Editor’s note: The author was hosted this past July by Conventions Regina for the 2012 VIP Experience Tour and is ready to return with a group!
I am ashamed to admit that prior to a few weeks ago, I had never set foot in Saskatchewan, though I had in the past planned several roadshows in the early 2000s to Regina and Saskatoon. The idea of visiting a place where you could see your dog running away for three days, as so humorously put by one lady from Regina, did not seem very exciting. But what an eye-opener! We couldn’t have met a more outgoing or engaging people, passionate about their city and excited about what the future holds and what they can offer meeting planners. It all filters down from one dynamic and accessible mayor, Pat Fiacco.
The discovery of diamonds, potash, oil and natural gas in southern Saskatchewan has caused a boom in construction. Saskatchewan is also the largest world producer and exporter of mustard seed. Saskatchewan is proud to say that it is no longer a “have-not” province!
I was surprised at how compact the city is. Regina International Airport is expanding and is a short, pleasant 10-minute drive to the city. The hotels are all located downtown within proximity to each other. A “traffic jam” lasts about two seconds; there are no mega highways or gridlock. Everyone is easy going and makes you feel that they really care whether you are there or will soon return.
Hotels and convention centres
The grand and stately Hotel Saskatchewan was our home for three nights. A former Fairmont, it had all the trappings of Ottawa’s Chateau Laurier or Edmonton’s Hotel Macdonald. Bedrooms were spacious and well-appointed. Meeting rooms were very elegant. The Delta Regina is attractive, very functional and conducive to association or corporate meetings.
The Brandt Centre at Evraz Place on the outskirts of the city is huge, and I would recommend it for exhibits, concerts, car shows and such. The spaces would definitely need to be dressed up. There are six indoor skating rinks which were all in full use. There was a large arena which resembled Ricoh Coliseum at Exhibition Place whose roof could be raised in case of future expansion. Mosaic Stadium, located opposite Evraz is home to the Saskatchewan Roughriders, and packed at every game.
For off-site events, there are a number of options – most requiring little red tape. Spacious office atriums, Victoria Park with the daily Saturday farmer’s market and stage are located just opposite Hotel Saskatchewan. The Crave Kitchen and Wine Bar, consisting of attractive dining rooms of various sizes is housed in a former men-only business club dating back to the early 1920s and, according to all whom we met, the place is haunted!
The Willow on Wascana, a smart restaurant featuring local produce for their creative and delicious cuisine is situated on the banks of a hand-dug lake (created as a make-work project in the 30s) in beautiful Wascana Park. This is North America’s largest urban park and three times the size of Central Park in NYC. The RCMP Heritage Centre has an interesting museum, shop and space for between 180 and 300 people depending upon set-up. The Mackenzie Art Gallery can easily hold about 130 people for an elegant sit-down meal and has a beautiful gallery and shop. First Nations’ cuisine is not difficult to find. Government House former residence of the lieutenant-governor of the Northwest Territories and then a vice regal residence until 1944 has an interesting history and beautiful space. The Saskatchewan Science Centre and Imax Theatre offer fun and interactivity at any event. The historic Union Train Station, also boasting a ghost, houses the present Casino.
Our visit coincided with the Craven Country and Western Jamboree attended by over 30,000 people. Thousands of white mobile homes stretched out behind the stands and fairground as far as the eye could see. The huge stage rocked with musical talent from all across North America. VIP tents were set up on the perimeter for private groups.
We couldn’t leave Regina without a prairie experience. A short drive from the city, bright yellow canola fields stretch as far as the eye can see. We visited an organic orchard in a verdant valley where cherry bushes, specially developed at the University of Regina can survive the severe prairie weather, each producing up to 60 pounds of fruit. The visit was followed by a pitchfork fondue and cherry products. For your next family BBQ simply skewer about 15 man-size steaks onto each of the four prongs of a pitchfork and plunge into a large vat of boiling oil. Dead easy!