Francis Nicholson Darke (1863-1940)
Regina’s Darke Legacy
Born in the Maritimes, Frank is one of the founding fathers of Regina. He began his career in the wholesale-retail meat business. He expanded into real estate and other ventures. He built the first office building on the corner of Cornwall Street and 11th Avenue in 1906.
Frank was active in politics and served on city council nine times, becoming Regina’s youngest mayor at age 35 in 1898. He also served as a Liberal Member of Parliament in 1925.
Frank contributed $85,000 and helped raise over $40,000 more for the establishment of Regina College in 1910. His endowment provided for the construction and opening of Darke Hall. Darke Hall has served Regina’s cultural community through the years. He constructed his house across the street at 2210 College Ave. in 1926 (now the Helmsing Funeral Chapel). It took him two years to build it, as his wife, who had survived the destruction of their home in the 1912 tornado, wanted her new home cyclone-safe. Their first house was sold to the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), and the Hotel Saskatchewan was built on the site.
The Darke Mausoleum is a striking feature of the Regina Cemetery, although it has
suffered much at the hands of vandals.
Frank was born on a farm near Charlottetown, P. E. I. After spending his first 28 years in the Maritimes as a farmer, he came to Regina in 1892 when it was little more than a village of mud streets. In 1892, Frank married Anna Elizabeth McKinnon (1871-1964), also a native of Prince Edward Island. He established a retail and wholesale meat business which made his fortune. The meat business flourished for close to 15 years before he sold it to James Grassick to pursue other financial interests.
In 1906, he bought a lot on the corner of 2125 11th Ave. at Cornwall Street and erected one of the first (40-) office buildings (now the Cornwall Professional Building) on the Prairies to house his new real estate business. Success came quickly for Frank as more land was needed to facilitate Regina’s booming economy and urban growth. However, his strong Methodist upbringing inspired his desire to return to the community a portion of the wealth he had earned from it.
Accordingly, he pledged $85,000 and helped to raise another $40,000 towards establishing Regina College in 1910. Later, with the intention of building a “temple of the arts”, he gave to Regina College property and securities valued at $124,185 for the purpose of erecting the Music and Art Building. In 1929, Darke Hall was opened and donated to the city and has served as a centre for music and theatre. It was the city’s performing arts centre for 40 years. Today, as a centre of cultural activity for the University of Regina and the city, Darke Hall still serves as an important concert hall. Darke also donated the Darke Memorial Chimes in Knox-Metropolitan Church, the music of which is an integral part of downtown Regina life.
Aside from his business and community endeavours, Frank was also active in Regina’s civic life. A member of city council nine times, he also served on the Board of Governors of Regina College for 24 years, and later became director of the Saskatchewan Association of Exhibitions and Fairs, and the Saskatchewan Tuberculosis Sanitarium at Fort Qu’Appelle. In 1898, he was elected mayor of Regina. He was a Liberal Member of Parliament in 1925 before offering his seat to former Saskatchewan premier Charles A. Dunning. He also served as a member of the Regina Public Library Board, the Regina Board of Trade, and as director of the Young Men’s Christian Association/YMCA for many years. A street and crescent were named after him.
Mrs. (Anna) Darke was founder and president of the Knox-Metropolitan United Church Marionettes. She belonged to the Regina Federation of Artists, Regina Sketch Club, Arts and Crafts Society and the original executive of the Young Women’s Christian Association/YWCA. They had four sons.
The Darke Mausoleum is a fitting monument that honours a man who worked for more than 40 years towards the betterment of Regina’s business, civic, and cultural life. Constructed of a rare sedimentary stone, it houses the entire Darke family and is the only monument of its kind in Regina. Unfortunately, vandalism over the years has marred some of its features. Nevertheless, the Darke family mausoleum holds interest for the visitors who come to the Regina Cemetery.