Thebes and Regina
Last Friday, July 1st, was Canada Day. Like every Canada Day in Regina many people turned out to Wascana Park to take in the festivities, play some sports, have a picnic/BBQ and/or to people watch.
I spent very little time in the Park on Canada Day, just a quick ride through on my way to and from Downtown (which was eerily empty). While slowly picking my way through the crowd, I began to think about all the people. There were thousands more people than usual. Why is Wascana Park so popular on Canada Day?
Well the answer seems simple, that’s where Canada Day happens: that’s were the organized events take place, concerts, and the fireworks show in the evening. But why Wascana Park and not Downtown, at the exhibition grounds, or in different neighbourhoods?
I believe, along with historical reasons, a special setting with water, lots of it, promotes the park as a celebration space. The people who developed the city had the vision for a park, with a lake for recreational and aesthetic attributes. Over the decades, Wascana Park continued to host new celebrations and cement its importance as a place in this city. It is a festival space, where rituals and celebrations occur year after year.
You might wonder why I’ve led a post about the Wascana with a picture of Egyptian Nile. The prairie heat has me reminiscing about a year ago, when I was vacationing in Egypt. The above picture includes ancient sacred spaces, the Nile River and in the distance hills are another kind of sacred area, used for centuries as tombs of the greatest Egyptian Pharaohs. In the ancient city of Thebes, the river and hills hosted the ceremonies and built the identity of its population.
Of all the sites we visited in that great desert nation, not surprising, those with water were the most naturally transformative and personally comforting. The Sacred Lake at Karnak was a chief example of the human desire for ceremonial and aesthetic water spaces in among the massive, sun-baked, stone canyons of columns and pylons. This pool is not far from the Nile banks but you cannot see the great waterway from this area. In the same way Wascana pool is near the Lake but not on the lake.
In ancient times, the temple priests would release a sacred goose into the above lake at dawn, to reenact the moment laid the Cosmic Egg and created the world(1). When standing next to the Sacred Lake, it is not hard to imagine all kinds of dramatic rituals and solemn ceremonies taking place in this setting.
Wascana is far more utilitarian but no less bound and artificial. The rituals and ceremonies, like Canada Day’s 21 gun salute or Dragon Boat Festival, are no less dramatic. The grand architecture of the great hypostyle hall or Hatshepsut’s obelisk might be matched to the Legislative building and the Albert Memorial Bridge.
In the book A Pattern Language there are many applicable categories recognizing water #24 Sacred Sites, #25 Access to Water, # 64 Pools and Streams and #71 Still Water. In Pools and Streams, sums up the urban need for water:
We came from the water; our bodies are largely water; and water plats a fundamental role in our psychology. We need constant access to watch, all around us; and we cannot have it without reverence for water in all its forms. But everywhere in cities water is out of reach. (2)
Pools and Streams emphasizes the need for continuous spaces throughout the city of #25 access to water and #71 Still Water for swimming and recreation. There is an emphasis on preserving natural low areas and streams which could provide different amenities from shallow puddles for the very young to streams for water sports or transportation (3).
The above fountains in Regina are a part of this access to water idea. New developments often feature small lakes for boating, like Lakewood in North West Regina, which also has a water fall/fountain area.
I mentioned the Albert Memorial Bridge above and that’s the true connection between ancient Egypt and Regina.
Built in 1930 as a depression era make work project, with as many as 2000 men given work (without the most modern tools) to construct the bridge. A memorial bridge it was dedicated to Saskatchewan’s First World War dead but a row with the architect meant the bronze name plaques, commemorating the soldiers, were not included on the bridge (4).
Its been called “Bryant’s Folly” mocking the Minister of Public Works James Bryant who over saw the construction (5). It’s known as the longest bridge over the short span of water; usually a fact touted as one of Regina’s great attributes when someone’s desperately trying to describe something unique about the city.
Still, for all the contempt over the years the bridge has become something of a sacred cow, in the mid 80s a proposal to replace the bridge lead to a public outcry for it and resulted in restoration and heritage status (6).
The bridge by Architect James Puntin was built in an Egyptian revival style with Papyrus balustrades, Lotus flower lamp posts and obelisk like pylons at its corners. There were also Bison headed medallions and central coat of arms above the spill-way to give local character (7).
I think the grand entrance to Karnak below is a clear inspiration for our own Egyptian bridge. It’s nice to have a reminder of my Egyptian adventure any time I want to cross the Wascana at Albert street.
Curator Timothy Long sees the links between Regina and Egypt all too clearly. He associates the toil of 1930s workers on our Egyptian looking bridge with the oppression of the Israelites waiting for a messiah in ancient times. In another context, he sees the connection of colony and empire, Egypt the breadbasket of Rome and Saskatchewan the breadbasket of the British empire; Queen Victoria’s image stamped on the bridge as if Nefertiti (or Augustus); the Legislature a Theban like shrine on the Wascana rather than Nile (8).
I would make a more basic geographic link. Our semi arid climate and the Nile valley’s micro climate, amid the bare desert, are not too dissimilar. Both areas champion water because it is so precious, it power respected and its access necessary for our survival. The swampy wetlands, dry heat and mixture of wild life would be similar, if less varied, to the flood prone regions and valleys on the prairies.
Unfortunately Wascana Lake as a sacred space can have more personal meaning for some as a place where loved ones are found. This morning, and not for the first time in Regina’s history, someone was found dead in the lake (see the Leader Post for more).
1. Dan Richardson and Daniel Jacobs with Lizzie Williams and Emma Gregg, Rough Guide to Egypt 7th ed. (New York: Rough Guides, August 2007) 367.
2. Christoper Alexander, Sara Ishikawa et al. A Pattern Language: Towns Buildings Construction (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977) 323.
3. Ibid. 325-327.
4. Edward Willett, Historic Walks of Regina and Moose Jaw: Ten Walks to Points of Historical Architectural Interest (Calgary: Red Deer Press, 2008) 199.
5. William Argan with Pam Cowan and Gordon W. Staseson, Regina: The First 100 Years: The History of Regina told through its Buildings and Monuments (Regina: Leader Post Carrier Foundation Inc, 2002) 333.
6. Edward Willett, Historic Walks of Regina and Moose Jaw: Ten Walks to Points of Historical Architectural Interest (Calgary: Red Deer Press, 2008) 200.
7. Ibid. 199.
8. Timothy Long, Albert Memorial Bridge. Regina’s secret spaces : love and lore of local geography Lorne Beug, Anne Campbell and Jeannie Mah Eds; featuring photography by Don Hall. (Regina, Sask. Canadian Plains Research Center, 2006) 21.