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.

Historic Fremantle

The City of Fremantle in Western Australia teems with history. Founded by Swan River colonists in 1829, it officially became a city a century later. Indeed, much of the architecture in downtown Fremantle dates from the 19th century. The Esplanade Hotel shown above, for example, was originally used to house convicts while the Fremantle Prison was built. In 1892 it became a hotel. It underwent numerous renovations and expansions over the years including 1985 for the America’s Cup. It now has 300 rooms and is designated as a heritage site.

Fremantle is a quaint little city of just 27,000, but it is a bustling one. Located at the mouth of the Swan River, it serves as the seaport for the metropolis of Perth about 18 kilometers upriver.

Downtown Fremantle is compact with all major venues within walking distance. In the map below, for example, the distance from Fremantle Prison to the WA Maritime Museum is just two kilometers or a 25 minute walk.

In a previous post I related our night time tour of the Fremantle Prison which served as a maximum security penitentiary until 1991. But there is much more than the prison to see here.

On our first visit, we parked near the Fremantle Oval and visited the Fremantle Markets. Founded in 1897, these public markets feature farm fresh produce, a variety of artisans and crafts, restaurants featuring Aussie cuisine, and, of course, buskers. We were much amused by a young woman on stilts in an emu costume that day.

The emu lady strutting around the Fremantle Markets

One of the fast food joints called itself the Bush Food Cafe and featured roo dogs, croc dogs and a sample stick containing roo, croc and emu!

On our first visit we saw  a busker playing a lively rag on the piano and on another visit we saw a seven year old guitar prodigy.

Outside there were a variety of street entertainers and promoters of various causes, including the Falun Gong.

Advocates looking for support for the Falun Gong

On leaving the markets we walked down a street of wall-to-wall restaurants towards the waterfront. We passed through Esplanade Park across from the hotel on the way. A permanent Ferris wheel is tucked into a corner of the park.

A number of craft breweries lined the shore road (Mews Road) and we ate at one of them that first visit. Passing between a couple of them brings you to the wooden boardwalk that goes around the inner harbor. This is a popular venue for its many fine restaurants. One notable eatery is Kailis Fish Market Café, serving “award-winning fish & chips” since 1928.

A wooden boardwalk surrounds the Fremantle harbor.

We were surprised to find a statue of Bon Scott, the lead singer of AC/DC who passed away in 1980. The base of the statue hails the singer as “the greatest frontman of all time” as noted in the magazine Classic Rock.  Although born in Scotland, Scott moved to Australia with his family at age six and grew up in Fremantle.

Bon Scott, one of Fremantle’s favorite sons

On our second visit to Fremantle, Janis and I had taken the train to Perth and then a cruise down the Swan River to Fremantle. Not far from the railroad station is Bathers Beach. Atop a bluff beside the beach you’ll find the Round House.

Built in 1830, the Round House was the first permanent structure in the Swan River Colony. It was built as a small prison with eight cells and a jailer’s residence.

The Round House sits atop a bluff near Bathers Beach
The Whalers Tunnel and the Round House

Those of a philosophical bent will be interested to note its design was based on the Panopticon, a blueprint for an ideal prison  designed by British philosopher Jeremy Bentham. The cells are arranged in a semi-circle so one jailer can observe all prisoners at once. Bentham theorized that since the prisoner never knew if he was being watched, he self-regulated his behaviour.

Inside you can see the cells as well as a stocks. A placard indicates the offenses that could land you in the Round House as well as remarking that only one prisoner was ever hanged at the Round House – sadly the condemned was only fifteen at the time.

The stocks at the Round House

The detailed information sign for the stocks tells you that the prisoner was held immobile by the hand holds and leg-irons. Sometimes the subject’s ears were nailed to the frame so he could not move to avoid rotten tomatoes and other debris thrown at him by the jeering crowd.

We walked on through the town taking in a variety of city sights. We passed the University of Notre Dame and its beautiful red brick buildings, past shops and iconic hotels like Rosie O’Grady’s which was undergoing some renovations.

The University of Notre Dame
Rosie O’Grady’s (formerly the Federal Hotel)

We ended up at Fremantle Oval, home of the Fremantle Dockers football (soccer) team.  One of Janis’s friends from work was a huge Dockers fan so we thought we’d get a souvenir for her. When we got there, a few players were on the field being interviewed by a television news reporter.

The Fremantle Oval, practice field for the Fremantle Dockers

While Janis was busy buying the souvenir, I popped out and noticed the players coming off the field. I approached them and explained that my wife’s friend was a Dockers fan in Canada and asked if I could get a picture of them with my wife. They kindly agreed. I quickly got Janis and the picture.

Janis and three players from the Fremantle Dockers – big fellows all!

Needless to say, her friend loved the picture and had it blown up and posted it on the store’s bulletin board.

Fremantle is an old city which has managed to maintain its colonial charm. No buildings are more than a few stories in height and many sport period architecture, including some with sweeping second floor balconies. There are a lot of restaurants, several craft breweries, a marvelous waterfront, historic prisons and a fair amount of public art. You can easily spend a day or two exploring the old town.

You’ll find a couple of photo galleries linked after this article, but I leave you with one final iconic building – the Norfolk Hotel. The building is pretty non-descript but is notable for the haunting mural on its side – the face of  woman.

The Norfolk Hotel

Built in 1887 as the Oddfellow Hotel, the building was refurbished and re-opened as the Norfolk 100 years later in preparation for the America’s Cup. It has a long history as one of Fremantle’s favorite watering holes. Indeed, for over fifty years it was owned by the Swan Brewery.

After a succession of owners, the hotel is now owned by a noted hotel company and the lease has been held since 1989 by the partner in another brewery. The mural is actually a bas relief sculpture by Portuguese sculptor Vhils of Australia’s first female senator, Dorothy Tangney.

Mural of Dame Dorothy Tangney, DBE, first female Australian senator

Below are some additional links, including two photo galleries. If you are on the front page of this website, you just have to scroll down to see the photo galleries.