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Regina, pop 178,225, Saskatchewan’s capital, is situated 160 km north of the US border. Because of its location in the heart of the Canadian plains, it is sometimes referred to as the City on the Horizon. Regina is the commercial and financial centre of the province; it was named in honour of Queen Victoria, mother-in-law of then Governor General the Marquess of Lorne.
The site was originally an area where Cree and Métis came to hunt buffalo. The Indians piled buffalo bones together in a belief that the buffalo would not leave an area that contained the bones of their kind. The Cree name for this special place was oskana kâ-asastêki “where the bones are piled”: the first settlement at the site was thus called “Pile O’ Bones.” Explorers, fur traders, surveyors and settlers passed through the area as it was one of a very few locations where there was water, wood, and shelter from winter blizzards and summer grass fires. In 1882 the Canadian Pacific Railway was built across the plains, and Regina was founded near the Pile O’ Bones (Wascana) Creek. Homesteaders were attracted to the area by the Dominion Lands Act, which allowed them to claim 160 acres of land for $10.
As the influx of people required policing, the North-West Mounted Police (later called the Royal Canadian Mounted Police) were sent west and moved their headquarters to Regina. The headquarters later moved to Ottawa, but the RCMP Training Academy remains in Regina to this day. In 1883, Regina replaced the more northern site of Battleford as the capital of the North-West Territories. On December 1 of that year it became a town, and Dr. David L. Scott was elected as the town’s first mayor on January 10, 1884. In 1903 Regina, with a population of 3,000, became a city; its first mayor was Jacob W. Smith. In 1905 Saskatchewan became a province, and in 1906 Regina was confirmed as its capital. Its population then grew rapidly, reaching over 30,000 inhabitants by 1911. In 1908, work began on the Legislative Building, situated on Wascana Lake, which took four years to complete; 300 men worked day and night for a year and a half just to prepare the stone front of the building.
In 1912 the Regina Cyclone tore through the city, killing 28 people, injuring hundreds, destroying more than 400 buildings, and leaving 2,500 people homeless; it took the city two years to repair the damage, evaluated at over $5 million. The city’s growth was halted by an economic depression in 1913, and then by the outbreak of World War I. But in the 1920s it started to prosper again. In 1920, Regina resident Roland Groome became the first commercial pilot in Canada; with his partner Ed Clark he opened there the first licensed aerodrome in the country, and eight years later a permanent airport opened. By 1924, Regina was Canada’s largest distribution centre for farm equipment and supplies; the population increased from 34,400 to 53,200 during the 1920s.
In 1929 the Depression hit, and the government started a number of projects to create work. Men were hired to drain Wascana Lake and deepen it, using only hand shovels and dump wagons to do the job; the dirt they removed was then used to build Willow Island in the lake. The Albert Street Memorial Bridge, known as “the longest bridge over the shortest span of water,” was built. Workers also began creating a park around the lake and the Legislative Building; today, Wascana Centre is one of the largest urban parks in North America.
In 1935, a group of unemployed men in British Columbia began a train trip to Ottawa to demand help from the federal government. The On-to-Ottawa Trek, as it was known, stopped in Regina where police tried to enforce government-issued arrest warrants for seven of the trek leaders; violence broke out, resulting in the death of one policeman and injuries for several officers and trekkers. This tragic incident is known as the “Regina Riot.”
Conditions improved in the late 1930s. During World War II Regina became home to three air training schools for soldiers, and the General Motors car assembly plant reopened to make equipment for the war. After the war Regina began to prosper again, and in the 1950s the population grew by 57%. An oil pipeline linked Regina with oil fields in Alberta and refineries in eastern Canada. The city built the Saskatchewan Museum of Natural History (later renamed the Royal Saskatchewan Museum), a new post office, and a geriatric centre; the latter became Wascana Hospital, and was later renamed the Wascana Rehabilitation Centre. By the early 1960s, Regina was growing at a rate of 4,500 new residents a year. Economic diversification and movement from farms to the city caused an increase in the population of nearly 10% between 1991 and 1996. Since that time, however, growth has been considerably slower. In 1992, Governor General Ramon Hnatyshyn visited Regina and signed a proclamation giving the city its new flag and Coat of Arms.
Regina has been transformed from a flat, treeless settlement into a city of parks, streets and buildings. Today, there are more than 300,000 hand-planted trees throughout Regina. On March 29, 2004, the city completed the “Big Dig,” a three-month, $18-million clean-up operation to salvage Wascana Lake, the city’s historic body of water: crews worked around the clock to deepen the lake an average of 4.1 metres. The Legislative Building, the Saskatchewan Centre of the Arts, the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, and the Saskatchewan Science Centre are all located in Wascana Centre. Regina’s downtown has grown to include two enclosed shopping centres, the Scarth Street pedestrian mall, the twin McCallum Hill Towers, several bank buildings, hotels, office buildings, and the City Hall. A series of enclosed pedestrian walkways were also built to connect many downtown buildings.
Most citizens are native-born, and one-quarter are of British origin. Large groups of people of German, Ukrainian and Scandinavian ancestry have also made Regina their home. During the past two decades many First Nations people have moved to the city. The largest religious denominations are Roman Catholic, United Church, Lutheran, Anglican, and Greek Orthodox.
Regina is largely dependent on the surrounding agriculture and natural resources. The Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, the world’s largest grain-handling co-operative, is headquartered in Regina. The city has diversified its economy, and telecommunications, manufacturing, data management, software development, and other technological industries are steadily growing. Regina accounts for approximately one-third of the total value of manufacturing activity in the province. IPSCO Inc. (steel and pipe manufacturer) and Consumers’ Co-operative Refineries Ltd. (heavy oil upgrader) are the largest firms in this sector.
Regina is governed by an elected mayor and ten councillors. Public and separate (Roman Catholic) school boards administer Regina’s tax-supported elementary and high school systems.
The University of Regina and the Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology provide education to post-secondary students. The First Nations University of Canada is the country’s only university college run by and for First Nations people. The 97-year old Regina Symphony Orchestra is one of the city’s most distinguished cultural institutions. In addition to the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, the Regina RCMP training academy and its Centennial Museum host thousands of visitors each year. Regina has two art galleries, the MacKenzie Art Gallery and the Dunlop Art Gallery. The Globe Theatre provides live theatre and has gained national recognition for its professional theatre production. The Agridome on the Exhibition Grounds hosts many concerts and exhibitions. Regina is served by one community cable channel, one French-language and three English-language TV stations, nine radio stations, and one daily newspaper, the Leader-Post. The city is home to the Saskatchewan Roughriders, a Canadian Football League team. Regina has twice hosted the CFL’s Grey Cup, in 1995 and in 2003.
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