REGINA, 575km west of Winnipeg, is Saskatchewan’s capital, as well as a commercial and administrative centre that anchors a vast network of agricultural towns and villages. Yet despite its status, brash shopping malls and 193,000 citizens, Regina feels like a small and unremarkable prairie town. Still, it’s a comfortable place to spend a couple of days (it gets more hours of sunshine than any other major Canadian city) and is an essential stop if you’re keen on learning more about the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), or Mounties.
Regina’s origins stem from the 1881 decision of Edward Dewdney, lieutenant-governor of the Northwest Territories (which then spread west from Ontario to the Arctic and Pacific oceans) to move his capital south from Battleford to Pile o’Bones – an inconsequential place named for the heaps of bleached buffalo bones left along its creek by generations of aboriginal hunters – after the Canadian Pacific Railway was routed across the southern plains. The city was renamed Regina (Latin for “queen”), after Queen Victoria, but the site was far from being fit for royalty, let alone the average person: the sluggish creek provided a poor water supply, the clay soil was muddy in wet weather and dusty in the summer and there was no timber for building. Accordingly, the railway board refused to oblige and the end result was farcical: Government House and the Mounted Police barracks were built where Dewdney wanted them, but the train station was a three-kilometre trek south.
Regina became the capital of the newly created province of Saskatchewan in 1905 and settlers flocked here from the US and central Europe. The city soon overcame its natural disadvantages by extensive tree-planting, which provided shade and controlled the dust, and by damming the creek to provide a better water source. Yet Regina’s success was based on the fragile prosperity of a one-crop (wheat) economy and throughout the twentieth century boom alternated with bust. Today, Regina’s prosperity looks solid, thanks to sizeable oil reserves, uranium mines and the high price of agricultural commodities.