by Dave Yanko
Airports, seaports and train stations have a certain feel to them
that you just don't get in other places where human beings congregate.
Leaving, arriving and returning can kindle strong emotions.
|- images courtesy Casino Regina
|Casino Regina, in the former Union Station.
When you pass through the antique brass doors into the central hall of Casino Regina, you can't help but feel the buzz of an enterprise designed to stimulate excitement. But the excitement's underscored by the casino's setting in Regina's former Union Station railway depot.
The building's past is evident. In front of the grand tyndall-
and ashlar-stone structure sits a handsome old steam locomotive
with a passenger car (turned V.I.P. lounge) nearby. Inside, positioned
prominently on a wall in the central hall, is a schedule board displaying
the arrivals and departures on the day the train station closed
back in 1990. The central hall itself, formerly the station's "grand
concourse'', features a high ceiling with elegantly simple chandeliers
and an all-important clock near the top of the feature wall. It's
a place that had grace, substance and excitement long before its
$37 million transition to casino was completed in time for the grand
opening in 1996. And today, those old vibes mingle agreeably with
the new ones.
|The former grand concourse is the casino's central hall
There's everything here for the gaming patron including hundreds
of slots, a well appointed and popular poker room (with tournaments
that draw from all over North America) and a new craps table that's
boosting the excitement level in the central hall. There's big-name
entertainers at the 800-seat Show Lounge and reasonably-priced meals
in The Last Spike and Rail Car restaurants, as well as in the CPR
Lounge. And now, regularly scheduled Union Station historic tours
add another attraction to the package.
"One of the reasons we do the tour is because it's part of an entertainment experience,'' says Casino Regina's Greg Laroque. "Like the Show Lounge, like the restaurant or gaming: it's all entertainment experience."
Apparently that approach is working. Casino Regina is the No. 1
tourist attraction in Saskatchewan and among the top casinos in
The historic tour, which costs $10 per person, provides highlights
of the building's (and Regina's) colourful past and some interesting
glimpses into the operation of the casino (not to mention some curious
tidbits on the casino's resident ghosts. But more on that in a minute).
Union Station was constructed in 1911-12 and was actually Regina's
third train station—the first is now a museum in Broadview,
Saskatchewan. The station was completed the same year the deadly
"Regina Cyclone" walloped the city, tearing through Wascana Park
and gutting part of the downtown area—it's now believed to
have been an F4 tornado. Among the many volunteers removing debris
and searching for survivors following the storm was a young, struggling
actor named Boris Karloff. Karloff tried to launch a theatrical
company in Regina before landing in Hollywood and gaining fame as
"Frankenstein" and "The Master of Horror."
One of the old railway police jail cells in the basement of Casino
Regina now serves as an historical photograph gallery illustrating
Regina's history through images of the tornado damage, the Regina
Riot and one of the huge mounds of buffalo bones that gave Regina
its early moniker "Pile of Bones". Outside the gallery, a section
of the bright subterranean hallway that runs the length of the building
is festooned with a shipment of new slot machines. Laroque says
the casino each year turns over about 20 per cent of the devices
in an effort to replace older and less popular ones, and to keep
the experience fresh for patrons.
Spain, Austria and Australia are some of the countries that manufacture slot machines. "But of course most,'' our tour guide tells us, "come from Reno and Las Vegas."
One of many other doorways off this long conduit leads to a tunnel
representing a system of underground passages said to stretch several
blocks east of the casino and south all the way to the stately Hotel
Saskatchewan. Precisely how these tunnels were used is anyone's
guess. But it's likely not too big a stretch to assume they were
used for illegal activities, perhaps rum running during prohibition,
for one. And there are rumours—just rumours, mind you—that
Chicago gangster Al Capone was familiar with Regina and her tunnel
system. Casino Moose Jaw, Casino Regina's partner facility located
about 40 minutes west of The Queen City, has benefited from Moose
Jaw's famous tunnels and the stories that connect them to U.S. and
A popular stop on the tour is the "Green Room", the backstage quarters
for entertainers performing at the Show Lounge. If the Green Room
is occupied, you're likely out of luck. If it's not, it's a great
place to gain a quick appreciation for the quality (and quantity!)
of talent Casino Regina brings to the city—the white-walled
hallway where entertainers leave their signatures and comments is
fast filling up with script. Some who've graced the stage here include
Jann Arden, Buffy Sainte-Marie, George Fox, Rory Allen,
Chubby Checker, Michael Burgess, Nazareth, Oakridge Boys, Brent
Butt… the list goes on and on. And on.
And oh yes, the ghosts…
In spite of all of the changes to the former Union Station, Casino
Regina remains home, or so it's said, to at least two ghosts. Some
people claim to have seen a male apparition in one of the jail cells
downstairs, while others have spied a female phantom on the catwalk
above the gaming floor in the central hall. In fact, patrons playng
the craps table are tossing dice right below that catwalk. Who knows,
maybe the mysterious lady is Luck.
For up-to-date information on special events and entertainment
at Casino Regina and Casino Moose Jaw, visit their Web
site. To find out more about the Union Station Historic Tour,
see CNTtours. To see what's on
at the Show Lounge give this
a click. And by the way, have you ever wondered how to play craps?
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