One year ago today, I was in Regina, Saskatchewan, driving across the vast Prairie Provinces of Canada, carving a route across North America that included the Canadian cities of Lethbridge, Calgary, Edmonton, Lloydminster, Saskatoon, and Regina, before entering the comparatively lower-populated North Dakota and making my way home. It was also the tail end of a memorable trip that included the Black Hills of South Dakota, Denver, Salt Lake City, eastern Idaho, and Montana.
Regina is home to 180,000 people, and is located roughly 100 miles north of the U.S.-Canada border above where North Dakota and Montana meet. The provincial capital, Regina is also the economic and cultural center for southern Saskatchewan and the second largest city in the Province after Saskatoon, which is located 2.5 hours north.
Most of Regina’s retail strip is located along three arterials: Albert Street, north and south of downtown, and Victoria Avenue from downtown heading east. Four of Regina’s five major enclosed malls are located along these major arterials; however, Regina’s best and largest mall, Cornwall Centre, is in the middle of downtown.
The result of an urban renewal project that began in the 1970s, Cornwall Centre opened in 1981. Like many large cities across North America, downtown Regina had become a ghost town in the mid-20th century as the city expanded in all directions to accomodate a rising automobile culture, adding low-density jobs, housing, industry and retail to the periphery of the city in the process. To counter this, Cornwall Centre and numerous other buildings were constructed downtown to attract shoppers, and several larger buildings were later constructed for workers. One of these buildings, the SaskTel tower opens right into Cornwall Centre, strategically located near the food court in order to maximize on downtown office lunching.
Cornwall Centre wasn’t the first attempt at a downtown mall, though. A smaller, three-level office-retail complex was constructed in Regina’s former city hall. It opened several years prior to Cornwall Centre and enjoyed a modicum of early success, but was soon eclipsed by Cornwall’s size and the retail portion failed. During the 1980s it was repackaged as The Galleria, but by the 1990s it had lost almost all of its retail tenants, and was recycled in 2006 when the Canadian government purchased and reconfigured it for offices housing between 500-600 workers.
In addition to retail, entertainment amenities were also constructed in and around Cornwall Centre and included a casino in the former main railway station as well as a large Famous Players theatre, which closed in 2002 to make way for a retail expansion. Even though the theatre has closed, the Casino remains open and viable, and is attached to the mall as well as the Delta Hotel via skywalks, providing an advantage to downtown visitors and residents alike during Regina’s harsh winters.
In the late 1990s, a major change occurred at Cornwall Centre, as longtime anchor store Eaton’s went out of business in 1999. The space wasn’t vacant for long, though – The Bay, which was located a block west of the mall in a standalone location, quickly moved into the space, and the former Bay store was later redeveloped into a studio for radio stations.
Cornwall Centre made use of the extant built environment when it was constructed, incorporating both the former Bank of Ottawa and Bank of Commerce facades into the mall. These facades, along with public art like the sculpture “Regina” by Toronto-based artist Judith Christine Mills and floor-to-ceiling glass windows looking out on the city, give uniqueness and class to an otherwise utilitarian shopping mall.
Cornwall Centre also opens up into a pedestrian-only outdoor mall, the F.W. Hill Mall, which is lined with shops, restaurants and vendors in the summer months and itself leads into Victoria Park, the centerpiece of downtown Regina.
Today, Cornwall Centre is the dominant mall in Regina, with 558,000 square feet of retail space. Cornwall Centre’s anchors, Sears and The Bay, are complemented with over 90 diverse retail outlets; roughly one-third of these are unique to Regina and southern Saskatchewan. It is also the centerpiece of a focus on resurgence for downtown Regina, which includes more restaurants and entertainment amenities to accompany a latent residential building boom. Other projects are in the works too, reversing a trend from previous decades which brought people and jobs to the suburbs.
With this new trend focusing on development in downtown Regina, we can only imagine Cornwall Centre’s future is brighter than ever and that it will continue to dominate the city’s retail scene. I visited Regina in July 2009 and took the pictures featured here. Have more information to share about Regina or Cornwall Centre’s history, or any thoughts or reactions? Please feel free to leave some comments.