|1891 - 1945||The House is the residence of the Lieutenant Governor 1905 Saskatchewan purchases Saskatchewan House from Dominion Government|
|1945||Furniture and other articles from the House are auctioned off|
|1946 - 1957||The House is a Veterans Affairs convalescent home (federal government lease)|
|1958 - 1978||The House is the Centre for Continuous Learning, Dept. of Education and later a Vocational Centre|
|1971||The Province declares Saskatchewan House an ""historic site and protected area"|
|1978 - 1980||The House is renovated and restored|
|1980||Official opening of restored Government House|
|1984||Government House becomes home to Lieutenant Governor's Offices|
|2005||Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, officially opens Queen Elizabeth II Wing. Coquette's opens. The J.E.N. Wiebe Interpretative Centre on the Crown opens.|
1969 – 1980: Efforts to Preserve the House Prior to the Creation of GHHS
In 1891, when the newly completed Government House was ready for occupancy by the Lieutenant Governor of the North West Territories, Joseph Royal and family, it was an elegant residence. However, by the late 1960s Saskatchewan House was in a state of disrepair, with rumours circulating about its potential demolition. Concerned local organizations including the Regina Chamber of Commerce (Oct. 1967), IODE (Nov. 1968), and Local Council of Women (Dec. 1968) presented briefs to the government. The Council of Women organized the first official meeting of the Saskatchewan House Committee in October 1969, with representation from the Chamber of Commerce, Plains Museum and Architects Association.
In November of that year the government indicated that it had no plans to dispose of the House and would appoint a representative to the Saskatchewan House Committee. The following Committee goals were established: to halt further deterioration or alterations of Saskatchewan House; to stop further sales of original furniture; and to develop specific plans for restoration.
The IODE and the City of Regina named representatives to the Committee. Possible uses of the House were discussed, such as making it a home for the Plains Museum, a site for summer plays, or an art gallery.
In 1970 the Committee presented a brief to the Minister of Public Works, but a change of minister caused delay. By March 1971 a Saskatchewan Government Order-in-Council declared Saskatchewan House be designated an historical site. However, the government made no financial commitment toward its restoration.
In early 1971 the Committee forwarded proposals to the government for the administration and use of Saskatchewan House, including plans for a summer program to celebrate Saskatchewan Homecoming 1971. However, the June 1971 election brought about a change of government and plans for the summer events were cancelled.
On July 9, 1971, the Saskatchewan House Committee was incorporated as the Society for the Preservation of Saskatchewan House, with Glen Stinson as President, Ruth Hunt as Vice President, Lyn Goldman as Secretary, and W. L. Brown as Treasurer. Over the next few years the Society continued its efforts despite numerous disappointments, with responsibility for Saskatchewan House shuffling between three different government departments. Finally the March 1974 provincial budget announced that Saskatchewan House would be renovated and operated as a Prairie History Museum.
However, more waiting occurred over the next two years. Early in 1976 the Society wrote to the Premier, requesting that alternative accommodation be arranged for the Vocational School so that restoration of the House could proceed. Almost a year later, in May 1977, assistance came in the form of a Leader-Post editorial by reporter James Roe, who recounted the previous decade of efforts on the part of the Society. Roe was outspoken in the article, describing guarantees for restoration of the House as frustrated “by a tangled tale of bureaucratic foot-dragging, buck-passing and intergovernmental misunderstandings.” Public interest generated by the editorial prompted the government to act; the Society was subsequently assured that suitable space for the Vocational School would be found, and that 1980, Saskatchewan’s 75th anniversary, was the goal for completion of the House restoration. Consequently, in early 1978, the Department of Culture and Youth assumed responsibility for the House and retained the services of BLM Architects to assess the state of the House and make detailed plans for its restoration.
On September 4, 1980, in conjunction with the celebration of the province’s 75th anniversary, Lieutenant Governor Irwin McIntosh opened the restored House, now called “Government House.” In 1981, as a result of the restoration, the Society for the Preservation of Saskatchewan House changed its name to Government House Historical Society, Inc.
1980 – 1991: Promoting the Role of the House
The Society next began to lobby for the restored House to accommodate the offices of the Lieutenant Governor. Honourable F.W. Johnson, installed as Lieutenant Governor in 1983, supported the movement. On Dominion Day in 1984, the vice-regal offices at Government House officially opened, and the Lieutenant Governor, after an absence of over forty years, once again conducted business out of offices in the House.
During this period, the fewer than one hundred members of the Society were kept busy attracting visitors to and fund raising for the House and its grounds. In A Quarter Century with Government House, author Dr. Michael Jackson indicates that Government House was, at that time, managed by the government department responsible for heritage, whose expertise and interest lay in museums, not in a hospitality facility or in vice-regal offices. Problems for the House were exacerbated by an inadequate operating budget. Jackson credits the Historical Society as “crucial in keeping Government House viable during its first decade as a heritage property”.
With the 100th anniversary of Government House approaching in 1991, the Historical Society began planning celebrations to mark the occasion. A committee of Society volunteers was charged with fund raising to support publishing promotional material for the House, sponsoring Centennial events at the House, and for capital projects such as a Society-run gift shop.
1991: Honouring the Centenary of the House
The Victorian Tea Room, initially a pilot project begun in December 1990, operated weekend afternoons. Because of its popularity it continued to operate during the following year, with teas held almost every second summer weekend. Coffee, a selection of teas, and baked goods prepared on-site were served. This project, convened by Marge Ewart and Betty Westmoreland, two volunteer hostesses, four volunteer servers, and one volunteer cashier, served about fifty guests per day.
Besides teas, a variety of other events attracted the public to the House. More than twenty special activities and fund raisers were sponsored by the Society during the centennial – events as varied as a `murder mystery’ dinner, a fashion show, a lace exhibit, a Heritage Day event and a formal ball. One of the most memorable events of 1991 was the Centennial Picnic, held on a Sunday afternoon in late September. Hugh Benham, Chairman of the Centennial Committee, claimed the Historical Society wanted to celebrate the Centenary with an event “that would allow the public to visit the house and experience the special atmosphere that might have prevailed in earlier times.”
Assisted by RCMP in historic uniforms, Lieutenant Governor Sylvia Fedoruk acted as official host to guests, many in period costume, who were treated to song and dance performances by various ethnic groups, six of Regina’s musical organizations, plus individual buskers and fiddlers. Magicians, photographers and demonstrators of historic handcrafts crowded the grounds where Little Theatre members impersonated historical figures of the time, horse drawn carriages provided rides, and foods of the Edwardian era were served.
In November 1991 a book launch celebrated the release of A Tower of Attraction, An Illustrated History of Government House. Written by Margaret Hryniuk and edited by Government House manager Garth Pugh, the publication was funded by GHHS and a provincial grant. This book provided a lasting record in text and picture of the first 100 years of Government House.
At this time, school programs were advertised jointly by Saskatchewan Culture, Multiculturalism and Recreation and Government House. For most programs, a fee of $1.00 per child was paid to the Historical Society, which enabled programs for primary grade children and some for students in grades four to nine to be offered.
1990 – 1991: Turmoil Behind the Scenes
In order to increase the type of programming and number of events drawing visitors to the House, more Board members were needed. A bylaw change allowed the Board of Directors to be increased. President Paul Bourassa, Past President Joan Church, Vice-President Ann Sudom, Honourary Director Ruth Hunt, Ex-officio Garth Pugh (House Manager), Les Donnelly, Glen Stinson, and Peggy Leach were joined by twelve new members.
Increasing concerns that the House was underfunded, unappreciated and underutilized led the GHHS Board to suggest that the Society assume management of the museum and ballroom. In July 1990, a brief proposed that the government continue to own the property and be consulted in matters relating to operation, development and promotion of the House, but that the Society be responsible for day-to-day management of the site, with a yearly operating grant from government. Over six months passed with no formal response to this proposal.
On February 19, 1991, government abolished all staff positions at Government House, except that of the manager. That same day, the government requested that the Society take over management of the House six weeks later, on April 1, 1991, rather than April 1, 1992, as originally proposed.
After hastily called meetings, the Society concluded that it was unable to assume operation of the House on such short notice, but was willing to consider a later date. The Society was able to pressure the government into extending abolished positions, allowing time for negotiations to proceed and assurance to be obtained that, for the interim, the House would remain open.
Over the next six months, a committee of the Society Board, known as the “Transition Committee,” was involved in negotiations regarding arrangements for the House, including discussions about financial assistance from government, building maintenance and government consultation.
The Early 1990s: A Plan Emerges
The transition plan for the transfer of responsibility for Government House to the Government House Historical Society, proposed under the previous government, was abandoned when the provincial government changed in late 1991. The new government was much more interested in increasing the budget for Government House, which allowed for better maintenance of the House generally and development of the conservatory. However, the situation was not ideal.
Direction regarding management and evolution of the House was vested in a complicated structure of five different government departments and agencies. Even with increases in the operating budget, adequate funding remained a concern. A Management Committee was formed, with a mandate to examine financing, management and uses of Government House, and to develop a long-range vision and financial plan. Initially, GHHS was not represented on this Management Committee; Society concerns were relayed to the Management Committee by the House Manager, Peggy Brunsdon.
The Society was represented on the Collections Advisory Committee, which advised Government House staff regarding collection needs and donation guidelines. However, the Society’s major volunteer project was the Victorian Tea Room. In addition, a Tea Room Boutique was arranged and managed by Sheila Carson, who had become an active volunteer. Connie Van Dusen and Janice Routley became involved during this time and later became long-term Board members. A summer family picnic and the first of many volunteer appreciation events began during this period.
By 1993, GHHS, with just under two hundred members, was sponsoring events that required an average of three hundred volunteer hours per month. With more than $15,000 raised, the Society began the redevelopment of the Government House Grounds. Assisting with GHHS sponsored events were Rotary Club volunteers, Friends of the Regina Exhibition, and IODE members. A heritage fashion show, co-sponsored by the Regina Plains Museum, brought many visitors to the House, and a pre-Christmas children’s shopping day proved popular. In addition, school programs attracted young people to the House, and provided revenue for the Society.
A strategic plan, developed for the years 1993-1999, adopted the following mission statement: “The Government House Historical Society is constituted to improve and enhance the public appreciation and use of Government House as a museum, in conjunction with other public and private agencies with parallel objectives.”
1994 saw the official opening of the Once Upon A Time Children’s Gallery, which provided a ‘hands-on’ educational experience for daycare, kindergarten and primary grade children, allowing them to experience what life was like for children of the previous century.
1995 – 2000: Consolidation and Growth
With the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II approaching, the redevelopment of the Netherlands Liberation Memorial Garden became a priority of the Society. A donation by The Netherlands Consulate and the Canadian Department of Defense enabled Society volunteers to plant 5706 red tulip bulbs. In May 1995, with the flowers in full bloom, a ceremony was held to rededicate the garden and to dedicate the F. W. Johnson Walk, named in honour of former Lieutenant Governor, the late Frederick W. Johnson.
In 1995 the position of Volunteer Coordinator for the Society was created through the assistance of a grant (renewed annually five times) from the Heritage Branch of Municipal Affairs. Initially, the Volunteer Coordinator focused on tea room activities, but over time, this focus expanded to include involvement with the Once Upon A Time Room, the Gift Shop, the Antiquities Show (first held in 1996) and the Family Picnic, which saw 3000 attendees in 1996. That same year a Society representative was appointed to the Government House Management Committee, ending the practice of channelling GHHS input through the House Manager.
A comprehensive Communications Plan, drafted in 1998 by Board member LeRoy Bidlo, addressed the visibility and marketing of Government House, as well as the Society’s relationship to the House and the need to broaden membership. This plan resulted in increased promotional efforts by GHHS. Despite the challenges of working with government bureaucracy, during the latter years of the century the Society continued sponsoring the Victorian Tea Room, the Gift Shop, the Antiquities, Artifacts and Art Event, the Old Fashioned Picnic, a Children’s Shopping Day, and Government House garden projects.
2001 – 2012: Into the Twenty-first Century
After 2000, the twelve-member GHHS Board, chaired by long-time president, Sheila Carson, together with a cadre of hardworking Society members and volunteers, continued to sponsor all of the previously established programs and activities.
As an outcome of the Bidlo Communications Plan, the Society devoted more of its energy into marketing the House by producing an informational CD ROM about Government House in 2001. As well, GHHS participated in the filming of a seven-part series by Access Communications about Government House. During this time the Society continued sponsoring established activities, redesigned the Ceremonial Flag Garden, including the installation of IODE donated flag poles, continued to repatriate items to the House that were sold at an auction held in 1945, and introduced the pre-Christmas Dickens Singers concerts.
Special activities of the Society in 2002 included working with government organizers to host a public picnic at Government House to mark the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. The following year saw the launch of the GHHS newsletter, The Portico. Besides providing Society-related information, the newsletter cooperates with the Government House Foundation to keep readers informed of the progress of fund-raising and construction of the new Queen Elizabeth II Wing, to which GHHS had donated $30,000.
2005, the province’s centennial, brought a number of memorable events for the Society. A special occasion this year was the May visit by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, who officially opened the new wing of Government House, an event attended by many members and volunteers. Another important highlight in 2005, and the realization of a long-standing dream of the Society, was the opening of the GHHS gift shop, Coquette’s, in a space across from the main entrance of the newly expanded Government House.
What of the Future?
A consistent mission of Government House Historical Society, as this account has shown, is the preservation and enhancement of this historic Saskatchewan jewel. After years of uncertainty, management issues and inadequate funding, today the building stands more proudly than ever, ready to reveal its story to those interested in its past and its future.
Integral to that future are the Board, the members and the volunteers who make up the Government House Historical Society.
Some of the Society’s priorities is the desire to increase membership in the Society, to provide sufficient volunteers to ensure the continuation of society-sponsored programs and events, and to assess marketing strategies aimed at increasing public awareness of Government House and all that it represents.
With preservation and restoration of the House secure, thanks to the efforts of so many over the years, Government House continues to hold its rightful place in Saskatchewan as an interactive, living museum and heritage destination.