Have you ever seen a building and thought it looked familiar even though you know you have never seen it before? I have always felt that way about a building in downtown Regina, ever since I first saw it 30 + years ago. It is a white angular building with successively smaller blocks leading up to a narrow tower in the middle. Though it is only four storeys tall, it reminds me of the City Hall in Gotham City, yes, the home of Batman. There is no caped crusader in Regina, not that I know of anyway, but the Tyndall stone building puts me in mind of comics and cartoons from my childhood. The style of the building is a combination of Art Deco and Art Moderne and after over thirty years I finally ventured through the big brass doors to have a peek inside.
On June 1, 2013 the Regina Downtown Business Improvement District and the City of Regina presented the first annual Doors Open Regina – a tour of ten historical buildings in the downtown area. Representatives handed out brochures at the Farmer’s Market that morning. The brochure contained information about the buildings and a map so people could take a self-guided tour through downtown. The buildings were clearly marked outside with sandwich boards identifying them as part of the tour along with a representative with brochures to catch people walking by who were unaware of the tour. A number of people I spoke to on my travels had stumbled upon the tour and decided to take advantage of seeing inside some buildings they too have always wondered about. Once inside a number of the buildings it was possible to take a guided tour of the establishment.
I started with the four churches on the tour as I had never been in any of them. I was able to see inside Blessed Sacrament Church before the doors closed to the tour at 11:30 when the Saturday morning mass commenced. It is a small church just across from the Hotel Saskatchewan (Regina’s CN hotel) and is the oldest Catholic Church in the city. Small as it is, the Gothic Revival style church has numerous very colourful stained-glass windows that are worth seeing. Next on my tour was First Baptist church, originally founded in 1891. This Classical Revival style church is much larger and very white inside with lovely curved stairways leading up to the balcony. The huge 3-manual Casavant-Frères organ pipes are behind the altar. Like many heritage buildings in the city, the church sustained much damage in the 1912 tornado. The striking cupola in the centre of the roof was blown a block away. The blue sky and white dove design in the middle of the cupola provides for a shock of colour in the ceiling.
Kitty corner from First Baptist church is the Knox Metropolitan Church, both at the south west corner of Victoria Park. I arrived at Knox Metropolitan, the largest of the churches downtown, in time for a tour of the belfry and joined others in a lesson from the Regina Bell Ringers. The ladders up into the belfry take a bit of getting used to but the views of downtown and the ability to see the bells were worth it. The twelve English brass bells were donated by Mr. and Mrs. Darke in 1927 (he being a former Mayor of Regina) and you can get close enough to see the foundry markings from the same firm as those in Westminster Abbey. The bells are called the Darke Memorial Chimes. We all had a chance to ring the bells and perform a song together then we were treated by a performance from an experienced bell ringer. She demonstrated the physical fitness required to move between the bell pulls quickly enough to ring out a song on her own. A bell ringer must be fit to ring the bells as well as climb the ladders to get to the bells! Tours of the belfry are available on Sundays between noon and 1:00 pm or on request at 306-525-9128. Also on display in the church was the organist who was practicing and answering questions about the intricacies of playing the instrument. I was a treat to hear the music from the enormous pipes behind the altar.
The last church on the tour was St. Paul’s Anglican Cathedral which dates from 1895 and is the oldest building in downtown. This small Gothic Revival style church is an unassuming little building on the west side of downtown and I have often wondered what treasures were hidden inside. The structure would not look out of place in a small alpine village. It is a lovely building with a dark wooden roof and a crypt (columbarium) in the basement. Don’t expect to see an old stone crypt like you will find in Europe. To begin with, it is carpeted. However, it does provide for a warm, weather-protected spot in the city for people to house the cremated remains of their loved ones. Currently the 2-manual Casavant-Frères organ and pipes are wrapped and not in use as the church hall and basement are undergoing extensive renovations. The stained-glass window behind the altar is an interesting study as it does not follow the tradition of all eyes on the Lord. It appears that when the window was disassembled for cleaning, someone put the pieces back incorrectly so that St. Paul is looking away from Jesus.
Other buildings on the tour were Casino Regina which is in the old railway station; Loggie’s Shoes – a retail staple in Regina since 1907; O’Hanlon’s Irish Pub/B-Sides Brewery which included a tour of the brewery culminating in a sample of beer; Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame and Museum in the old Land Titles Building that is based on Romanesque Revival; and Crave Kitchen and Wine Bar which is in the old Assiniboia Club – a business man’s club, based on Tudor Gothic Revival.
My last destination was the Dominion Government Building Regina, the doppelganger for Gotham City Hall. The two elevators have beautiful brass doors with half-moons above each of them with arrows to indicate their progress from floor to floor. The views over Victoria Park and Victoria Avenue rival those from the Knox Metropolitan belfry at the opposite end of the park. And there is no chance of going deaf from the peal of the bells.
Although this specific tour is only offered once a year, it is possible to visit the different buildings throughout the year in their capacities as restaurants, shops, museums, casinos and churches.