For travelers, Sask is often considered a boring flat expanse of canola farms and prairie -- and serious big skies. While Saskatoon has a bit of a cult following, the rep is less endearing for its capital, Regina, between Alberta and Manitoba on the Trans Canadian Highway. One travel blogger who crossed all of Canada by car told me she 'disliked it most' of all the places she saw. Ouch.
She missed out. On a recent visit, I actually found five days inadequate. Here are at least 10 great reasons to linger longer.
Every Canadian Mountie gets their red serge tunic and Stetson hat via Regina's RCMP Depot, the Mountie training facility since 1885. Visits to the neighboring RCMP Heritage Centre ties the lore to the present ('Canada's FBI,' per the New York Times), and allows looks at the training facility including its chapel, complete with Mountie stained glass windows. The 'noon parade' – at 12:45pm – is open to the public, presently, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Regina is home to the 'Green Bay Packers of Canada' – who knew? The community-owned Saskatchewan Roughriders football team – one of eight in the Canadian Football League – has a rabid following, despite the team's lackluster history (most years). Rider fans account for over half of the full league's merchandise sales. Each game becomes a 'Riderville' of gang green outfits, many homemade (I saw green Darth Vaders, green Bravehearts, green body suits, green moustaches). Even stands in away games in Edmonton or Calgary are frequently half-green, at least.
Do not resist. Go early, get $6 beers, wave at Gainer (the cutest mascot of all time, gopher or otherwise) and stick to your seats to the end. No matter what happens. The season runs from mid June to November, capped with the championship Grey Cup.
3. Trial of Louis Riel
North America's second-longest running theater production (now in its 45th year), the Trial of Louis Riel details the 1885 trial that met the demise of Metis leader Louis Riel. Not well known outside Canada, Riel remains a divisive figure – part traitor, part martyr. ('I don't know whether to love or hate him,' one visitor from Winnipeg told me.) Decide for yourself. The one-act production, held several nights a week in July and August, is well worth a trip to Regina in itself.
4. Wascana Lake
Named for the Cree word meaning 'pile of bones' (in reference to bison bone piles), this lake occupies Regina's center, and is easily the best spot for a morning walk or jog. The lake is surrounded by a 2300-acre park, where you'll find the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, Legislative Building, the University of Regina campus and plenty of wild geese. Coming at dusk? Don't forget the bug spray.
5. Its pronunciation
It's not said Regina like the name, but embarrassingly linked, rhyme-wise, with a certain part of the female anatomy. Or as one local DJ puts it, 'Regina: it rhymes with fun.' Maybe they should switch to the city nickname, Queen City?
6. Warehouse District bars
Dewdney Ave, just north of downtown, has a few bars filling old warehouses. Best is, by far, Bushwakker Brewpub, occupying a 1913 warehouse with a dozen or so beers, live shows and better-than-average pub fare. Regina is in love with the place.
7. Liver Lovers Luncheon Club
The things that happen. Since 1984, local liver lovers have bonded – over liver and onion meals – at the basic City Hall cafeteria at noon on the first Thursday of the month. Meals are spent chomping, reliving liver-meals past, planning off-site events and singing the Liver Lovers Lunch anthem – to the tune of 'Jesus Loves You'. One regular told me many regulars come without their spouse. She explained, 'We come to get what we're not getting at home.' All are welcome. (And it's OK if you don't finish it – I didn't.) A full meal is about $6.25.
8. Cathedral District cafes & shops
Several blocks west of Albert St on 13th Ave, the 'Cathedral District' is lined with a cafes, bookshops and a restaurant or two, making it a walkable alternative from downtown. Best is 13th Ave Coffee House, a cafe serving a mix of all-veggie lunch and breakfast 'bowls' on the ground floor or an old home.
9. Milky Way ice cream
Regina's favorite ice cream spot since 1956, the Milky Way has three windows, each spotted by the long line filling the sidewalk of Victoria Ave. Don't sweat the wait – you'll want the time to make sense of the gargantuan menu. There's some unusual ice creams – the grape hard ice cream was surprisingly delicious – and some locals swear by the milkshakes.
10. Day trip to Moose Jaw
The beloved and historic prairie town of Moose Jaw flaunts more history in its compact center than Regina. It's an hour's drive west. There are touristy tours of the so-called Tunnels of Moose Jaw (where Al Capone, some like to say, oversaw his bootlegging operation – apparently they're replicas, and the Capone connection is likely exaggerated) and the Temple Gardens Mineral Spa, a hot-spring modern pool that's particularly fun when it's frosty outside. Then there's always Big Mac, a big old moose near the highway.