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Haunting on College Ave.

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Darke Hall represents Regina’s cultural identity – and we cannot let it die

Author: mac brock – contributor

The spirit of Francis Darke (1863-1940), the generous benefactor of University of Regina College Ave. Campus’ famed Darke Hall, is reputed to enjoy his share of concerts to this day. Over the years, more than a handful of performers and spectators alike have reported sightings of a well-dressed, 1920s gentleman in the red vintage seats of the old venue. But, in recent years, the performances Darke has been able to take in have become fewer and further between. He is far from the only spirit speculated to inhabit the Old Campus, but recently, ghost stories are not the reason Regina is turning its back on its historic concert hall.

The building has not seen renovation or major maintenance repair since an overhaul in the mid-1980s, and its crumbling exterior and creaking interior reflect that fact. In September, amidst a storm of controversy over the University’s maintenance concerns, U of R administration announced a $4 million facelift for Darke Hall, of which $1 million comes from an anonymous private donor and $3 million from a special University renovation fund. The announcement has received mixed reception from students, with many frustrated over the alarming lack of attention to the main campus, particularly after CBC Saskatchewan released a shocking deferred maintenance evaluation figure at $121 per square foot – triple the national average.

Darke Hall has been sparingly used in recent years due to its poor state of repair, and has long been on the brink of demolition. So, why is the University opting to allow its already sparse maintenance budget to be put towards an out-of-date concert venue?

The short answer: we simply cannot afford to lose it. Regina’s dearth of a cultural center has sent too many brilliant up-and-coming artists packing for bigger cities with greener pastures for creative development. A combination of suburban housing booms and downtown crime rates has made Regina victim to the “donut” effect: expansion of the city outwards, and a halt of progress in the centre. The donut effect creates a cultural vacancy where our downtown center should stand tall.

The impact of this gap is far more significant than a potential concert shortage in the city. While Regina lacks a mid-size venue, Saskatoon has no such issue. Saskatoon’s booming Fringe and various performing arts festivals demonstrate our sister city’s unstoppable cultural district, one to which Regina cannot easily compare. Without a comparable creative economy, Regina is suffering from a sobering identity crisis.

Regina’s absence of a suitable mid-size concert venue, places the city at risk of falling off the cultural map in Canada. Though the Artesian on 13th Avenue and the Artful Dodger Cafe on 11th Avenue are home to exciting new independent theatre artists and musicians, they unfortunately do not have the capacity to house larger concert events that come through the Queen City. Darke Hall has been near obsolete for over a decade, but it may be the key to Regina’s Downtown cultural revival.

Do it With Class, the South Saskatchewan Youth Orchestra, the Regina Folk Festival, and Curtain Razors Theatre, among other groups in the city have or will be utilizing Darke Hall as a staple for their programming. These partnerships go beyond a venue rental; they are investments in sustaining Regina’s cultural identity. If we allow these investments to go unsupported, we risk losing something much less replaceable than an ancient brick building on College Avenue. By taking the time to learn more and even attending some of these performances in arguably Regina’s most interesting and beautiful venue, you have the power to support Regina’s talented young artists and creators.

It is time to take a stand for Regina’s illustrious past and bright future. The ghost stories haunting Darke Hall are no longer a precaution – they are a symbol for the lively, bustling creative metropolis that we cannot afford to let die.

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