Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Regina, the capital of Saskatchewan, is a prime example of a community overcoming the disadvantages of geography through both good fortune and great effort. The site possessed few natural advantages, situated as it was on a poorly drained treeless plain, with a shallow creek littered with the bones of buffalo slaughtered by Metis and Indians its only source of water. Yet the decision of the Canadian Pacific Railway to abandon its originally surveyed route along the North Saskatchewan River in favor of one straight west from Winnipeg would set into motion a chain of events leading to the selection of this most unlikely location as the capital of Canada's Northwest Territories. Battleford, the original capital of the territories, was deemed by the Dominion government and the railway to be too far from the main line. They wanted the capital to be at a central position in order to have adequate communications with the East. Edgar Dewdney, the lieutenant governor of the territories, lobbied for the location of this new capital on a tract of land owned by him and a number of associates, but eventually the railway chose a location for a station and town site two miles to the east. Dewdney was mollified to some extent when the government decided to build the North-West Mounted Police barracks and the lieutenant governor's residence on his property. The railway surveyed the site, laying out some 13,000 lots during the fall and winter of 1882.83, and the new capital was named after Queen Victoria.

Regina's fortunes were closely tied to agricultural development, but settlement lagged for almost twenty years because of poor crops, a limited local market, lack of local capital, and continuing settlement of the American West. After 1900 better harvests and increasing prices for wheat, cheaper transportation rates, and a massive immigration to the Canadian West solidified its status as a key urban center in the region. In 1902 the Canadian Pacific Railway granted Regina local distributing freight rates and special rates on farm machinery, which reduced the cost of shipping to the city, making it more competitive with Winnipeg, the regional metropolis. The city was also designated a customs port of entry that year, which prompted a number of agricultural machinery businesses, including Massey Harris and International Harvester, to establish distributing operations. Regina's security as a government center was ensured when it was made the capital of the new Province of Saskatchewan in 1905. New lines built by the Canadian Northern and the Grand Trunk Railways to different regional centers expanded the city's hinterland. As a result of these developments, the population of Regina had increased from 2,249 in 1901 to more than 30,000 a decade later.

Yet like its neighbors, Regina would struggle in its attempts to attract industry because of its distance from major markets, the prohibitive costs of power, and the stiff competition offered by other cities in the limited provincial market. As a result, Regina's development was locked into the boom-andbust nature of the wheat monoculture. The city did benefit from its position as political capital, a factor that played a major role in the location decisions of the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool and various banks and credit unions. Yet the decline of wheat prices, triggered by global depression, combined with drought and grasshopper and rust infestations devastated the city during the 1930s. The Depression witnessed the emergence of a loose alliance of farm and labor movements in the province, and in 1933 the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation was formed and held its first national convention in Regina, drafting the socialist political charter that became known as the Regina Manifesto.

The fortunes of the city have continued to be tied to agriculture, although less so than before because of the development of industries linked to potash and oil discoveries throughout the province and a growing internal market. While potash and mineral development have combined with the high-tech sector to propel Saskatoon to a position of primacy, Regina has benefited more directly from the province's oil boom. Petroleum from Alberta's oil fields transported to eastern Canada via the Interprovincial Pipeline was first refined in Regina in 1950. Oil from western Saskatchewan was first refined in Regina in 1954, but because of its high sulphur content much of the light and medium crude found in the province is shipped elsewhere. The more viscous and heavy oil found in western Canada is now refined in the upgrading facility built in Regina in the 1980s. The oil boom's most important legacy was the Interprovincial Steel and Pipe Construction Company, built in Regina in the late 1950s, the largest single manufacturing enterprise in Saskatchewan and the only steel mill in western Canada.

With a present population of just over 195,000, the city has continued to benefit from its status as provincial capital, securing the crown corporations and administrative expansion associated with the growth of the welfare state. The most visible manifestation of its association with government is the development of the 2,300-acre park centered around Wascana Lake, an artificial creation made possible by the damming of Wascana Creek, whose grounds provide a setting for the Legislative Building and government offices, the University of Regina, the Saskatchewan Centre of the Arts, museums, galleries, and a science center. Administered jointly by the city, the province, and the university since 1962, the park provides a wide range of recreational activities and has won prizes for its design all over the world.

In addition to its political function, Regina has continued in its role as a regional service and distribution location and in this context has become the western Canadian call center for large companies such as Sears Canada and Royal Bank. It has recently become the headquarters for Crown Life Insurance Company and AgrEvo Incorporated, one of the world's largest chemical crop protection companies. In addition, the university's new research park has begun to attract some high-tech companies linked to the computer and petroleum industries. Yet like other Prairie cities, Regina still relies heavily on resource-based industries and thus is affected greatly by changing world markets.

See also INDUSTRY: Petroleum, Canada / MEDIA: Leader-Post (Regina) (Regina) / POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT: Cooperative Commonwealth Federation.

Randy William Widdis University of Regina

Brennan, J. William. Regina: An Illustrated History. Toronto: James Lorimer and Company, 1989.

Drake, Earl. Regina: The Queen City. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Ltd., 1955.

Riddell, W. A. Regina: From Pile o' Bones to Queen City of the Plains. Burlington: Windsor Publications Ltd., 1981.

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