To many, churches are a place of solace, reflection and prayer. To others, churches are time capsules, holding records from an age long ago. It is through these records we can better understand ourselves, our city and our world.
It’s not surprising then that the oldest building in Regina is a church. Built in 1883, the chapel at the RCMP Depot was built one year after the city was founded. Once a mess hall, a fire destroyed the building in 1895, and it would be rebuilt as a house of prayer. Although it was originally Anglican, the chapel today has no official faith and is used for a variety of different religious celebrations.
The inside of the chapel is decorated in scores of stone plaques, which commemorate the lives of fallen members. There are so many plaques that the chapel feared the walls of the structure might collapse, so they created a memorial book at the north end of the chapel instead. A page of this book is turned every day so that no officer is ever forgotten.
The chapel is home to sixteen brilliant stained glass windows. One of these windows was dedicated to the wives of the officers, while another shows Jesus and Mary, along with a strange blue horse and a cowboy hat. The most famous windows are at the south of the church and show two cadets, one in mourning and one standing at attention. These stained glass windows are known throughout the world as a symbol of the RCMP.
In the heart of downtown Regina is another one of these iconic structures. Built in 1911, First Baptist church stood for less than six months until the Regina Cyclone tore its foundations apart. Being funded by the community, its destruction left a hole in the heart of the city. Through community sacrifice the church was rebuilt, although not all of it.
Sections of the church would be too expensive to fix, such as the church’s dome, so the community sealed it off from the public and had a flat ceiling instead.
During World War II, the church’s attendance would blossom, but during the 1960s it would collapse, leaving only half as many people just twenty years earlier. This drop-off was nationwide and caused many smaller churches to close their doors. First Baptist discussed this option and changing locations, but during their darkest time a phenomenon occurred that showed hope was not yet lost.
This phenomenon was the Agape Youth program. Unlike other youth programs that started inside the church and reach out into the community, this program began in the community and reached out to the church. Agape started with several youths that found salvation through Biblical teaching, who then helped to spread the message throughout the city. Their goal was to help the lost youth that characterized the 1960s. However, in the early 1970s the group would disappear as quickly and mysteriously as they appeared.
In 1991, First Baptist celebrated the centennial of their congregation. Massive restoration efforts went into the church and the dome was finally reopened. The basement and building would be also modernized.
Stained Glass Dome
Another church that has seen much transformation in the past century is Holy Rosary Cathedral. Constructed in 1912, the cathedral has undergone five renovations throughout its history with the largest following a massive fire in 1976 that destroyed the interior of the building. The blaze was so intense it destroyed the original iconostasis (a wall or screen of icons) and melted the pipes of the organ. While the pipe organ took over a year to repair, the iconostasis was be deemed unfixable and were plastered over.
The cathedral has many other secrets, such as a museum behind the apse of the building. This museum showcases original artifacts and artwork from the church’s earliest days. Another secret is a crypt below the church, which is used for storage.
St. George Orthodox Cathedral has also undergone restorations. One of these includes the construction of some of the most beautiful iconostasis in Regina. These icons are a plethora of colours, ranging from blue to red to purple to gold, all of which are displaying the most important events in the New Testament.
What’s even more impressive is the artwork, which has been painted by hand over the course of two years. Much like how Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Canadian born Nicolai Enachi painted this ceiling, balancing high above the ground, laying on his back. His masterpiece is one of the most breathtaking pieces of artwork throughout the city, and was paid for not by grants, but through countless perogie and bake sales.
As generations move forward, it is important to revisit these locations and come together as a community, if not for prayer than at least to remember our past. While churches teach the lessons of the Lord, they also teach lessons of humanity, defining the ages and struggles we have overcome since the establishment of our city. From fires to wars to rebellions and beyond, these buildings have seen the growth of our city and will carry on long after we are gone.