The Mountie Museum

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Besides being the capital of the province of Saskatchewan, Regina is also the home of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Academy, also known as Depot Division.  Every Mountie in Canada is trained at this facility which covers several acres.  Mounties have been trained there since 1885 and the place is steeped in history.

In 2007, the RCMP Heritage Centre was opened (shown at top). This 70,000 square foot building which sits on the front lawn of Depot Division was designed by noted architect Arthur Erickson. It  is a museum featuring many artifacts relating to the history of the RCMP and the Canadian West.

We visited the Centre, located on Dewdney Avenue on Regina’s west side, in June 2018. We were in town to visit our son who had just moved there. The three of us arrived around 11:30 AM and discovered we were in time to take in the Sergeant-Major’s Parade. The tram left at 12:15 so we registered and spent a half hour checking out the museum before departure.

The Dufferin Building, home to RCMP recruits in training.

The tram does a complete circuit of the training facility, giving you  good idea of the size and scope of the place.  We first passed the Dufferin Building where new Mountie recruits live during their six months sojourn at the academy. Later in the museum, we would see a mock-up of some of the barracks to see how these new recruits lived.

RCMP trainees live in barracks style dormitories.

After a short while, the tram pulled up beside a very large drill ground. We all clambered out to wait for the Sergeant-Major’s Parade.  This takes place five days a week from Monday through Friday at 12:30 PM.

While waiting we checked out a Beechcraft dating from 1946 on display. The RCMP has used aircraft since 1937 as its mandate includes patrolling some of the more remote areas of Canada.

This Beechcraft D18S Twin Beech saw service with the RCMP from 1946 to 1970.

Then from our left, the parade started. This drill has the troops marching onto the parade ground and lining up for roll call and inspection. New recruits have to earn the right to wear the uniform and this right is granted in stages as they progress through training. New recruits, for example, wear running shoes instead of the dress black shoes of the uniform and they have to run rather than walk while on parade. Even the stripes on the Mounties pants have to be earned. The parade is led by a marching band made up of volunteers. The newer recruits bring up the rear. The video below shows the troops marching off the field after inspection.

After the parade we checked out the chapel nearby. This is the oldest remaining building in Regina, built as a mess hall in 1883. It was converted into a canteen and reading room in 1889. It was partially damaged by fire in March 1895 and reopened as a chapel in December that year. It was extended and had a steeple added in 1939.

The RCMP Chapel

The interior is amazing – lush woodwork all around with stained glass windows along the sides and in the back. The windows in the back show two Mounties, one with head bowed mourning a fallen comrade, and the other playing reveille on a bugle.

The interior of the chapel.
Stained glass window of a Mountie mourning a fallen fellow officer.

Our guide told us that much of the work on extending the chapel was financed by a $30 million bequest from a wealthy British woman. She had never been to Canada and never actually met a Mountie. But she became enamored of the Mounties after seeing a Hollywood movie about them.

Movie poster for 1936’s Rose Marie with Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald

We got back in the tram which toured us around the facility. We were asked not to take pictures of Mounties actually training. We did see one group practicing a take-down.

The Drill Hall

One of the classic old buildings is the Drill Hall. Built in 1929, it first served as a riding school. But horses were replaced by cars eventually and today the hall is used for foot drill and crowd control training. It also hosts the Mountie Graduation ceremonies and the occasional Regimental Ball.

We passed a shooting range and a driver training track as well.

Our trip brought us back to the Heritage Centre where we continued our tour. Saskatchewan became a province in 1905. Before that it was part of the Northwest Territories. The Mounties originated as the Royal Northwest Mounted Police.

Recently the rather left-wing mayor of Victoria, British Columbia decided to remove a statue of Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, from in front of city hall. She argued that Macdonald was the architect of Canada’s residential school system for indigenous children, a system that continued until 1996. The residential schools have been widely condemned for separating native children from their parents and for abuses.

There are, however, two sides to Macdonald. The museum notes that the Royal Northwest Mounted Police was established by Macdonald as a response to a massacre of native Indians by white hunters.

An information poster tells how and why the Mounties were created.

The Mounties were patterned after the Royal Irish Constabulary and one of its mandates was to foster friendly relations with indigenous peoples. After the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876, Chief Sitting Bull and 5000 of his Lakota tribesmen fled to Canada seeking the protection of the British crown.

Artifacts of the Plains Indians on display at the RCMP Heritage Centre

Sitting Bull became good friends with NWMP Superintendent James Walsh. Walsh established a fort at Cypress Hills and was instrumental in developing some of the first treaties with native peoples.

However, Walsh’s replacement Lief Crozier was not as friendly, cutting off the Lakota’s food supply and forcing them to return to the United States.

These artifacts include a beaded buckskin dress worn by Sitting Bull’s daughter (c 1876) and Sitting Bull’s rifle case (c 1876)

Taming the wild frontier included keeping peace and order as the Canadian Pacific Railway was built and ensuring order in the gold rush days in Dawson City. One of the legendary Mounties of the day was Sam Steele who oversaw law and order among the 4000 workers on the railway and kept peace in Dawson.

Sam Steele’s Buffalo Coat and Red Serge jacket.

Other displays include a machine gun brought in to help control the border between the Yukon and Alaska.

One of two machine guns used to defend the border at the Chilkoot Pass between the Yukon and Alaska.

And there is a display of vehicles used over the history of the Mounties. These range from dogsled to snowmobile to the automobile. One classic car, a 1957 Meteor Rideau 500 is among the displayed vehicles.

Classic RCMP vehicle, the 1957 Meteor Rideau 500.

And, of course, there is a section on the famous RCMP Musical Ride. I was surprised to learn how old the ride is. One display notes that the ride was a staple of agricultural fairs across the prairies by 1904. Discontinued during WWI, it was re-established after the war. Below is a picture of the ride in 1921.

RCMP Musical Ride in 1921

One of the side displays is a virtual Musical Ride. You mount a saddle wearing a pair of virtual reality goggles and you find yourself jogging along with Mounties ahead of you and behind you. Lots of fun!

The Mounties are a storied part of Canadian history, a history that is well-told in this museum. There are historical artifacts galore accompanied by information boards. For gun buffs, you’ll find lots of antique weapons and what every gun enthusiast will love, a handgun lamp given to a Mountie who was a WWI veteran as a wedding gift!

The handgun table lamp. Wouldn’t you love to get one of these as a wedding present?

You’ll find a display detailing the solving of a murder from beginning to end. There’s information on the St. Roch, the RCMP vessel that was the first ship to circumnavigate North America. The actual St. Roch is on permanent display at Vancouver’s Maritime Museum.

We spent several hours on our visit and enjoyed every minute of it. Below are some additional links including a Photo Gallery with additional pictures.

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RCMP Depot Division and Heritage Centre Photo Gallery

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Here are some additional photos of our visit.  Above is a stylized Mountie at the entrance drive to the centre.

Entrance lobby to the Heritage Centre
Changing Mountie uniforms over the years
The marching band on parade
Stained glass windows in the chapel
Two Mountie stained glass windows behind the pulpit
Display of historic RCMP vehicles
A vintage Bombardier snowmobile
Weapons of the Plains
A Tommy gun from the thirties
Federal legislative bill creating the RNWMP
How to solve a murder display. Different tableaux explain the investigative process and the reasoning that led to the capture and conviction of the killer.
The St. Roch display. The St. Roch was an RCMP marine vessel that was the first to travel the Northwest Passage from West to East and the first to circumnavigate North America.
Fort Walsh – from 1943 to 1968 it served as a breeding and training facility for the horses used in the Musical Ride. Now it is a National Historic Site.
Nero, a legendary Musical Ride horse
The actual Nero preserved by taxidermy. Unfortunately the colour of his fur has faded from black to reddish brown due to taxidermy chemicals and sunlight.

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The Heart of Regina

When our son accepted a transfer to Regina to help open a new store we were flummoxed. Sure it was a good career move, but why would anyone want to live in Regina? Nevertheless, I joined him to share the driving a few months ago as we embarked on the two day and a half journey from Vancouver.

His company put him up in a hotel until he could find permanent digs. We quickly discovered one of the benefits of Regina. Within a week he had sold his one bedroom and den apartment in suburban Vancouver and bought a two bedroom townhouse with finished basement and detached garage in Regina.  The price differential was enough for him to knock $15,000 off his mortgage, pay off his car, buy new furniture and still have money left over.

Housing is much cheaper in Regina than Vancouver, one of its advantages. My son bought this two bedroom townhouse (third unit from the left) for about 80% of what he got for his one bedroom and den apartment in suburban Vancouver.

Regina is a small town compared to Greater Vancouver with a population of 236,481 for the metropolitan area. Our son’s house is in a development in the farthest western area of the city, just a 25 minute drive to his work in the farthest eastern part of the city.

While the downtown is usually considered the heart of most cities, that is not the case in Regina.

My wife and I drove out to visit in June. We spent one afternoon while our son was working checking out the real heart of Regina – the magnificent Wascana Centre  and the neighbouring legislature building. Regina is the capital of the province and the legislature is its most impressive building, the vision of the first premier of Saskatchewan, Walter Scott (not the author!)

The Saskatchewan Legislature Buildings seen from across Wascana Lake

The city had already served as the capital of the Northwest Territories before Saskatchewan became a province in 1905. The lieutenant-governor of the territory rejected other more favorable locations for a piece of scrub land actually known as Pile-of-Bones (Wascana in Cree) “distinguished only by collections of bison bones near a small spring run-off creek”.  The LG, a fellow named Dewdney, had bought property there adjacent to where the planned CP Railway line was to go. The obvious graft caused a scandal, but there was no legislature. Dewdney was a virtual dictator and could do what he liked.

But despite its barrenness – nothing but flat prairie as far a the eye can see, visionary planners dammed Wascana Creek with a weir (it’s adjacent to the current Albert Street Bridge) resulting in the formation of Wascana Lake.

The weir that forms Wascana Lake is just beside the Albert Street Bridge

The first premier of the new province, Walter Scott, had a vision of a legislature building on the shore of Wascana Lake, then a wilderness a few kilometers from the downtown area.  A design competition was launched and the winning design by Montreal architects, the Maxwell Brothers, was chosen.

Statue of Premier Walter Scott envisioning a legislature building on the shores of Wascana Lake

Construction began in 1908 and was completed in 1912 at a cost of $1.75 million. That’s about $800 million today. It remains the largest of the provincial legislatures in Canada.

Old sepia photo of the construction of the central dome of the legislature

My wife and I took a walk around the shore of the lake across the bridge to the other side and back before touring the legislature itself. Tours are free. Immediately upon entering the building one is impressed by the richness of the entrance.

The entrance to the legislature

Our guide took us up the steps to the rotunda which features marble from around the world. The rotunda also features two murals high above. And it features the busts of three Saskatchewan political icons – each from a different political party.

Only Prime Minister from Saskatchewan, John Diefenbaker (Conservative)

Longtime Saskatchewan premier Tommy Douglas (New Democrat)

First premier of Saskatchewan, Walter Scott (Liberal)

From there we were given a look into the legislative chamber. Scott and his fellow politicians had a much bolder vision for Saskatchewan than eventually transpired and the legislature was built to accommodate 125 members. In fact, the population has not grown as expected and the number of representatives currently stands at 58.

This photo of the legislature is a composite of four other photos merged in Photo Shop

From the floor of the legislature we went down a flight of stairs to the legislature’s library. There was someone using it at the time so I couldn’t take a picture, but I did get a photo of an historic Canadian artifact housed there – the conference table used at the Quebec Conference in 1864 when the Fathers of Confederation were negotiating Canada’s independence.

Painting of the Quebec Conference

Whether this is the actual Confederation Table is speculative.  What is known is that it was used by the Privy Council in Ottawa in 1865 after being moved with other furnishings from Quebec. And it was the right size to have been the original table.

Lieutenant-Governor Dewdney brought the table to Regina sometime between 1883 and 1892. The sixteen foot table wouldn’t fit in the room assigned for it and six feet were lopped off in the middle. That part of the table was discarded. Eventually the shortened table was brought to the legislature library where it now resides.

The truncated Confederation Table

Continuing our tour we visited two galleries. Saskatchewan has had a long history of cordial relations with indigenous peoples and in 1909, the government commissioned noted portrait painter Edmund Morris to do portraits of fifteen native chiefs. Those pictures hang in the Assiniboine Gallery.

The Assiniboine Gallery

Morris was the son of Alexander Morris, the Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba who was responsible for negotiating many treaties with indigenous peoples. He had previously been commissioned by the Government of Ontario to do portraits of the Ojibway in the north of that province. He also did similar work for the Government of Alberta. His paintings are considered historically significant records of native history in Canada.

Chief Pie-a-Pot was an Algonkin-Cree leader

The other gallery featured portraits of the premiers of Saskatchewan.

Portraits of the Premiers of Saskatchewan

We ended our tour at another gallery, the Cumberland Gallery. Displays vary but when we were there it featured some works from the Saskatchewan Arts Board which has been promoting art in Saskatchewan since 1948. They have over 3000 works in their permanent collection.

The Cumberland Gallery

There were some striking works on display. One of the more intriguing was by Zhong-Yang Huang called Two Dream Walkers by Zhen Fei Well. It was striking because it seemed almost out of place among the more traditional works on display.

Inside the Cumberland Gallery

There is a story behind the painting, of course. Huang was born in China and showed an aptitude for art from age four. This talent was stifled by the Cultural Revolution which discouraged individual creativity. The fifteen year old Huang was forced to work as a laborer.

After the Cultural Revolution, Huang continued his studies, earning a Masters Degree in art. In 1984 he traveled to Canada and earned a second Masters at the University of Regina.

Two Dream Walkers by Zhen Fei Well

Two Dream Walkers by Zhen Fei Well was part of a solo exhibition in 2011 called The Shadow of Mao. It shows Chairman Mao having a smoke while Liu Shaoqui, Chairman of State and the second most powerful man in China at the time, looks down the Zhen Fei Well.

During the Qing Dynasty, the Dowager Empress had Zhen Fei, one of her husband’s concubines, thrown down the well. The information sheet beside the painting adds “Mao later had Liu removed from office and executed. A seemingly peaceful night scene taking on a more ominous tone  within the historical context.”

A gnarled tree on the banks of Wescana Lake

Let’s return briefly to Wescana Centre. The hub of the city revolves around Wescana Lake. In 1962, the University of Regina needed to expand. It needed a site for that expansion and decided on an area south-east of the lake. In conjunction with the province and the city, the Wescana Centre Authority was formed to create a multi-use oasis in the centre of the city. The result was a 930 hectare (2300 acre) area surrounding the 120 hectare (300 acre) lake. This green space includes the legislature as well as the university, and also includes two art galleries, a performing arts centre, a science centre, a museum and lots of parkland.

Wescana Lake is also a wildlife preserve and has an abundance of wildlife including Canada geese and a critter that is as common as raccoons – the jackrabbit.

By the late 1990s, however, silt had built up enough in the lake that it started to turn into a swamp. A major project dubbed The Big Dig was undertaken in 2003. A large part of the lake was dredged to a depth of five and a half metres, a depth at which weeds cannot root. One area was dredged to seven and a half metres so that northern pike and perch could survive Regina’s cold winter. Boardwalks and other amenities were added.

Today Wescana Centre is the rejuvenated heart of the city. An oasis in a flat  prairie of wheat fields.

You’ll find more pictures on the following photo gallery.

Photo Gallery: Regina’s Wescana Centre and More

Here are some additional photos around and about Regina. One of the notable attractions is the RCMP Heritage Centre which I will cover in a separate post. The photo above is a panoramic view of Wescana Lake stretching from the north-west corner to the legislature. 

A gazebo in the park
The Saskatchewan Legislature from the northern shore of the lake
A statue of a young Queen Elizabeth on horseback stands in front of the legislature
A view of the legislature showing the beautiful landscaping in front
One of the murals in the rotunda of the legislature shows a native tribe in the Qu’Appelle Valley just north of the city
The other mural in the rotunda shows canoers in northern Saskatchewan
An interesting note – the glasses on the bust of Tommy Douglas are his actual glasses, not part of the statue
The mace on the Speaker’s table
Down a hallway beside the Cumberland Gallery is a display of old photoraphs showing the construction of the legislature as well as this scale model
Inside the Cumberland Gallery
This painting, entitled Coming Home, is by artist Ann Horbuz. It is somewhat reminiscent of the style of Grandma Moses.
This work is called Somme Nation and depicts horses in the Battle of the Somme in WWI. Artist Grant McConnell is known for his depictions of Canadian history.
This work by Michele Mackesy is called Glenna Grandberg honouring her late son Cody.
Another distinctive Regina landmark is the First Nations University of Canada with its stylized tepee atrium
The atrium of the First Nations University
Another landmark in Regina is Mosaic Stadium, home of the Saskatchewan Roughriders football team

And we leave you with a couple of photos of jackrabbits. They are as common as raccoons in Regina, and indeed, throughout the prairie provinces.