8 Places to Visit in Regina May 31, 2015 · 28 min. read
When I first started this project, I didn't know what would come of it.
During my interview with the Saskatchewanderer, she recommended I approach Tourism Regina and see if I could write for them. Tourism Regina agreed and published my article, but due to it's size restrictions, I wasn't able to talk about as many places as I wanted to.
Since beginning this project, I have sent over three dozen emails to many organizations and businesses around the city. Once I was done my initial research, I had more questions than answers, some of which I don't think I'll ever know. Once realizing the vast amount of information out there, I decided to cut this project down substantially. But, although it ended up different then I thought it would, I am happy to finally present to you, "8 Places to Visit in Regina".
1. Casino Regina
When it comes to the history of Regina, we need to focus on where it all began. Although built as recently as 1912, Casino Regina, then Union Station, was Regina's third train station, and as being the first building many people saw when arriving into the city, it was here where much of our history started.
One historical event happened in 1935 and is called the Regina Riot. Due to the Great Depression in the 1930s, many farmers in Western Canada were out of the job. With little action from the federal government to ease the struggle, over 2,000 farmers decided to take a train to Ottawa to demand change. As the train arrived in Regina, Ottawa forced the railway to stop the train, stranding the farmers far from home.
After learning the government was behind rail closure, many farmers rented cars to drive east, only to find the roads blocked off. To prevent further confrontation, the local police then approached the farmers' encampment to arrest their leader. This quickly turned violent and evolved into a massive riot. The riot saw guns and tear gas being fired at the farmers, cars being tipped over and many shops in Downtown Regina having their windows smashed. Two people also died during the unrest. The next day, newspapers across the globe lit up about this violent clash and the international community forced Ottawa to address the problem.
The station was also used to transport soldiers to Europe during World War I and II, as well as bring back soldiers, war brides and their children. Hungarian refugees used the train to come to Regina during the 1950s, as well as the British Royalty on many of their visits. Criminals were also sent on the train, and their jail cells still exist in the basement below. The basement also had an old police shooting range and a tunnel that used to connect to nearby hotels.
In 1990, the railway was diverted north and the passenger train no longer came to Regina. In 1995 it was bought by Saskatchewan Gaming, and was converted into a casino. The back entrance was sealed off, a new entrance was added, both wings of the building were gutted and a new floor was built.
Today, the casino employs over 600 people, and has over 800 slot machines. Saskatchewan Gaming promises slot machines pay out 85% of the time, but the machines at Casino Regina boast 92%. There are also frequent live performances at their Show Lounge, with appearances from artists like the Goo Goo Dolls, the Trailer Park Boys, the Red Green Show, Blondie, and the Village People, to name a few.
Although primarily for gaming, Casino Regina is also a museum. Attached to the east wing is The Last Spike and Rail Car restaurants, which have an authentic railway car embedded into the side of the building. Some of the basements' jail cells have also been converted into photo galleries, and it's underground Blue Mile shows dozens of images of the buildings reconstruction.
2. The RCMP Heritage Center
Opening in 2007, this building showcases the history of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
The Heritage Center starts with the creation of the North-West Mounted Police in 1873. Their purpose was to eradicate illegal whiskey trade in Western Canada and clear the way for the expansion of Canadian Pacific Railway.
Violent conflicts between the RCMP (then the NWMP), Cree and Metis population, as well as their participation in controlling the gold trade during the Klondike Gold Rush transformed the RCMP from a small handful of officers into an elite policing organization.
The RCMP are also involved in international conflicts, such as the South African Boar War, and both World War I and World War II. During World War II the Canadian government apprehended Werner von Janowski, a Nazi double-agent, and the RCMP worked with him to send false messages to Germany. During the Cold War, the RCMP protected Igor Gouzenko, a man who leaked confidential information regarding the Soviet's investigation into the US atomic bomb program and unveiled several "sleeper agents" in Canada.
They've also had to deal with rebel organizations such as the Order of the Midnight Sun and the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ), the assassination of Peter Verigin and the Oka crisis.
Today, the RCMP focus on preventing terrorism, halting organized crime and enforcing a peaceful quality of life for all Canadians.
I actually found the RCMP Heritage Center to be so fascinating that I wrote a blog specifically about it, which goes into further detail about the incredible history of Canada's iconic police force.
3. Government House
Finding the original Government House to be "unworthy", it was torn down and replaced by this building in 1891. From its creation until 1945 it housed the Lieutenant Governor of the North-West Territories, and after 1905, the Lieutenant Governor of Saskatchewan.
The building has had its fair share of unique residents, such as the Forgets, their pet monkey Jocko and their parrot Coquette who only spoke French. Children in Government House weren't allowed on the main level of the building, and were only allowed outside for an hour a day because sunlight was believed to be unhealthy. If they needed to speak to their parents, they would have to book an appointment. The children grew up in either their bedroom, playroom or classroom and at the age of 13 they were either sent away if male, or became a maid if female.
Government House is also known for its ghost, Cheun Lee or "Howie", one of the former cooks. Howie was a Chinese immigrant so it is unknown how he achieved such a high positioned job as the Chinese were living in extreme poverty at the time. Although he died decades ago, it is believed he still wanders the halls of the building as there have been many mysterious occurrences, such as doors opening and closing, footsteps being heard, and tablecloths falling off tables. Both times I have been to the Government House I witnessed the aftermath of a paranormal event, so I personally believe there is something to the story.
There is also a haunted mirror on the second floor that is so famous that when I asked a security officer if the building was haunted, he told me to simply "Look in the mirror and judge for yourself." Several children also ran up to me and told me not to look into it. What I saw when I looked into it, though, is something I'll leave for you to discover.
In 1945, Government House was too expensive so Premier Tommy Douglas shut it down, relocating the Lieutenant Governor to Hotel Saskatchewan. The interior was stripped and items were auctioned off, except for the contents of a safe in the dining room. Finding it locked, and unable to open it, it was left alone. The building became a soldier hospital and later an adult school. In 1977, a program was put in place to relocate the items and transform Government House into a museum. To track what they were still missing, a locksmith was brought in to open the safe. Inside were hundreds of priceless century old dishes, glassware and cutlery. This find is the building's greatest collection of original items.
Government House is currently half a museum and half the residence of the Lieutenant Governor. The Lieutenant Governor works and lives in what used to be the servants quarters, including the bedroom where Howie died. Entrance to the Lieutenant Governor's side is forbidden, but the rest of the building is open to the public for free. In fact, on almost every first Saturday of the month there is a Victoria themed tea in the ballroom, open to people of all ages.
4. Saskatchewan Legislative Building
This building, colloquially known as the "Leg." (pronounced "Ledge") is home of Saskatchewan's provincial government. While used for provincial debate and legislation, it is also open to the public.
The original location of the Leg. was supposed to be downtown, in Victoria Park. Once it was relocated to the south side of Wascana Lake, a contest began for people to submit architectural designs for the building. Although people from as far away as New York and London submitted entries, it was a Regina resident, and good friend of Saskatchewan's first Premier, Thomas Walter Scott, who won. The building however, was supposed to be built of red brick, but Walter Scott purchased white Tyndall stone instead, increasing the cost of the building by $50,000 (about $1.1 million today). Walter Scott also used red carpet in the building instead of green carpet, being one of the only two Legislative Buildings in the country that have a different carpet.
The building also contains a library, which houses the largest collection of writings about Saskatchewan. It is open to the public, and people are encouraged to use it. At the front of the library sits Confederation Table, a massive table sent as a congratulatory gift from Ottawa to Regina in honor of becoming the provincial capital. It was meant to sit in the Leg., but as the building was not yet completed, it was moved to City Hall (now the Globe Theater). However, the table was too big to get inside, so they had to cut off six feet. When the time came to bring the table back to the Leg., this six feet long piece was missing and was never found.
In the 1960s, the Leg.'s dome was closed to the public after a visitor committed suicide. Because of this, nobody noticed the dome was tilting. When it was discovered, the damage was so extreme that a proposal was made to remove the dome. However, it was decided to restore and strengthen it instead. One of the changes being made is to replace the green copper plates that cover the dome. When the plates were first added in 1910, they were orange, but over the past century they have oxidized and became green. The new plates will again be orange, so we will be able to see how the dome originally looked. The original plates, stonework, statues and photography can all be seen below the building in the Cumberland Gallery.
Much like the Union Station, this building also had a network of tunnels below it, which crisscrossed below Wascana Lake. These tunnels were used primarily for steam, as each building didn't have it's own source of heat. All of these tunnels have since been sealed off, collapsed or destroyed.
5. Wascana Centre
Placed in the heart of the city, Wascana Centre is the jewel of Regina. Designed by the same man who designed the original World Trade Center, this park is three times the size of New York's Central Park.
The lake was originally created by damming the Wascana River, and its water was used as a domestic water supply. The lake and park became very popular for Regina citizens, and has remained so ever since.
In 1905, when the Prime Minister came to see if Regina was a suitable city to be the capital of Saskatchewan, the people of Regina transplanted hundreds of flowers from Wascana Lake to Union Station to make the city appear more beautiful and flowery. It worked.
On June 30th 1912, tragedy struck. After a long, hot summer, the skies overhead broke, releasing much needed rain. At 4:50 PM, a massive funnel cloud touched down just north of Wascana Centre, exploding houses, leveling churches and tearing up railways. Although the cyclone only lasted 20 minutes, 28 people died, a tenth of the population were left homeless, 500 buildings were destroyed and over $4 million of damage were done to the city. It holds the record for the deadliest tornado in Canadian history.
Although nobody knew it, Frankenstein's monster was in Regina during the time, and assisted in cleaning up the debris. He wasn't the green, mean, stalking machine we all know and love, but the British actor William Henry Pratt, better known for his stage name Boris Karloff. Karloff was brought to Regina with Jeanne Russell Players, a struggling company of actors and singers, but the group disbanded one day before the storm hit. With no job, Karloff worked removing the debris for 20 cents an hour.
In the 1930s, the people of Regina were out of work. To give them a job, the City of Regina started a program to widen and deepen Wascana Lake. No machines were used during the dig, as they wanted it to take as long as possible, and hire as many men as they could afford. This dig changed the coastline of the lake, and created several islands. In 2003 and 2004, a similar program was done to deepen the lake even further.
Wascana Centre is also dotted with historical monuments and statues, such as a fountain from London's Trafalgar Square, a statue of Queen Elizabeth II and Walter Scott (and originally, one of Louis Riel), war monuments to soldiers and nurses from both World Wars, plaques discussing Regina's connection to the American War of Independence and a recent memorial for Holodomor victims.
6. Civic Museum of Regina
As a history buff, I love museums, and I enjoyed the Civic Museum of Regina so much I had to include it on my list. Unlike other museums in the city, the Civic Museum focuses solely on Regina's history.
One section of the museum features the old Capitol Theater, which was torn down in the early 1990s. Another section focuses on the Broadway Popcorn Stand, a popcorn stand that lasted from the 1930s until the 1980s. It became so popular that it was considered a "city landmark" by the Leader-Post in 1984.
The museum also has pictures of the first stores in Regina, the Regina Riot, the Regina Cyclone, and the old City Hall and Post Office, including original telegrams. It shows scenes from some of Regina's first hospitals, schools and kitchens, showing just how far we have come in healthcare, education and food preparation in the past 100 years.
The Civic Museum of Regina is also credited for providing the train car that makes up part of the Rail Car restaurant at Casino Regina.
It was also the Civic Museum that provided me with a map in my article Regina: A Century of Change where I compare the original plan of the city to how the city looks today.
7. St. Paul's Cathedral
Built in 1884, St. Paul's is the oldest continuous church in Regina.
With the purchase of Rupert's Land and the expansion of Canada westward, many Anglican churches sprang up throughout the provinces. St. Paul's in Qu'Appelle was originally the head of the Anglican Diocese of Qu'Appelle (and area), but once Regina was chosen as the capital, it was moved to this building.
Being a small church that could only hold 300 people, plans were made to create a much larger cathedral near the corner of College Ave. and Broad Street. As time passed and Regina didn't become a heavily Anglican city, this plan was disbanded and the area of land remains vacant. Once plans to build this cathedral fell through, St. Paul's was elevated from a pro-cathedral to a cathedral.
Being the head of the Anglican Diocese of Qu'Appelle, St. Paul was closely connected to St Chad's School for Girls, not far from where their cathedral was supposed to be built. Once St. Chad's closed, many of their most precious relics came into the hands of St. Paul's and are on display in the basement.
On the floor of St. Paul's basement is a beautiful quilt, brought back as a spoil of war from Europe after World War II. It was given as a gift to St. Paul's by a local quilting group. The imagery on the quilt shows a scene from the New Testament, Matthew 15:21-28, where Jesus removes a demon from a Canaanite woman's daughter. Nobody knows who made this quilt, where it came from, or why it has this scene on it.
The basement of the church is also a Columbarium, and contains over 150 urns. These urns can be purchased by anybody, of any faith, and are carefully controlled and monitored by members of the staff. Small services are often held in the Columbarium, especially on the anniversary of one's passing.
St. Paul's has recently gone under construction, replacing its old stone parish hall with a new modern hall, referred to as "The Cloister". A new entrance and cafeteria have also been added, modernizing the historical structure.
St. Paul's also helps in the community, as every second Saturday St. Paul's opens its doors and provides breakfast to the homeless. Recently, the number of people arriving for breakfast has been about 300, which completely fills up the cathedral.
8. The GMC Assembly Plant
During the 1920s, Saskatchewan was seen as one of the wealthiest locations on the planet, and Regina was its hub. Seen as the gateway to Western Canada, Regina brought in an influx of immigrants, both from Europe and Asia. This, along with its booming economy, got the attention of the GMC. They believed that there was a market in Regina, and instead of having to transport the vehicles from Ontario across the country, they could simply build them here.
GMC proposed this idea to the City of Regina, and rumor broke out that if successful, it could transform Regina into the next "Motor City". The Leader Post says this was the biggest news in Regina since World War I ended. In 1928, the plant was completed and within months it was pumping out 150 cars a day, or nearly one car every 4 minutes. The dream seemed not only possible, but a reality.
Then, in October of 1929, the economy crashed. The auto industry lost $16 million in one day, and investors yanked out another $14 million the next. The Great Depression had begun. GMC crumpled, as did the plant, and all the employees lost their jobs. The following years would bring out the Dirty Thirties in Saskatchewan, taking what once was a rising, prosperous province down into dust. The plant would sit dormant for a decade, abandoned.
In 1939 Canada joined World War II. At the time, the Royal Saskatchewan Museum was located in the Normal School. The military wished to turn the school into a Commonwealth Air Training Plan, so the museum relocated to the old GMC Building. Months later they would have to relocate again, as the military wished to convert the plant into a munitions factory. Anti-tanks guns, anti-aircraft missiles and, according to one historian, "a secret weapon" were built here. No proof of that secret weapon has ever been found because as soon as the war ended, the building was gutted.
In the 1960s the plant once again came into operation, but was not nearly as successful as it was in the 1920s. Due to costs, it was forced to shut down again, this time permanently. It is now used as office space for independent radio, sporting groups and small businesses.
Some once called Regina the "City That Should Never Have Been", but due to the dreams, strength and determination, our city has evolved, grown and prospered. Today, for the first time in nearly a hundred years, Regina is one of the fastest growing cities in Canada. We are ushering in a new chapter in the history books. From tornadoes to riots, to automotive assembly plants to train stations, our city has seen it all. Nothing describes Saskatchewan and Regina more than the etchings outside Regina City Hall, which read: "Out of the bloodshed and ashes of Batoche, a strong province developed. Saskatchewan was, and is, a crazy quilt of cultures and religions." And Regina is the heart of it all.
This blog couldn't have been possible without help from Shanna Schulhauser from Casino Regina and Chelsea Coupal and Brittany Love from Government House for their all help in providing me with photography, information, booklets and personalized tours. Thank you for everything, and I'm sorry it took so long for me to write this.
Don't forget to pin it!
And, as always, a big thank you to my sweetheart Jessica Nuttall for proof reading a countless number of my articles. I couldn't do any of this without you. I love you.
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