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Discover Regina's History

Regina...at home on the plains

If you look at a map of North America, you'll find Regina right at the center of the continent, in the heart of the Canadian plains. The land is flat and seems to stretch out forever. Regina is like an oasis of trees, people and buildings. Though now home to nearly 200,000 people, it was once barren grassland with no trees and little water.

Before the arrival of settlers in the 1880s, First Nations hunters came to the area to hunt the roaming herds of buffalo. They used nearly all of the buffalo they killed for food, shelter and clothing. Only the bones remained.

The Cree hunters stacked the bones about 2 metres high and 12 metres in diameter. They believed that the buffalo herds would return to the area to visit the bones. The hunters named the area Oskana-Ka-asateki or "the place where bones are piled."

The explorers, fur traders, surveyors and settlers who moved through the area called it Pile of Bones.

Settlement begins

In June 1882, the first settlers set up camp near the present Wascana Lake. A settlement, called Pile of Bones, grew quickly because the surrounding land was fertile and flat. Under the Dominion Lands Act, new homesteaders could claim 160 acres of land for just $10. 

Regina's first dwelling with Mr. McDougall standing out front with buggy and horseThe first residents lived in tents or small shacks, despite temperatures of -40 C in the winter and more than +40 C in the summer. There were no paved streets, sidewalks or roads. Cattle, horses and other livestock often wandered the streets. Despite the harsh winters and sun-baked summers, the small town grew and grew.

The town is renamed

Pile of Bones wasn’t a good name for a town. So in late 1882, it was given a “regal” name. It became “Regina” in honour of the reigning monarch, Queen Victoria. The Queen’s daughter, Princess Louise, suggested the name. She was the wife of the Marquis of Lorne, Canada’s governor general at the time. “Regina” is Latin for queen, making our present monarch Elizabeth Regina. That’s why Regina is often called the Queen City.

The North West Mounted Police (now the Royal Canadian Mounted Police or RCMP) were formed in 1873 to police the western territories. In 1882 they moved their headquarters from Fort Walsh to Regina. In 1920 the headquarters moved to Ottawa but the RCMP Training Academy remains in Regina to this day.

In 1883, Regina became the capital of the North West Territories, a land mass larger than present day Europe. It included part of Manitoba, all of Saskatchewan and Alberta, the present northern territories, and northern parts of Ontario and Quebec. The capital had been at Battlefords but it was felt that the settlement was too far away from the railway. 

3 barbers shave customers while another customer waits his turnAs the town grew, more and more businesses moved in. Regina soon had a newspaper, postal service, churches, schools, and fire and police protection. On December 1, 1883, Regina officially became a town and Dr. David Scott was elected its first mayor 5 weeks later.

It’s hard to imagine early Regina. There were no cars. The streets were still unpaved and turned to mud when it rained. Bread sold for 25 cents a loaf while wood cost $12 a load. Water had to be hauled from the creek for 50 cents a barrel.

Louis Riel

While Regina grew, political trouble was brewing in the North West Territories among the Metis people. Many were unhappy with the way they were being treated by the government. Louis Riel, former leader of a provisional Metis government in Manitoba, was asked to lead them. He and his followers established a Metis government headquartered at Batoche.

The Canadian government believed this to be a revolt and sent troops to the west to end what became known as the “Riel Rebellion” or the “Northwest Rebellion.” In Regina, 75 men formed a unit called the “Blazers” to defend their town. The Metis were defeated at a final battle at Batoche and Riel surrendered. He was brought to Regina, where he was tried for treason, found guilty and hanged.

Regina becomes a city

Regina 1902-CORAB815

By 1903, Regina’s population had grown to 3,000. On June 19 of that year, the community officially became a city with Jacob W. Smith as its mayor.

In 1905, Saskatchewan became a province. On May 23 the following year, Regina was named capital of the new province. At that time Saskatchewan was the fastest growing province in Canada. The agricultural economy was booming and immigrants from around the globe were settling here.

The new provincial legislature needed a place to meet, so in 1908 work began on the Legislative Building in Wascana Park. It opened 4 years later. The dome of the Provincial Legislative Building rises above the trees of the park.

Trees were very important to the early settlers and they made tree planting a priority. Regina was transformed from treeless prairie into a city with more than 350,000 trees and over 600 parks and greenspaces.

In 1908, work was completed on a new city hall. The ornate structure was built between Rose and Hamilton street on 11 Avenue. It was a centerpiece for the downtown until it was demolished in the 1960s. A Government of Canada office building stands in the location now.

Tragic storm strikes Regina

Laird, Henry Willoughby

On a hot day, June 30, 1912, a tornado — often called the Regina Cyclone — roared through the community. In just 20 minutes, 28 people were killed, hundreds were injured, and more than 400 buildings were destroyed. Over 2,500 people were homeless. It took more than 2 years to repair the $5 million damage to the city and many more years to pay off the debt.

 

Achievements of the ‘20s

Old airplane sitting in field in 1920

Immediately following World War I, Regina entered the air age. In 1920, returning veteran Roland J. Groome became Canada’s first commercial pilot. He and partner Ed Clark opened the first licensed airport in the country, then called an “aerodrome,” .

 By the 1920s, immigration to Saskatchewan had slowed but Regina had grown to be the largest distribution centre for agricultural supplies and equipment in Canada.

Challenges of the ‘30s

With the collapse of the stock market in October 1929, the Depression hit North America. Drought added to Saskatchewan’s problems. More than 3,700 men in Regina were jobless. To create work, the government hired men to drain and deepen Wascana Lake. They used only hand shovels and horse-drawn dump wagons to do the job. Two islands were built using the dirt from the dredging.

Another make-work project was the building of Albert Memorial Bridge, originally planned as a memorial to those who died in World War I. The bridge balusters are in an Egyptian motif, which was popular following the discovery of the tomb of King Tutankhamun. 

Photograph of Regina Riot with Charles Millar.In 1935, unemployed men at a camp in British Columbia began a train trip to Ottawa to demand that the federal government do something to help them. The journey, known as the On to Ottawa Trek, was cut short when the group reached Regina. The government issued arrest warrants for 7 of the trekkers and when police tried to arrest the men at a peaceful rally, a riot broke out. A policeman was killed, several officers and trekkers were injured, and many arrests were made. The so-called "Regina Riot" brought the trek to an end.

By the late 1930s, conditions had improved but the beginning of World War II in 1939 dampened hopes for a full recovery. Regina played an important part in the war effort. Three air training schools were established here and the General Motors vehicle assembly plant, which had closed, was reopened to make equipment for the war.

The post-war boom

After the war the city began to prosper again. An oil pipeline linked Regina with the new oil field in Alberta and the refineries in eastern Canada. The Saskatchewan Museum of Natural History (now the Royal Saskatchewan Museum) was built.

By the early 1960s, Regina was growing by about 4,500 new residents a year. New churches, schools, hospitals and government buildings were constructed. City staff moved out of the 1906 City Hall into the old post office, which then served as City Hall for 11 years. Work began on the Regina campus of the University of Saskatchewan (now the University of Regina).

Regina’s skyline began to change in the 1970s as towering bank buildings, hotels, offices, and shopping centres were built in the downtown core. The present City Hall — Queen Elizabeth II Court — opened in 1977 and one year later the Agridome (now the Brandt Centre) opened its doors on the Exhibition Grounds (now called IPSCO Place.) 

Regina celebrated its 75th anniversary as a city in 1978. Residents were proud that Pile of Bones had made so much progress in just three quarters of a century.

The ‘80s and the ‘90s

View of FW Hill Mall in summerRegina continued to grow, prosper and change during these decades. The “twin” McCallum Hill Towers were built and are a landmark on the city skyline. The Cornwall Centre, a downtown shopping centre, opened. Enclosed pedestrian walkways linking many downtown buildings were added.

The Saskatchewan Science Centre opened in the former Regina power plant. It offers a hands-on look at the world of science. The Co-op Heavy Oil Upgrader began converting Saskatchewan “heavy crude oil” into a lighter grade suitable for the adjacent refinery.

A $15 million filtration system was added to the Buffalo Pound Water Treatment Plant, improving the taste and odor of the Regina and Moose Jaw water supply.

Natural resources continue to play a major role in Regina’s economy but the importance of telecommunications, manufacturing, data management, software development and tourism also grew. Due to this diversification, problems in the agricultural sector have had little effect on the local economy.

The new millennium

Y2K came and went and as Regina moved into the 21st century, revitalization was at the forefront. Not only was the city's university, warehouse district and the lake revitalized, so was its civic pride.

I Love Regina structure and the people involved in its creationIn 2002, the "I Love Regina" campaign was launched. Since then, "I Love Regina" day has been held annually to celebrate. A sign bearing those 3 words can now be see in front of City Hall.

That same year, a state-of-the-art soundstage called the Canada-Saskatchewan Production Studio was built to enhance the province's presence in the film industry. Canada's #1 comedy series - Corner Gas - created by Saskatchewan-born Brent Butt, is filmed at the soundstage and on location at Rouleau.  In 2005, the film "Just Friends" starring Ryan Reynolds and Amy Smart was filmed in Regina and Moose Jaw. A number of other movie productions and famous actors have also come to Regina.

100yearslogoRegina turned 100 in 2003. Beginning with the Mayor’s Levee on News Year’s Day, over 130 centennial events and festivals were enjoyed throughout the year.

The official Centennial celebration was held from June 19 to 22 and was attended by many dignitaries including His Royal Highness, The Earl of Wessex. The first day saw a re-enactment of the signing of the proclamation of Regina’s incorporation as a city. HRH The Earl of Wessex received a warm welcome from residents during a formal program at City Hall, followed by a royal walkabout through Victoria Park. The Old Post Office was renamed the “Prince Edward Building” in his honour. A local park was also renamed as “Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee Park”, in honour of the Queen’s 50 years as Canada’s monarch.

Thousands of residents and visitors came to Wascana Centre on the second day to enjoy “The Night of 100 Stars”. In addition to musical concerts, citizens enjoyed many family activities and children’s rides in the warm summer evening. However, a fierce thunderstorm postponed a spectacular Government of Canada’s Musical Fireworks Display over Wascana Lake until the following evening.

The final day was celebrated with a Multi-Faith Forum at City Hall and the grand opening of the First Nations of Canada building at the University of Regina.

It’s no secret that Regina is home to Canada’s most passionate and devoted football fans. As part of its Centennial celebrations, Regina was proud to host the 2003 CFL Grey Cup. Over 25,000 visitors arrived in the Queen City to enjoy the Grey Cup activities, culminating in the Championship game on November 16.

The $32 million First Nations University of Canada (formerly the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College) opened in 2003 to add to the changing landscape of the University of Regina campus. Built adjacent to the U of R is the 31-hectare Regina Research Park. One of Canada's newest research and development parks, it builds on the strengths of the university to develop knowledge clusters in fields such as:

  • information technology
  • petroleum science research
  • environmental sciences research

Regina Research Park also provides specialized infrastructure, including state-of-the-art facilities and support services.

The University of Regina also expanded with a new residence, Centre for Kinesiology, Health and Sport and the first phase of an emergency energy centre. Much of this work was completed in time for the Jeux De Canada Summer Games in August 2005.  The University provided the headquarters for the Games, including the site for the Athletes' Village and numerous sporting events.

Another project completed in time for theOn July 23, 2004 the new Wascana Lake fountain was officially turned on. Games was the Wascana Lake Urban Revitalization Project, better known as the "Big Dig". The $18-million project to deepen Wascana Lake took place in winter 2004. The lake was dredged to an overall depth of 5.5 metres with a deeper section of 7.5 metres serving as a fish habitat.  Over 1.3 million cubic metres of soil was removed from the lake bottom.

Saskatchewan celebrated its Centennial in 2005. The party started on New Year's Day in Regina and continued throughout 2005 with a visit from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal Highness Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh in May.  Other provincial centennial events included special Canada Day celebrations and the official 100th anniversary weekend in September that included concerts, a multi-cultural festival and a huge fireworks display.

Regina's Downtown and Regina's Old Warehouse District also had a makeover. A project called Regina Downtown Revitalization included a new $19 million bus depot and head office of the Saskatchewan Transportation Company.  It also included a $28 million renovation to create the Government of Canada building - a one-stop shop for Regina's federal government departments.

Many of the Warehouse District's more than 650 businesses and 70 Chicago-style warehouse buildings have been upgraded or redeveloped to serve as retail stores, night clubs and restaurants.

Regina … full of things to do

There’s year-round fun and things to do in Regina. In summer, you can canoe, row or windsurf on Wascana Lake, right in the middle of the city. You can jog, walk or bike down the Devonian Pathway, a multi-use paved pathway running from the southeast to the northwest of the city. 

Two little girls peer out from inside cardboard box at a festivalYou can attend Mosaic, a multi-cultural festival; or visit the province’s largest arts and crafts festival, Bazaart. Don’t miss the music festivals, such as the Regina Folk Festival and the Flatland Music Festival. The Royal Red Arabian Horse Show is one of North America’s foremost Arabian horse events. The Western Canada Farm Progress Show is one of the largest dryland farming shows in the world. There’s also plenty of summer fun at the Buffalo Days Exhibition.

There are 5 municipally-owned golf courses, plenty of parks and green spaces, public pools and summer fun programs for kids.

The Saskatchewan Roughriders football team of the Canadian Football League call Taylor Field at Mosaic Stadium home. Every resident is proud that the team was able to beat the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to become the 2007 Grey Cup Champions.

We also have the Regina Pat’s junior hockey team and the Regina Red Sox baseball team.

Winter is a busy time for residents in Regina. You can skate on the lake or cross-country ski down the Devonian Pathway. The Canadian Western Agribition is the second largest cattle show in North America. Casino Regina and Show Lounge is one of the city’s most popular attractions. The Regina Symphony Orchestra is Canada’s oldest, continuous symphony while the Globe Theatre is one of Canada’s oldest professional theatre companies. There’s something to do for everyone, from art galleries to indoor soccer.