1800 Block Hamilton Street: A Brief History

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.

Looking west on 11th Avenue (1912)

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.

Looking South on Hamilton Street (1963)

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.

Looking South on Hamilton Street (2010)

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

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1800 Block Hamilton Street: A Brief History

17 thoughts on “1800 Block Hamilton Street: A Brief History

  1. Barb Saylor says:

    The Hamilton revival comes too late for one of the best reasons to go downtown: Sutherland Books. The late Mary Sutherland operated her bookstore at 2 locations: the east side of the Scarth Street Mall, and then 1833 Hamilton. Although I was a faithful customer at both locations, I noticed that the volume of foot traffic on Hamilton was far from what it had been on Scarth. There may have been a lot of reasons why she eventually closed her business, but I think that the failure of shoppers to make that 2-block shift to a high-quality, very service-oriented store did her in. Sometimes the sheer laziness of Reginans amazes me.

    1. Barb – I hadn’t heard of Sutherland books until this moment, so thanks for that bit of history and insight! I’m interested in the timelines – when did she move stores and when did she ultimately close shop?

      Like you say, I think these situations are usually rooted in multiple causes. I think that when a store changes locations, even by a few blocks, they are bound to lose a few people. I suppose it is just due to a lack of knowledge that something moved – and while advertising the new location well in advance of the actual move helps to catch most customers, it won’t necessarily catch all of them.

      Street connectivity and having a continuous urban fabric help a lot too. I obviously don’t know the particulars, but I would wager that the Scarth Street location likely had more passive customers because of the consistent store fronts (people going to other shops on the strip), and its role as the link between the Cornwall Centre and Victoria Park (though again, depending on the timelines the Cornwall may or may not have existed at this time). Even today Scarth has a very active streetscape with a lot of foot traffic.

      For a current example, Rose Street feels very cut off from the rest of downtown due to the style of development (parking garages), empty storefronts, and empty lots. It is not part of a continuous urban fabric so people feel less inclined to go there. In the case of a business like Memories of Yvonne (an antique store on Rose) – even though it is a great little shop, they get a lot less passive foot traffic. The walk to get there always feels more arduous – so you don’t typically happen upon it because you got caught up in an enjoyable walk, but instead you intended to go there and made the effort to get there. Street level planning and sidewalk design can make a two-minute walk disappear or drag and it can definitely make or break a business.

      Like you mention, this perception of “distance” can prevent people from really taking advantage of what is available and it is amazing how little effort is really required! For this reason I always try to get people to make the distinction between the perceived lack of parking in the downtown vs. the lack of parking in front of every store you decide to visit during your trip.

  2. Barb Saylor says:

    The Hamilton St. store closed in 1997, but as to when the Scarth – Hamilton move happened, I know it was in the 1990s but can’t be more precise. I don’t think that the Scarth St. store was open when I moved to Regina in 1988, so at both locations, Ms. Sutherland wasn’t in business downtown all that long. Just FYI, she was also the long-time manager of the U of R bookstore.
    I’d sure like to know the definition of “arduous” in relation to walking downtown. Some folks may think that the current work along 12th Ave. makes for an “arduous” walk (by the way, the Novia Cafe is still very accessible), and while it does pose some challenges to people who require mobility aids, to parents of young children, and to transit users making connections, it’s not that bad. And, it’s temporary. You just have to think ahead about where you need to be, and when. Same goes for using transit in preference to driving: plan your route ahead of time. There are paper schedules and online sources to help you.
    I cited laziness in an earlier post, but I think too that there’s a certain passive-aggressive undertone to it.

    1. Thanks for the details.

      I think my comment regarding something being “arduous” is really about perception, so what makes something a challenge or presents barriers really will vary from person to person. For people like you and I, who walk and take transit regularly, walking down a street that is a little less engaging (or with restricted access as you note for 12th Ave.) or going an extra few blocks to get to a shop really isn’t much of a challenge. It is just part of the day. But for someone who relies heavily on their vehicle to get around or doesn’t consider actively (or even casually) walking as part of their everyday, arduous may be as simple as the opposite of effortless. Again – it is hugely reliant on perception, but this type of perception makes most things seem “out of the way”. I think good street design can do a lot to increase walkability and make walking effortless (in the perception sense – I think both you and I would argue that it already is quite effortless).

      I’m now curious about your suggestion about passive-agressive undertones. Do you think people choose not to frequent shops or the downtown as a form of protest?

      1. Lesley says:

        I absolutely agree that Hamilton Street has been experiencing a wonderful revival. It is one of Downtown’s greatest assets, and we hope to help it grow. Watch for more initiatives related to street level planning and public realm enhancement Downtown as Regina Downtown Business Improvement District embarks on placemaking next spring – first stop, Hamilton Street! For more information about Downtown revitalization, contact us!

  3. Barb Saylor says:

    Passive-aggressive behaviour is a form of protest, and it can sometimes be hard to tell from laziness. The difference between them is intent. Littering can be passive-aggressive; remaining willfully ignorant of no-parking zones and periods certainly is; and refusing to patronize a business because construction necessitates a detour to reach it is one of the worst kinds (displaced punishment). This childish response to change plays out every time there’s development in this town.

  4. wourliem says:

    I agree with Barb that Sutherland Books was business on Hamilton to remember from the 90’s. Growing up, I spent a lot of time shopping Downtown with my parents. One reason we went to Sutherland Books was that it was on the way to The Bay from Cornwall and especially from the Galleria. Bach and Beyond was next door to Sutherland and that was a shop my family also would go to regularly.

    In my mind, the demise of Sutherland is linked to the introduction of Chapters and discounted books offered at Superstore and Wal-Mart. Now, it might be that Sutherland Books has been co-opted in my memory with the imagery of The Shop Around the Corner the fictional Greenwich Village Children’s Book Shop in the late 90s Rom-Com “You’ve Got Mail”. That movie, in part, poised a big corporate giant against the local champion. Other late 90s events like closing Eaton’s in Regina and the Seattle WTO protests also informed some of my anti-corporate feelings at the time and therefore could be tinting my memory of Sutherland Books.

    With Sutherland Books closing in 1997, I am not sure if Chapters would be a factor and of course Eaton’s and The Bay were still in place. It was in the 2000s, after The Bay moved, when Hamilton dipped to a real low point. In the 90s, most store fronts along Hamilton and 12th got foot traffic coming South from Cornwall to The Bay.

    Anyway, one of my best memories of Christmas in Regina comes from the warm wooden shelves of Sutherland books. There was also a stairway with grand wooden railings near the front entrance. Sutherland Books was a very cozy place that I recall feeling very warm and inviting. The only place I have been since that reminded me of Sutherland’s atmosphere was McNally-Robinson in Downtown Calgary (now closed).

    Another enduring memory from that block was the view of the Canada Life building (your Southern view 2010 picture) from Bach and Beyond’s big green chairs on frosty-gray Saturday afternoons. That spot was one of the few vistas that could transform little old Regina into a metropolis, full of big city dreams.

  5. Barb Saylor says:

    Mary Sutherland took great care, in both of her store locations, to make the layout and decor welcoming and comfortable for browsers. Her employees were also warm, welcoming, and knowledgeable, very good at recommending books and at ordering what they didn’t have on hand (this was in the days before Amazon.com). The stores also had regular “hurt Penguin” sales, with great bargains. I couldn’t help but compare the ambience and service at Sutherland Books with that of Canada Book on Scarth, NOT in the latter’s favour.
    The closure of Sutherland Books predated both the arrival of Chapters and the closure of the former Bay building, so I’m not really sure what the point of your second paragraph is, wourliem, except to remind us once again that history is not an exact science. In defence of Chapters, however, I will say that the selection is terrific, and the sales help remind me very much of the kind and enthusiastic folks who worked at Sutherland Books.

  6. Barb Saylor says:

    Just a postscript: the first Sutherland Books was located in the Northern Crown Building, 1821 Scarth, where Beer Bros. is now.

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