Regina is the capital of Canada’s Saskatchewan province, which shares its southern border with North Dakota and Montana. Established by the Canadians in 1882, Regina was originally referred to as “Pile of Bones” due to its significance to the local Cree Indians. The Cree relied on successful buffalo hunts to provide for many of their needs. They believed that buffalo would never roam far from the bones of their brethren. By keeping the bones of dead buffalo gathered in one place, the Cree believed that the buffalo would stay plentiful. The immense, 6-foot tall, 40-foot wide circle of buffalo bones served as an unmistakeable landmark and gave the area its first, albeit unofficial, name.
In the late 1800s, the Canadian government offered free 160-acre homesteads to those willing to relocate to the prairie lands that include present-day Regina. In June of 1882, 17 homesteading pioneers became the town’s founders. Princess Louise, wife of the territory’s Governor General and daughter of the reigning Queen Victoria, suggested the name “Regina” (which means “reigning queen”) in honor of her mother.
The area was attractive to settlers because the prairie land was fertile and water was plentiful. The lack of any other interesting topography and its relative remoteness meant that real development of the area was slow. Like so much of the rest of Canada and the US, Regina saw growth with the coming of railways and railroad stations.
In 1885, some residents of the Northwest Territory of Canada asked Louis Riel, a man known as a leader of anti-government resistance movements, to represent them and outline various grievances before the Canadian government. Rather than even try for a peaceful meeting, Riel mounted an unsuccessful military offensive centered in Regina that led to his trial for treason and subsequent hanging. Following this rebellion, the local mayor and merchants rallied together to form a successful alliance designed to further Regina’s economic growth and prosperity.
Regina’s steady growth led to its official incorporation as a city in 1903, and its appointment as the capital of Saskatchewan in 1906. On June 30, 1912, Regina’s peace and prosperity was devastated by the “Regina Cyclone,” which remains the deadliest tornado in Canada’s history. Regina did rebuild and grow steadily, if less than anticipated, until the Great Depression in 1929. In addition to the economic difficulties the entire nation faced following the Depression, Regina and the rest of Saskatchewan also endured a decade of drought and insect infestations that devastated the local farming community. As a result, economic growth in the province never reached the potential many had envisioned for the area. During the 1930s, Regina did gain recognition for its role as a center of political activism and social experimentation as residents worked to find new ways to adjust to the setbacks of the Depression and concurrent farming losses.
Regina’s next period of true prosperity followed World War II. Today, it is the commercial and cultural center of southern Saskatchewan and is the province’s second-largest city, with a population of a little under 250,000.