The year was 1921, and Regina was booming. With the Great War behind it, its population had quadrupled and was leading the province into an era of unprecedented growth. This influx of people brought a new need for entertainment into the city and downtown became its hub. It was here that the Capitol Theatre, “one of the finest theatres in the Canadian West,” according to the Regina Leader, first opened. The Capitol, or “the Cap”, was a balconied Hollywood-styled theatre that held 1,500 people and boasted a 10-piece orchestra. The Cap quickly became a city landmark, and entered the international spotlight when it hosted the world premiere of “Northwest Mounted Police” in 1940. Its creation was only one of the many theatres that dotted downtown Regina, with others being the Grand, the Broadway, the Lux, the Princess and the Metropolitan, to mention a few.
Over the next 70 years the Cap would inspire generations of people, creating countless memories, but after being unable to compete with the box office theatres, it was closed in 1992. This was the final nail in the coffin of downtown’s entertainment scene, and whatever remained was flung to the far corners of the city. Downtown would grow cold and empty, many buildings sitting vacant. “I firmly believe that O’Hanlons’ opening was the start of the long road back to downtown being a fun, vibrant, and commercially viable location,” said Tim Rogers of the Lancaster Taphouse. While the Lancaster isn’t downtown, Rogers saw the vibrant growth of the area and, along with Joel Williams, Judd Stachoski, Shawn Dalton and Trevor Maghoo, they decided to resurrect a local favorite: the Capitol. “In addition to it having the most storied history, I think the reason we chose the Capitol is because it was also the last of those theatres to stay in operation. If you’re in your mid 30’s or older you probably still have some hazy memories of the theatre and it was that nostalgia we wanted to play off.” Digging into the city’s history with help from the City of Regina Archives and the Civic Museum of Regina, they brought the old Capitol back to life as a restaurant that included period cocktails and classic dishes. The Civic Museum even granted them a relic from the old Cap to use: the original door. “The goal was to not create a museum, or a themed bar,” continued Rogers, “but to echo the timelessness of a classic and bring it into a modern age.”“That old padded theatre door is a fantastic piece of nostalgia. Every time you open that door you can feel a little bit of that excitement of walking into a darkened theatre.” Following in the steps of its predecessor, the Cap is an entertainment venue. Currently they have live jazz twice a week, on Tuesdays at 8 p.m. and Saturdays at 9 p.m., but they are looking to roll out non-jazz nights and have some roots, blues, acoustic and folk performances. Additionally, the Cap is looking into doing a spooky Halloween night, a glitzy New Year’s party, and a music festival for the long-weekend in February. There is even the possibility of having a Prohibition-themed night in the future. When asked if it was going to play off the Cap’s world premiere of “Northwest Mounted Police,” Rogers said, “Back in the ‘40s they actually covered the theatre in logs and made it look like a fort. I think if we tried to do that today there might be some fire code regulation problems we would run into.” Nevertheless, he joked, they invited several Hollywood stars to come down and check out the Cap, and are awaiting their RSVPs. Much like in the 1920s, Regina is currently in the midst of a boom, and due to the tireless effort of local entrepreneurs, and a “phenomenal job” by the city, downtown is once again thriving. The businesses in the area realize they are bringing Regina into a new age, so they are working together to create a more welcoming atmosphere.
“We’re very excited for the future of downtown. Malt City is opening soon and that looks to be a very cool spot. There are some larger construction projects that are close to finishing, and that will open things up and bring more people out.” When asked about any personal memories of the Capitol, Tim reminisced: “It’s funny because if you think of a movie you saw in the last decade or so, you probably can’t remember where you saw it. The modern multiplex theatre is very generic and not really part of the experience anymore, but I think I can remember every movie I saw at the Capitol. It seemed like there was something special there.” That “something special” is what Regina has been waiting for, for a long time. Welcome back Capitol, we’ve missed you.