The thirty-pound door opens into a great hall lined with original eighteenth century paintings. The floor, walls and ceiling are constructed of a foot thick limestone warm to the touch, and the faint smell of freshly burning wood lingers in the air as an unseen fire crackles a few rooms away. Once the door closes, the rumblings of College Avenue are silenced and you enter a world forgotten by time; a world of nobility, of knights, of kingdoms and conquers. This world is a European world, not a North American one, yet it exists in the heart of Regina.
“Walking through the front doors is like entering Narnia,” explained Jason Hall, the owner and resident of Stone Hall Castle. “You’re in Europe. It’s Game of Thrones. I hope the people of Regina tell their friends, and they tell their friends. I want this house to belong to the people of the city."
Hall then begins the forty-five minute long tour of this monolithic structure, starting his story over a century earlier, during a time when the city and the people in it, were much different.
It was the year 1912, and the city was experiencing a heat wave. The Ford Model T only four years old; the Wright brothers had flown their first airplane a decade earlier; and Regina’s population was around a tenth of what it is today. It was a day before Canada Day when the sky clouded over and rain began to fall. People ran out into the streets to escape the heat, but their joy would turn to fear as a green funnel cloud touched down just south of Wascana Lake, and headed directly to the heart of the Queen City. Roaring in at an estimated eight hundred kilometers an hour, the cyclone tore the city apart, exploding houses, uprooting trees, throwing trains and killing over twenty eight people, making it the deadliest tornado in Canadian history.
Francis Nicholson Darke’s house was one of the many damaged by the cyclone. Legend has it that his wife Annie was so shaken by the disaster that she asked him to build a house where she could feel safe again. Being the former mayor of the city and having enough money to fund Regina College, if there was a man who could construct a house that would stand in the way of a tornado, it was Darke. And that it is exactly what he did.
His castle, sitting directly across from Darke Hall, would be his home until he and his wife both died. His house would become the Helmsing Funeral Chapel until 1977 and would remain as a funeral home for almost thirty years until Regina-born real estate investor Jason Hall purchased it in 2003. Knowing its historical importance to the city, Hall was inspired by Darke’s dream of a castle on the prairies, and so began a decade long endeavor to breathe life back into the building.
Hiring the best masons, carpenters and blacksmiths in the city, he imported millennium old limestone from Greece and began to recreate a medieval castle, complete with indoor fountains, courtyards, balconies, skylights, trap doors and secret tunnels.
With a “no expenses spared” attitude, Hall followed in the footsteps of his predecessor, seeing to the finest of details in order to make the castle as authentic as possible - stained glass windows, stone crosses, carved leather and tapestries hanging throughout the house. Some bathrooms are equipped with gorgeous, copper tubs, while others have stone hot tubs surrounded by beeswax candles complete with an unprecedented view of College Avenue. The building is illuminated with several hundred candles, some of which are turning sections of the stone walls black with soot, which only adds to the character of the building.
The castle is a work in progress, however, and Hall plans to keep adding to it for the next twenty-five years, changing the garage into a tower, adding an indoor pool, and transforming the basement into a dungeon.
He plans to eventually open up the house as a bed and breakfast or hotel, fully equipped with butlers, servants and personal chefs. When completed, he expects to charge people from $1,500 to $2,000 a night to stay in the medieval recreation.
However, for those who just want to see it, he offers tours of the building three to five times a day, each week, with an entry fee of $25 starting on Dec. 1. The cost of the tours goes directly into the construction of the castle; one that he believes will become one of greatest icons of the city, if not the province.
I’m sure Francis Darke and his beloved Annie would have it no other way.