There were more than a few eyebrows raised when it was announced in 1883 that old Pile of Bones would become the new capital of the vast North West Territories, an area greater than the size of Europe. The name came from massive piles of buffalo bones that Cree hunters had stacked on the Canadian plains rather than the deadly prospects for settlement. But still it was a featureless prairie with scant supplies of water nearby.
It wasn’t called Pile of Bones anymore. The year before the wife of Canada’s governor general thought it was better to call the settlement “Regina” from the Latin word for queen. Princess Louise was thinking about her own mother, Queen Victoria, then in the middle of a 63-year reign.
But by any name Battleford, the territorial capital since 1876, and Qu’Appelle, the town with the brightest future, and Fort Qu’Appelle, the headquarters of the North-West Mounted Police, all seemed like better choices for a capital. But Regina was located on the planned route of the transcontinental railroad and, oh by the way, Territorial Lieutenant-Governor Edgar Dewdney had bought up a lot of cheap land in Pile of Bones.
So Regina became a capital and officially a town on December 1, 1883. The Mounties moved into town and the Canadian Pacific Railway arrived as promised. By 1903 the population had grown to 3,000 and Regina became a city. Agriculture was booming and when Saskatchewan became its own province Regina segued smoothly from territorial capital to provincial capital. Some 350,000 trees were planted in this new oasis on the prairie and the population grew tenfold in the first decade of the 20th century.
On June 30, 1912 a tornado formed south of the city at 4:50 in the afternoon, roaring through the city ten minutes later. The Regina Cyclone damaged or destroyed over 500 buildings and 2,500 of the city’s 30,213 residents were left homeless. Twenty-eight people were killed, making the storm still the deadliest tornado in Canadian history. It took two years to fully rebuild and the Regina Cyclone left a permanent mark on the downtown streetscape.
There have not been any devastating downtown natural disasters in the past 100 years but crusaders in the name of progress have taken a toll. Regina has sacrificed some significant civic and commercial buildings to urban renewal but plenty heritage properties remain. To kick-off our explorations of the Queen City we will begin in a place that carries the name of the monarch who inspired the name of the city...
bounded by 12th Avenue. Victoria Avenue, Scarth Street and Lorne Street
This two-square block at the city center was treeless when it was set aside for public use, which suited the military paraders and livestock displayers just fine. Things began to get serious in 1907 when the square was named Victoria Park and brought Frederick Todd, the first resident landscape architect in Canada, in from Montreal. Trees were planted and a fountain installed in the center to honour the memory of Nicholas Flood Davin. Davin was an Irishman who was trained as a lawyer but spent most of his life as a journalist. He sailed to Canada at the age of 32 in 1872 and made his way West, founding the Regina Leader in 1883. Renowned for his mesmerizing oratory, Davin became the first member of the Canadian Parliament for Assiniboia West.
Davin’s fountain was removed in 1926 and replaced with a cenotaph to honour the Regina men and women who gave their lives in World War I. Robert Gal Heughan of the prestigious Montreal architectural firm Ross & Macdonald designed the monument that was fashioned with high-grade Sanstead granite. The final price tag was $23,000.
EXIT VICTORIA PARK ON THE EAST SIDE ONTO SCARTH STREET.
Victoria Park Building
1945 Scarth Street
William Gysbert Van Egmond and Edgar Storey were a prolific architectural team in Regina after joining talents in 1907. Storey died unexpectedly in 1913 and his son Stanley joined Van Egmond in a partnership that would last over 30 years until the senior partner’s death at the age of 66 in 1949. Van Egmond and Storey specialized in classical designs which can be seen on this low-slung commercial block from 1929. The ground level is dressed in stone with a fanlight over the central entrance. Brick pilasters rise to caps in a simulated parapet roof and the patterned brick saves room for tile inserts on the second storey. Some of the long-time tenants included Mac & Mac, a men’s clothier that left in the 1980s, the Copper Kettle Restaurant that opened in 1964, and Arens Drug with a popular city lunch counter. The Victoria Park Bowling Academy hosted keglers in the basement until 1978.
FACING THE VICTORIA PARK BUILDING, TURN RIGHT. ‘
Dominion Government Building
1975 Scarth Street at northeast corner of Victoria Avenue
This has been a federal corner for about as long as there has been a Regina. The Regina courthouse was here until a fire wiped it out in 1895, to be replaced by a federal building. By the mid-1930s the consensus weapon against the Great Depression was large civic make-work projects so that building was torn down and this one started in its place. Francis Henry Portnall, the go-to architect in Regina at the time, won the commission and delivered one of Canada’s best Art Deco designs. Sitting on a square footprint and rising to a stylized rendition of a classical steeple, the Dominion Building was ready by 1935. In 2011 the Regina landmark was selected as one of five Canadian buildings to celebrate Art Deco design in the Dominion on a set of postage stamps.
TURN RIGHT ON VICTORIA AVENUE.
2125 Victoria Avenue
The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway had the first crack at building a grand hotel in Regina but the line failed in 1919 before its Scottish baronial Chateau Qu’Appelle, started six years earlier, could be completed. The Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) bought the railroad lines but had no interest in the hotel so the hulking corpse loomed over the cityscape until 1922 when it was finally demolished. The steel beams were salvaged for use in this guest house for the CPR that was completed in 1927. This was the 14th statement hotel the railway had built, mostly in the showy Chateauesque style. But here the railway gave Ross and Macdonald of Montreal marching orders to keep costs down a bit and the result is a less ornamental Neoclassical design. The Hotel Saskatchewan is still massive and at ten storeys high remained the tallest building in Regina until 1969.
Land Titles Building
2205 Victoria Avenue
The province of Saskatchewan did not get around to constructing any buildings for its own use until 1906 and this was the first. Toronto’s premier architects, Frank Darling and John Pearson, drew up the Beaux Arts plans. The red brick building is framed by a powerful dentilated cornice and a classically inspired door frame, both rendered in Kootenay marble from British Columbia. Once this building was completed in 1910 there was little doubt the provincial government was a force to be reckoned with. The Land Titles Building protected local building records until 1977.
First Baptist Church
2241 Victoria Avenue at southeast corner of Lorne Street
The first rumbling of Baptism in Regina took place in 1891 when 15 potential members pledged $375 to purchase a building site on Cornwall Street between 11th and 12th avenues. Two months later a small meetinghouse was ready for services. The congregation grew and so did the church building until it was sold for $38,000 in 1910. William W. Hilton, a popular Regina residential architect, drew up plans for a Classical Revival house of worship with an Ionic portico and octagonal domed roof. Services had been held in this new location for only a couple months when a cyclone touched down between Smith and Lorne streets. In a matter of moments the dome was tossed a block away and rain saturated the interior. The repair bill was $12,000. It was a lot of money in 1912 but a pittance compared to the $1.3 million the church approved for a centennial restoration in 1991.
2305 Victoria Avenue
William Gysbert Van Egmond and Stanley Storey tapped the Mediterranean style for this seven-storey apartment building in 1930. The H-shpaed structure rises around a shaded courtyard and boasts handsome brickwork in random courses of red and light buff Claybank brick. Hand-carved stone accents also grace the exterior. The client was James Balfour who had served a term as Regina mayor in 1915 and would put in another term in 1931. Balfour hailed from Ontario but came West, teaching school in Saskatchewan, lumberjacking in Alberta and finally being admitted to the bar in the Northwest Territories. The Balfour family kept the 98-unit property until the 1980s.
Knox-Metropolitan United Church
1978 Lorne Street at northwest corner of Victoria Avenue
Both the Knox Presbyterian and Metropolitan Methodist churches were blown away in the 1912 cyclone. The Metropolitan had a regal pedigree. The church, the congregation’s third, was designed by the celebrated Toronto architects Frank Darling and John Pearson. English-born Francis Henry Portnall was sent by the firm to oversee construction and he stayed to become one of the city’s most respected designers for more than 50 years. For the rebuild of Metropolitan Methodist Portnall blended the Norman and Gothic Revival styles of his native England. The Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregational churches combined in 1925 to create the United Church of Canada and in 1951 Knox merged its congregation with Metropolitan.
2425 Victoria Avenue at southwest corner of Smith Street
Frank Portnell saw many architectural styles come and go. For Regina’s new hall of justice he tapped the International Style in 1960.
2476 Victoria Avenue at northwest corner of Smith Street
Regina was incorporated in 1883 and the first town hall was an unpretentious wooden building. It was replaced in the early 1900s by an exuberant High Victorian Gothic confection known locally as the “Gingerbread Palace.” In the 1960s the bill on maintenance of that decoration came due and the government moved out to await construction of this International style tower, designed by architect Joseph Pettick and finished in 1976. The front entry arch is a souvenir from the Gingerbread Palace.
TURN RIGHT ON MCINTYRE STREET.
1940 McIntyre Street
The Young Women’s Christian Association was founded in 1910 as a mission for women and children to rest when traveling west by wagon train or railroad. A grand Neo-Georgian building on Lorne Street was ready by the next year. The YWCA moved to this location in 1969.
TURN RIGHT ON 12TH AVENUE.
St. Paul’s Anglican Church/Cathedral
1861 McIntyre Street at northeast corner of 12th Avenue
This is the oldest church building in Regina in continuous use. After holding their first services in a wooden building in 1883 the parish moved into this fieldstone-and-brick home a dozen years later. Samuel Frank Peters, a busy architect who decorated the streets of London and Winnipeg for over 40 years, provided the Gothic-tinged design with a corner tower. The Diocese of Qu’Appelle for southern Saskatchewan always intended its cathedral city to be in the town some 50 kilomteres to the east but plans for St. Peter’s there never quite worked out and St. Paul’s was elevated to a cathedral in 1973.
1865 Smith Street at the northeast corner of 12th Avenue
Saskatchewan experienced a wheat farming gold rush at the the turn of the 20th century. The Canadian prairie exited the 19th century with 13,445 active farms and 240,000 hectares under till. A decade later there were 95,013 farms working 3,700,000 hectares. And all the while the farmers grumbled about the treatment by the rail companies that owned the grain elevators. In 1911 the power of the wheat farmers was unleashed when they formed their own storage and handling service called the Saskatchewan Co-operative Elevator Company (SCEC). The first year they built 40 elevators and leased six. Then came 93 elevators the next year. It was shortly the largest grain handling company in the world and in 1914 SCEC hired Van Egmond and Storey to design this handsome headquarters with large plate glass windows and a classically-themed entranceway framed in terra cotta tiles. By the 1920s SECA was reaping profits from more than 400 grain elevators. The company was big enough to begin drawing its own criticism from farmers. In 1926 SECA sold its assets to the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool and the building was acquired by the province to be used as the Provincial Revenue Building. In 2005, during Saskatchewan’s Centennial, the building was named for Charles Avery Dunning, the energetic young first general manager of the SECA. Dunning went into politics and became the 3rd Premier of Saskatchewan.
Telephone Exchange Building
1870 Lorne Street at the northwest corner of 12th Avenue
This building looks as if it might be the fraternal twin to Dunning Place. It is another work of Van Egmond and Storey from roughly the same time, built to replace the Bell Telephone Company exchange that had been destroyed by the 1912 Cyclone. The Neo-Georgian design features precise symmetry, stone quoining, ornamental window hoods, dentilated cornice and porthole windows. Bell Telephone had set up its exchange early in Regina in 1882 - just six years after the introduction of the telephone at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial. This building housed the province’s first automatic dial telephone system. Regina’s telephone calls routed through here, including the sympathetic 1929 addition along 12th Avenue, until 1955 when the property was transferred to the Regina Public School Board.
Regina Public Library
1900 Lorne Street at the southwest corner of 12th Avenue
When steel baron Andrew Carnegie began spreading his wealth around building more than 2,500 public libraries around the world, Regina got a slice of the pie with a $50,000 grant in 1910. Carnegie’s money resulted in 125 libraries in Canada, but only 14 outside Ontario. Thomas Walter Scott, the first Premier of Saskatchewan lobbied the City Council for a free library in 1907 and the first books were lent out of the second floor of City Hall on New Years Day, 1909. Van Egmond and Storey won a design competition and dug into their Classical Revival toolbox to design the new library building. It was only open six weeks when the 1912 tornado ripped through the stacks. A letter to Carnegie brought $9,500 to cover the repairs. The Carnegie building was demolished in 1961 with the stonework nameplate retained and placed in the entrance of the new International styled library from the drawing boards of Izumi, Arnott & Sugiyama.
Canadian Western Place
2184 12th Avenue at northeast corner of Cornwall Street
This three-story commercial building with a distinctive chamfered corner is another creation of William Gysbert Van Egmond and Edgar Storey. The client was the Credit Foncier Mortgage Company. The classical detailing the architects gave the building, including a rooftop balustrade, in 1911 have long since been removed.
TURN LEFT ON CORNWALL STREET.
Royal Canadian Legion Memorial Hall
1820 Cornwall Street
The Great War Veterans Association began in 1917 as the first national Canadian organization for veterans; it was an offshoot of a sewing circle set up by Lillian Bilsky Freiman to provide blankets for soldiers overseas. After World War I more than a dozen veterans’ aid groups were established and on November 25, 1925 many of them folded into the Canadian Legion British Empire Service League. Regina was the first chapter to receive a charter. In 1960 the non-profit organization received Royal Assent privileges. The Memorial Hall was constructed between 1947 and 1951 on plans drawn by Stanley Storey. Storey’s Art Deco design incorporates a long horizontal element contrasting against a central Peace Tower, featuring stained glass window ornamentation. Inside Branch 001 the Legion crest is recreated in terrazzo floor tiles and several murals remember benchmarks of Canadian military history.
Canada Life Assurance Building
2201 11th Avenue at southwest corner of Cornwall Street
David Robertson Brown and Hugh Vallance came out from Montreal in 1912 to give Regina a taste of big city architecture with this Beaux Arts confection. The moneymen were the Canadian Cities & Towns Properties Co. of Liverpool, England and the most prominent tenant was the Saskatchewan branch of Canada Life Insurance Company, the country’s first life insurance company. Brown and Vallance outfitted their Gothic-flavoured office building, then the second highest in Regina, with white terra cotta tile and generous decorative elements including medallions and shields. The building followed the convention of early skyscraper building to create a representation of a classical column with a base (the oversized rounded arches), a shaft (the orderly middle storeys) and a capital (the switch back to rounded windows and an ornate cornice).
TURN RIGHT ON 11TH AVENUE.
2125 11th Avenue
Francis Nicholson Darke was born and raised on Prince Edward Island and never left the family farm until he was nearly 30 years old. He came West and landed in Regina where he began running cattle and by 1898, when he was 35 years years old, he became mayor, still the city’s youngest. Respected in business and Liberal politics, Darke began buying downtown land and built this five-storey building in 1906 to manage his real estate holdings. Times were good and Darke could afford to hire Toronto starchitects Frank Darling and John Pearson who delivered a stand-out Georgian Revival design, trimmed in Bedford limestone, including the window keystones. Two storeys were tacked on above the cornice at a later date.
2124 11th Avenue
By the 1970s downtown Regina was becoming as empty as the Canadian priaireland. The solution, it was believed, was an enclosed shopping mall to revitalize the downtown core. In 1977 the $100,000 project began. Hudson’s Bay and Eaton’s were incorporated into Cornwall Centre while other buildings were sacrificed. The Canadian Bank of Commerce was stripped of everything but its facade (now inside). The Merchant’s Bank got a little of both treatments. The back was demolished but the Neoclassical facade and the front rooms were spared to fight another day. Southern Saskatchewan’s largest mall now boasts 90 stores.
Bank of Ottawa
1736 Scarth Street
This Neoclassical vault survived in whole to assume its retail duties in the Cornwall Centre. It is a 1911 design from William Gysbert Van Egmond and Edgar Storey. Look up to admire the denticulated cornice and carved stone pediments.
Regina Post Office
1801 Scarth Street at southeast corner of 11th Avenue
Chief architect for the Dominion of Canada, David Ewart, gave Regina this Beaux Arts tour-de-force in 1906 to serve as the federal post office. The corner bell tower was finished in 1912, hosting a turret clock from J. Smith & Sons of Clerkenwell, England. The company began in 1780 and advanced to become one of the leading suppliers of clocks in the British Empire. In 1929 William Gysbert Van Egmond and Stanley Storey were called on to add a nearly inconspicuous addition along Scarth Street. After a half-century the postal service moved on and the city government moved from across the street and stayed until 1976. In 1981 the Globe Theatre took up residence on the second and third floors, above the new retail occupants on the first level. The Globe launched in 1966 as Saskatchewan’s first professional theatre company.
Western Trust Company Building
2020 11th Avenue
Born in Southwold Township, Ontario in 1850, Neil R. Darrach had no formal training in architecture, teaching himself through poring over trade books. He became the leading designer in St. Thomas, Ontario, responsible for scores of buildings. Darrach was a mentor to Maurice W. Sharon who was destined to become the second Saskatchewan Provincial Architect in 1916. The association brought Darrach to Regina for a brief time and this was his first design in the city, for the Western Trust Company in 1911. The site was where Regina’s first fire hall had once stood. Darrach favoured revival styles and this one drew inspirations from Georgian architecture with its orderliness, symmetry and heavy cornice. As you wrap up this block on 11th Avenue you can understand why it was known as “Banker’s Row” back in the day.
TURN RIGHT ON HAMILTON STREET.
1843 Hamilton Street
Hamilton Street was Regina’s first business corridor. The Victorian fantasy City Hall stood on the corner of 11th and Hamilton and when the city’s first steecar lines were developed in 1911 that intersection was the terminal. That was the time this three-storey commercial building was developed for the Engineers & Plumbers Supply Company. The business had started in 1907 and was flush enough to provide plenty of ornamentation to the brown brick facade, including a stone dressing to the ground level, window ornamentation and a Palladian-style cornice.
1853 Hamilton Street
The new citizens of Regina in 1883 knew they needed a newspaper and the man they picked to give them one was Irish lawyer Nicholas Flood Davin, who had some experience as a war correspondent back in England. The group provided $5,000 and the first issues of The Leader were on the streets on March 1, 1883. Davin caught a break two years later when Regina was the site for the treason trial of Louis Riel, ringleader of the Metis and First Nations resistance movement against the Canadian government in the North-West Rebellion. Davin’s on-the-scene reports in The Leader from one of Canada’s most notorious court cases ran in all the nation’s papers. A Leader reporter, Mary McFayden Maclean, even obtained a jailhouse interview with the condemned Riel by posing as a French-speaking Catholic cleric.
This was the fourth home for the paper, each one more elaborate than the former. It was the work of Neil Darrach and Maurice Sharon and when it was ready for the presses in 1912 it was the tallest and most expensive office building Regina had ever seen. The gleaming white terra cotta cladding was liberally decorated with classical carvings from the ground to the sixth floor roof. The Leader, which had moved from a weekly to daily publication in 1903, gobbled up the other paper in town, the Regina Evening Post, in 1920. After a decade of joint existence the two papers became the Leader-Post in 1930.
In addition to the print offices the Post-Leader created Saskatchewan’s first radio station in the building in 1922. The first broadcast on CKCK was a church service. The station was also one of the first to broadcast a live hockey game. Both the newspaper and the radio station departed downtown in 1964.
TURN RIGHT ON 12TH AVENUE.
Mosaic Potash Tower
2010 12th Avenue
Regina’s first skyscraper once stood on this location, the 10-storey McCallum Hill Building. It was imploded in six seconds in the 1980s, thanks to 200 pounds of explosives. Since 2013 the tallest building in Saskatchewan, the 84.5-metre Mosaic Potash Tower has occupied the premises. The Minnesota-based Mosaic Company is a leading producer of the crop nutrients phosphate and potash.
TURN RIGHT ON SCARTH STREET.
Willoughby & Duncan Building
1839 Scarth Street
This 1800 block provides the best glimpse of Regina from its formative years. Since 1975 it has been an open-air pedestrian mall named for Frederick W. Hill, a long-time contributor to downtown Regina. This exuberant three-storey, twelve-bay ornament was raised by Willoughby & Duncan in 1908. It was the first major project for Frederick Chapman Clemesha who had spent his early days ranching in Argentina and Saskatchewan before turning to architecture. There would be many more on his resume before he died in San Diego in 1958 at the age of 82.
Charles Willoughby was born in Ontario in 1857 and came to Regina to lay bricks and help build the first post office. He then started his own contracting company and teamed up with William Henry Duncan in 1896. Together they formed the Regina Lumber and Supply Company which merged in 1906 with the Banbury Bros. Lumber Company of Wolseley, Saskatchewan. The newly named Beaver Lumber became a Canadian institution as one of the largest building supply companies in the country.
1838 Scarth Street
There is not much visual evidence remaining but this is the oldest cinema exhibition hall in Regina. It was constructed in 1910 for the Princess Theatre but was out of business by 1914, even after escaping the 1912 Cyclone.
1821 Scarth Street
Architect William Wallace Blair was Irish-born and Belfast-trained before sailing to Canada in 1887 at the age of 22 to practice on his own. Thus began a peripatetic career that saw him working in Hamilton, Toronto, Chicago, Winnipeg and even back in Ireland for a few years. He formed a partnership with George W. Northwood in 1905 but the effort was brief, lasting only until 1907. But in that small window came the classical revival design for the Northern Bank’s new Regina branch. The stone pediment is especially eye-catching with carved supports and ornate Ionic capitals; look up to see a Canadian farm family carved inside the pediment.
WHEN YOU ARE FINISHED EXPLORING F.W. HILL MALL TURN AND RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO 12TH AVENUE AND THE START OF THE TOUR.