 and over the decades, it served as a youth detention centre and remand centre, until 1984 when it closed as a facility. Since then, it has been idly sitting, watching the city evolve around it. 

Actors in costume for Doors Open Winnipeg tours. Photo courtesy of Nicole Verin Treusch.

The building is three quarters empty, with the upper floors gutted and only a handful of cells remain in the basement of the west wing. The first floor is all that is being used by Government Services for maintenance of the surrounding government buildings in the area. The future of this building is questionable. Discussions with Provincial delegates have proven to be optimistic but without a time line as to when action will begin. There has been work done on the building over the past few years, which is always a good sign of things to come. 

In the meantime, Doors Open Winnipeg is the only opportunity the public has to get inside this building. The Friends of the Vaughan Street Jail Inc. hosts the site, which offers a glimpse into it's sordid history through vignettes and stories. The two day event at the jail draws an average of 3000 people each year. The hope is to get the building opened to the public on a regular basis offering tours and other unique experiences. 

Line for tours at Vaughan Street Jail during Doors Open Winnipeg
Kristen Verin-Treusch, the researcher of the jail for the past 15 years, designed the Doors Open event at the jail using her research and experience in operating Muddy Water Tours. As a result, people flock to the site and voted the venue the Best Tour Experience for Door Open Winnipeg in both 2013 and 2014. We would like to hope that the jail be opened year round as there is definitely an interest in this type of history. 

This article is in part taken from the article:
Louts, Lunatics, and Loose Women at the Vaughan Street Jail
by Kristen Verin-Treusch
Manitoba History, Number 53, October 2006


Take a Virtual Tour of the Jail Here with Heritage Winnipeg 
Doors Open Winnipeg - Vaughan Street Jail 
Muddy Water Tours - Vaughan Street Jail Tours

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