Up until a few years ago 1800 block Hamilton Street was a very sparse, very “blah” street with little going on. Recently the block has seen a definite renewal and it has become one of the more interesting places to be in the downtown. Today I thought we’d take a closer look at its past and present.
In the early 1900’s Hamilton Street was Regina’s original business centre, anchored on the north east corner of 11th Avenue by the Gingerbread style City Hall (shown above on the right) and the five-storey R.H. Williams Department Store and Whitmore Brothers’ Saskatchewan Block on the corner of 12th Avenue. The Leader Building, built in 1912 was home to the Leader Post and later was the site of Saskatchewan’s first radio broadcast. When streetcars first ran in Regina (1911), all lines ended at the corner of 11th avenue and Hamilton Street – it was a booming place to be.
In the 1920s-30s, businesses like the Balmoral Hotel and Café made this strip a popular place to hangout (as an interesting side note, the Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan notes that Saskatchewan’s first women’s strike took place in 1918 by waitresses at the Balmoral Café). By all accounts, up until the 1960s this block of Hamilton Street continued to be active – the above photo shows a few cafes, a grocery store, as well as retail shops. But from the mid-60s and 70s through the 1990s the downtown really took a beating: many buildings, including the City Hall and Grenfell Apartments one block south on Hamilton Street, were demolished to build office towers and shopping malls. The smaller businesses would have closed or relocated over this time period. The Leader Building had a facade built over it and was subsequently boarded up (not too sure on the exact timeline). During my formative years in the late 1980s and 90s 1800 Block Hamilton Street, like much of the downtown, felt like a shell of a street. There were few things to see and do and it was not a welcoming street to walk down.
In the last few years however, this block has sprung back from obscurity. The consistent sidewalk store frontage along both sides of the street, rehabilitation of the Leader Building and creative revitalization happening in the upper floors of the Engineer’s Building (i.e. Loggie’s Shoes) have encouraged people to come back. The mix of uses: housing, banking, coffee and lunch shops, gift stores, and clothing boutiques make it a desired destination throughout the day.
This summer I often walked this block on my way to and from work and really enjoyed the atmosphere that has been developing. I often had impromptu catchups with friends as we crossed paths, saw lots of people conducting breakfast and lunch meetings at the Green Spot, and window shopping (especially around graduation season). I enjoyed watching the sidewalk flow that has started to return – there is an actual street life! As for infrastructure, there is some nice tree coverage and the wider sidewalks accommodate and encourage increased pedestrian traffic – both great ways to improve overall walkability in the downtown.
Hamilton Street is an example of how other streets downtown can be improved in order to connect them into a dense fabric of activity. The older buildings that survived the 1960s create a visual link to the past while being repurposed and revamped with newer uses (instead of being removed). These are complimented with a healthy mix of newer shops that have been encouraged to move in over time. Hamilton Street is starting to reclaim its place as a cornerstone of Regina’s downtown and serves as an example of the direction we should be heading in.
**mouse-over images for credit info