Darke, Francis Nicholson
Farmer, Butcher, Real Estate Magnate, Philanthropist,
Mayor, Alderman, Member of Parliament
The 1896 Town Council. Back Row: Hugh Armour, J.K. McInnis, F.N. Darke, H.C. Pawson. Front Row: William Mallard, W.F. Eddy, R.H. Williams. City of Regina Archives, B-718.1.
Francis Nicholson Darke was a notable figure in Regina. He was a prominent businessman and real estate magnate and his philanthropic efforts improved the quality of life for Regina's citizens. He was Regina's youngest mayor and he served on city council for many years.
Darke was born on a farm near Charlottetown, P.E.I. in 1863. He did not leave the family farm until his late 20s, when he decided to seek his fortune in the west. In 1891 he arrived in Regina and it seemed to be a perfect fit for him. While he returned to P.E.I to marry Annie Elizabeth McKinnon in 1892, the happy couple headed back to Regina shortly thereafter. While in P.E.I., Darke had formed a partnership with Pope Balderson, a fellow P.E.I. resident who was also seeking his fortune in Regina. Balderson took a team of horses out to Regina a few weeks before Darke and his bride left for the city. The 2 men began raising livestock at a farm outside Regina and soon bought a butcher shop in Regina (at the site later occupied by the King's Hotel.) Business proved good as the 2 men secured lucrative contracts with residential schools and the R.C.M.P. By 1894 Darke bought out Balderson's share in the business.
Darke seemed to have had a knack for business. He soon found himself the owner of several blocks of land in Regina, purchased from the C.P.R. In fact, his real estate holdings proved so profitable that by 1906 he sold the cattle business and was able to live comfortably off the real-estate profits. He built the Darke Block on the corner of 11th Avenue and Cornwall Street, a modern 5-storey office building that served as home base for his real estate business.
Darke also pursued a career in politics. He was on the town and city councils from 1895-1910. In 1898 he became Regina's youngest mayor at age 35, a record that stands to this day. In 1925 he was elected as a Liberal Member of Parliament. His federal political career was short-lived, however - he gave up his seat so that Saskatchewan Premier Charles Dunning could run federally and receive a seat in Parliament and a cabinet position. In his humble opinion, Darke believed that this was the best decision for the province.
Darke's first house was on the spot where the Hotel Saskatchewan now stands. His second home, built in 1926, was a lavish showplace on College Avenue that was later turned into the Helmsing Funeral Home, which has been restored as a private residence. He and Annie raised 4 boys in these homes: Vernon, Clifford, Clarence and Trevlyn. Three of the Darke boys made Regina their home and also contributed to the community:
- Clifford owned and operated Capitol Hardware in Regina
- Clarence founded Western Dry Goods of Regina
- Dr. Trevlyn Darke worked in the Grey Nuns Hospital (now the Pasqua Hospital) for many years as an anesthetist
Vernon was the only Darke boy to move away from the city. He farmed for many years in Alberta before returning to Saskatchewan to farm near Lumsden.
Francis Darke's philanthropic efforts greatly enhanced the City of Regina. His donation of $85,000 and fundraising efforts of $40,000 helped establish Regina College in 1910. He served as a member of the Board of Governors for the school for 24 years. He also donated the money to build the Darke Hall for Music and Art in 1929. Darke Hall quickly became a bastion of culture for Regina and many musical and theatrical productions took place there over the years. It also served as the home of the Regina Symphony Orchestra for 41 years. Darke also donated the church bells that currently reside in the Knox-Metropolitan United Church. The bells, which were donated in 1927, were given as a memorial to Darke's son Clifford, who had died in an automobile accident in 1926.
Darke died in 1940 of a heart attack. He was laid to rest in the Darke mausoleum, one of the few mausoleums in Regina.
Darke’s legacy still lives on in the city, however. He is honoured with 2 street names - Darke Crescent and Darke Street - and Darke Hall, which stands on the old campus of the University of Regina, still serves as a performance hall for university students.