A bright past and even brighter future for Darke Hall

By Dale Johnson Posted: February 18, 2016 9:30 a.m.

Darke Hall was built in 1928 as Regina's performing arts centre - and now is undergoing refurbishing.
Darke Hall was built in 1928 as Regina's performing arts centre - and now is undergoing refurbishing. Photo: U of R Photography

The man behind Darke Hall was a community-minded person who thought Regina needed a performing arts centre in the 1920s – and he backed up his idea with a large donation. Francis Nicholson Darke probably could not image that Darke Hall would remain a city landmark almost a century later – and be undergoing a renaissance as part of the College Avenue Campus Renewal Project.

Francis Darke was born on a farm near Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, in 1863 and moved to Regina when he was 29 years old.

Darke head
Francis Darke donated $124,185 for Darke Hall. (Photo courtesy of City of Regina Archives)
He bought a small butcher shop on Scarth St. north of 11th Ave. – where the Cornwall Centre now is located – and business was booming. Darke served on city council for seven years and in 1898 he was elected as Regina’s youngest mayor at the age of 35. He began investing in real estate and when he was 40 years old, he retired from daily business and focused his energies on the cultural life of Regina. 

Darke was one of the early supporters of Regina College, the forerunner of the University of Regina. He contributed $85,000 and then raised another $40,000 for the establishment of Regina College. He served on the board of governors of Regina College for 24 years and contributed $124,185 for Darke Hall, originally known as the Music and Art Building.

At the opening ceremonies, on January 6, 1929, the Regina Daily Post newspaper reported that at the dedication, Chief Justice J.T. Brown referred to Darke Hall as: “a building so beautiful, inside and out, in its architecture that he who sees it must stand in admiration. Yet, it is not more magnificent or noble than the spirit of the donor in making the rich gift.”

Darke Hall was Regina’s main concert hall and home of the Regina Symphony Orchestra until 1970, when the Saskatchewan Center of the Arts, now the Conexus Arts Centre, opened. During the Depression, free concerts for the unemployed were given at Darke Hall. Countless students who studied music and the arts in Regina since 1929 learned, practiced and performed there.

And now, after more than 85 years, Darke Hall is getting ready for the future. It’s already used for a variety of performances, including the Regina JazzFest and the Regina Folk Festival. And starting in 2015, a new generation of performers from the South Saskatchewan Youth Orchestra and Do it with Class Young People’s Theatre began using Darke Hall for their performances.
Thanks to such community support, it’s being restored to its original beauty, while incorporating the latest technologies and features. As part of the College Avenue Campus Renewal Project, Darke Hall will be fully restored and revitalized, strengthening the University of Regina’s connection to the larger community, and continuing to educate learners and leaders.