Located east of Regina's booming downtown is the former Germantown. The boundaries of this historic neighborhood have fluctuated much over the past century, but it constantly sits between Broad and Park Street, and South Railway Street and 13th Avenue. Winnipeg Street unofficially splits the neighborhood into two sections: West and East Germantown.
Unlike the rest of Regina, Germantown was populated with non-British immigrants, such as Ukrainians, Romanians, Poles, Greeks, Serbians and Germans (hence the name "Germantown"). It would later also be home to Japanese, Chinese and Korean families, and today is home to many Middle Eastern families, particularity the recent Syrian refugees.
While Saskatchewan is very Conservative in their political policies, Germantown has always been Liberal, always supporting more immigration and more social services, especially for new arrivals. This makes Germantown very unique, and thus very different, than the rest of Regina.
It is due to these drastic cultural, ethnic and political differences that Germantown was often overlooked at the beginning of the 20th Century. An example of this can be seen in a 1912 brochure that boasted Regina had city-wide running water, but it failed to mention that it wouldn't come to Germantown for several more years. Some historians would argue the reason running water wouldn't arrive in Germantown for another decade isn't because the city didn't care for the people of Germantown, but because their houses were nothing more than small shacks and couldn't handle the plumbing. Photographs of the neighbourhood in the early 20th Century confirm these claims, as Germantown was the poorest area of the city.
However, that isn't to say there wasn't a lot going on in Germantown. The neighborhood had over 40 stores, including 7 dance halls, with every house having an average of 8 people living in them. Families at the time could also raise their own cattle and chickens, so it was common to find livestock wandering the roads of the neighborhood. Alcohol was also very common, due to the high number of Germanic families, which naturally caused some conflict during the Prohibition era.
Since it was first established, Germantown has been used as a cultural springboard for new arrivals into the city. As the families grew up, they would eventually move away and a new family would take their place. This constant movement of people would lead to very little historical information being written down and thus very little being known about the daily ongoings inside Germantown.
However, some stories do persist. One story revolves around the current Old Number 1 Fire Hall, located on 11th Avenue. While the building today is a stand-alone structure, in its earliest days it used to be the entrance to the Regina Market Square. The Regina Market Square was a massive square where people from all walks of life sold their wares and produce; much like the modern Farmers Market does on Scarth Street today.
When the fire hall was first erected, the fire department had "fire horses". These horses were actually farm horses that were trained to run to the fire department when the fire bell began ringing. Over the years, however, the horses were replaced with vehicles and something needed to be done with the horses. Instead of putting them down, the horses were used to clean up garbage around the city. This worked out very well until the next fire broke out and the bell began to ring, which caused these loyal horses to charge towards the fire hall, flinging garbage out of their carts and throughout the streets of the city. The scene today is comical to think about, but it was mortifying at the time.
Another story takes place during World War I. With Canada actively at war against the Germans in Europe, many people in Regina were suspicious of the people in Germantown, who spoke a different language, attended a different church and even had a different newspaper, Der Courier. These "Enemy Aliens" were seen as a threat to the safety of Canadians, and there was growing Anti-German sentiment against them. Several individuals in Regina even attempted to burn down the house of the printer of Der Courier, wanting to silence the newspaper. They failed, but the divisions between Germantown and the rest of the city were clearly felt that day.
Concerned about the "Enemy Aliens" that might be living in Germantown, the military requested permission to enter Germantown and to look for and prevent retaliation by the Germanic people. Mayor Robert Martin vetoed the military's request, claiming they would not enter the neighborhood as the citizens in Germantown were welcome in his city and were as law abiding as anybody else.
Once the war ended, the citizens of Germantown hoped the four years of suspicion that hovered over the community would disappear. Imagine their surprise when, only a few months later, police officers would be knocking on the doors of every house in the neighborhood, asking a dozen questions and handing them documents written in English, which they were unable to read. These documents were pamphlets created by the Canadian Government informing citizens about the Spanish Flu pandemic, which would kill more people worldwide than the war did. At this time, the Spanish Flu had reached Regina and was on the way to kill just over 1% of the population – or around 300 people. In an attempt to count the number of sick and dying people in the city, the police figured it would be easier to visit each of the houses in Germantown instead of calling them, since many of them did not have a phone.
It quickly became apparent to the police that the four years of Anti-German sentiment in the neighborhood caused the Germanic people to no longer trust the police, and their good intentions appeared sinister. With a language division between the English speaking officers and the Germanic people, the police required the use of neighborhood children to help translate their message. It turned out that while much of Regina was struggling with the Spanish Flu, Germantown was not. It was believed then, and is still a theory today, that the high amount of garlic in the food they ate kept the illness at bay.
It is important to remember that Germantown wasn't just people from Germany, but also people from Asia. 10th Avenue, for a time, was colloquially referred to as "Little Japan", and today is known as Regina's Chinatown, due to the high number of Asian restaurants and shops that are in the area. One of these restaurants, Ngoc Van, is actually my most favorite restaurant and I visit it almost once a week.
Being one of the oldest neighborhoods in Regina, Germantown is also full of incredible architecture, from a variety of different time periods. From the beautiful Marian Centre, to the towering Municipal Justice Building, to the gorgeous German Club, this area is punctuated with buildings from the 1920s to the 1960s, showcasing a variety of murals and brickwork that can be seen nowhere else in the city.
While Germantown has improved much since the 20th Century, there are still some areas of the neighborhood that need some help. There are abandoned houses, boarded up windows, and homeless people living on the streets. While the neighborhood does have some problems, there are also many local businesses such as Souls Harbour and the Salvation Army which are trying their best to improve the lives for the people in the area. Germantown is a historical neighborhood in the city that has seen many challenges since its conception, and I am excited to see the direction it will go in years to come.
If you're interested in volunteering or donating to Souls Habour, please visit their website or call them at 306-543-0011. As well, if you're interested in volunteering or donating to the Salvation Army, please visit their website or call them at 1-800-SAL-ARMY (1-800-725-2769).
Have you ever visited Germantown? I would love to hear some stories, so feel free to leave them in the comment section below!
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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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I don't often take blog requests, but a friend approached me recently and asked about Venice. He's traveling to Italy for a wedding this summer and is stopping in Venice for few days. He asked me if I knew what he could do in the Floating City, so I racked up a list of ten things for him to see.
Feel free to leave a comment and let me know if I missed anything, what your favorite thing to see in Venice was, or if you plan to go visit Venice after reading this!
Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania shut its doors in 1970. A year later, in 1971, it would briefly reopen and house inmates from Holmesburg Prison after a devastating riot. After the prisoners were returned to Holmesburg, Eastern State would sit empty for over two decades. It would rot, decay and collapse. Trees and shrubs would grow into the structure and a clowder of cats would take residence. These hallowed halls would sit empty, the only noise being the chatter of startled birds and the trotter of feline paws.
The following decades would see various discussions of what to do with the building. Eventually, it was decided to preserve it and turn it into a tourist attraction. Although it officially opened for tours in 1994, attendants would have to sign a waiver and wear hardhats before entering until 2008. They had 10,000 visitors the opening year, a number of tourists not seen in the prison since 1858.
From 1829 to 1970, Eastern State Penitentiary underwent a variety of changes and transformations. This massive, sprawling, 11-acre complex was founded under the belief that solitary confinement was the cure needed to prevent criminals from committing future crimes. It was believed criminals who served in solitary confinement would turn to a higher power to reconcile with themselves for their crimes – hence feeling "penitent". To assist in this process, each cell was equipped with a slit window on the ceiling nicknamed "The Eye of God". It would be the only light source available to the inmate.
Just over a year ago I wrote an article about the glockenspiel that once stood in downtown Regina. I had fond memories of the glockenspiel as a child and was sad when they took it down to renovate the park. I was even more sad when they didn't put it back up, and I was angry when I discovered it was sitting in a junkyard (sorry, outdoor "storage facility") for the past ten years. That article got a lot of attention, from both the public, the city and the press. Today, efforts are being made to restore the bell back to its original location.
I'm telling you this because preserving heritage – may it be a 25-year-old bell, or a fourth century building – is important. Without heritage, we lose who we are. Often, the desire to move society forward steps over the heritage and causes it to get lost. As impressive as tall glass buildings might be, nothing is better than a smoky red brick structure.
Saskatchewan is beginning to realize how important this is – and thankfully it's happening now and not in a few decades after everything is gone. But, our neighbours have been on the heritage preservation band train for several years now, especially in Alberta.