Although I have lived in Regina my entire life, I know very little about the city’s history. To rectify this I decided to visit several locations around the city to see what I could learn.
The first location I visited was Government House, home to the Lieutenant Governor of Saskatchewan. The first family that lived in the house, the Forgets, are known for their pet monkey Jaco. As they didn’t have any children, Jaco was spoiled. So much so that he even had his own rocking horse. Today, children go on scavenger hunts to locate a stuffed monkey named Jaco in memory of him.
Another famous resident is the cook Cheun Lee, known as “Howie”. Howie is believed to be one of the ghosts that haunt the building. While some members of the staff don't believe in the paranormal, strange occurrences have been reported, such as tablecloths randomly falling off of tables and found neatly folded underneath, and the stuffed toy of Jaco the Monkey being moved unexpectedly, only to mention a few.
In 1945 Premier Tommy Douglas decided Government House was too expensive to keep running and closed it down. The interior was stripped and items were auctioned off, except for the contents of a mysterious safe in the dining room. Finding it locked, and unable to open it, the auctioneers decided to leave it. The building became a hospital and later a school. In 1977, a program was put in place to relocate the items and transform Government House into a museum. To track what they were still missing, a locksmith was finally brought in to open the safe. Inside were hundreds of priceless century old dishes, glassware and cutlery. This find is the greatest collection of original items in the building.
Next stop on the list was the Saskatchewan Legislative Building, or the “Leg”. When Regina was chosen to be the capital of Saskatchewan, the Leg was supposed to be built where Victoria Park is currently. Once its existing location was decided, architectural designs were submitted from as far away as London, England. While the decision was supposedly anonymous, it was the design from a Regina resident that won. However, it was revised as the building was supposed to be made of red brick and not white stone.
Below the Leg is a forgotten network of underground tunnels, some over a kilometer and a half long. In the original plan for the city, Government House was going to be located directly opposite the Leg across Wascana Lake, so it’s possible a tunnel would have been placed there as well. Unfortunately, all these tunnels have collapsed, been flooded or destroyed over the past century.
Currently, the Leg’s dome is under repair. When it was discovered the dome had shifted and was cracking, a proposal was made to remove it. Thankfully, they decided to restore it instead. When completed, the dome’s old copper plates will be replaced, transforming it from green to orange. The copper plates, masonry, and statues from the dome can be seen in the exhibit below the building.
The most fascinating location I visited was the former Union Station, now Casino Regina. This building served as the city’s train station from 1911 to 1990, and was used to transport food, produce and people. Soldiers, royalty, war brides, refugees and farmers used this train.
When the Exhibition came to town in the 1930s, the train cars would have to be unloaded quickly. To accomplish this, they used elephants to transport the equipment. As a result, it was common to see elephants walking the streets of the city during the summer months.
Union Station closed in 1990 when the passenger railway system was redirected. Various ideas concerning its fate were presented, but ultimately in 1995 it was converted into a casino. Pieces of the old station have been preserved, however. For example, the station's last train schedule still hangs on the wall and there is a display case full of photographs, train tickets, and possessions from former passengers in the main lobby. While these are commonly seen by the public, the real secret lies below in its underground tunnels and jail cells. The largest of the jail cells is home to a photography museum, full of pictures of the infamous Regina Riot, the 1912 cyclone, war brides brought over after World War II, and countless different events that helped shape our city.
While this is short list of some historically rich locations in Regina worth visiting, there are many others. I encourage you to explore the city as I did and perhaps make a few of your own discoveries. Our museums are filled with countless artifacts, trinkets and photographs of a much different time, one of a city that wouldn’t exist if not for plains, trains and elephants.
All images in this blog post are copyright Kenton de Jong