January 6 marks 92nd anniversary of inaugural concert at Darke Hall

By University Advancement and Communications Posted: January 6, 2021 10:00 a.m.

Darke Hall held its inaugural concert on January 6, 1929. Francis Nicholson Darke built it to be a temple to the arts and a centre for cultural activity.
Darke Hall held its inaugural concert on January 6, 1929. Francis Nicholson Darke built it to be a temple to the arts and a centre for cultural activity. Photo: U of R Photography

Ninety-two years ago today, hundreds of people were treated to the first concert ever performed at what was then Regina's premiere performance venue and new architectural marvel, Darke Hall.

That inaugural concert on January 6, 1929, and the countless others that followed, were made possible by the vision of prominent Regina business-owner and politician, Francis Nicholson Darke and architect J.H Puntin.

Darke imagined a venue that would serve the community, and for almost a hundred years it did just that, playing host to musicians, actors, and dancers. Soon, the sights and sounds of that legacy will live on as the Darke Hall renovations, which were part of the College Avenue Campus Renewal Project, near completion.

"This project is possible due to the support from the countless donors, project partners and champions within the community," said Lisa Mitchell, Associate Vice-President of University Advancement and Communications. "It's really exciting to see this revitalization project breathe new life into a building that has meant so much to the people of Regina throughout it's long and distinguished history and will now continue to serve the generations to come."

Regina-based architectural firm P3A was tasked with leading the renewal process. Project Architect Kate Jackson said the team has concluded all the work "people won't see" such as installing a new HVAC system and finishing the electrical work and is now focused on the final details such as plaster repair and specialty paint finishing to match the original colours of Darke Hall.

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The work to revitalize Darke Hall is ongoing. It would not have been possible without the support
of donors and project partners. Photos: U of R Photography

Completing the architectural upgrades while adhering to the original esthetic - all while in the middle of a pandemic - was no easy task, but it was one that was embraced by P3A. As Jackson noted, everyone at their office plus several consulting and construction partners - over 150 people in total - had a hand in the project.

"It has been both exciting and terrifying," Jackson said. "There is a certain amount of diligence it requires of you as a designer to ensure you're making the best decisions for all of the people that interact with the building. We've had to keep in mind that with this project, we are doing it for the people that care about heritage, for the people that will utilize the building, and for the patrons and performers. Balancing that has been a great effort and we have put a lot of care into everything we've done."

"There are many challenges that come with a project of this magnitude given it's historical significance and what it means to all of its patrons," added Dean Tanner, Project Manager with Ledcor, the firm in charge of construction. "We are extremely proud to be a partner on this project and believe the final product will be something everyone can be excited about."

Upon completion, it will look and feel like the original Darke Hall built in the 1920s, but it will very much function as a modern theatre, complete with all new lighting and rigging systems, newly sloped floor, seating with improved sight lines, more accessible spaces, and better acoustics. There is also an atrium link that connects Darke Hall to the Conexus building, permitting full accessibility as well as a crush space not part of the original hall. All of this has been made possible through the University's partnership with Conexus Credit Union members.

"When people visit Darke Hall, they will have a sense of stepping back into the past and be able to feel the connection to the history of the building while embracing what it now has to offer," Jackson said.

The revitalization work itself has been motivated and financially supported by donors whose unflagging belief and generosity has been key. They have all played an integral part in keeping the vision of Francis Darke - the original donor - alive for all patrons and performers to enjoy.

The Darke Hall renovation work will continue through the summer and early fall as we navigate the pandemic and its effects on construction schedules and supply chains. When COVID-19 restrictions permit, a grand reopening of this magnificent 475-seat artistic and cultural hub for Regina will be scheduled. Stay tuned!