The Saskatchewan Legislative Building is one of the most historic properties in all of Saskatchewan, and one of the province’s greatest achievements. Constructed from 1908 to 1912, it truly represents the spirit of the province and its people.
When construction of the Legislative Building began in 1908, it was more than simply stone on stone; it marked the building of a dream. Today, the Legislative Building continues to stand as a testament to the spirit of a new province and its people, and their hope for a bright future. That pioneer spirit has never wavered, and, for over 100 years, the Saskatchewan Legislative Building has played a vital role in the life of the community and the life of the province.
The building is the seat of government where the laws of the province are introduced, debated, and passed. But the building represents more than that. It is a vital link, through tourism and education, to the heritage of the province.
The Early Years - Design and Construction
The first home for the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan was the Northwest Territorial Government Buildings, on Dewdney Avenue in Regina. There were three buildings, the Administration Building, the Legislative Building, and the Indian Office. Walter Scott, premier of the day, and his government immediately saw the limitations of the Territorial Legislative Building. They decided it was time for a new Legislative Building, one that would serve as a monument to what they hoped their new province would become. Discussions began in 1905 regarding the creation of such a building.
Location of the new Legislative Building became quite a controversy; city fathers favoured Town Park on the north side of the creek, where the soundstage is now located. Victoria Park in the city’s central core was also considered, but Scott had already turned his attention to the 66 hectares on the south side of Wascana Creek. The government proceeded to purchase the old Sinton property from the McCallum Hill Company for just over $96,000.
A competition was then held to choose an architectural firm for the project. Seven leading architectural firms were selected, including one each from the United States, Great Britain, Saskatchewan, and from elsewhere in Canada.
The winning firm, from Montreal, E. & W.S. Maxwell, drew up the plans, which were then carried out by another Montreal firm, Peter Lyall & Sons. The Maxwell design mixes architectural styles: English Renaissance represented by St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, the French Beaux-Arts tradition found in the Palace of Versailles and Les Invalides in Paris.
They designed the building in the shape of a cross with its most important room at the centre. Above the central chamber (Rotunda), the Maxwell design includes a distinctive dome that to this day remains a familiar landmark.
In 1908, a spur line (a type of secondary track used by railroads) was built between the sight of the building and the south bank of Wascana Lake. Through the summer and early fall, carloads of cement and other construction materials arrived daily.
Construction began on August 31, 1908, with the initial driving of the concrete piling for the foundation. Construction of the steel reinforced concrete frame began in March of 1909.
Originally, the proposed facing for the building was red brick and pale bluff stone, but at the request of Premier Scott, the exterior walls were faced with the cream-coloured Tyndall stone from Manitoba.
The framework up to the drum base of the dome was completed by October 4, 1909. On that day, the Governor General of Canada, His Excellency Earl Grey laid the cornerstone at the grand entrance.
The first government departments were able to move into the enclosed west wing of the building in 1910, at a time when the rest of the building was still under construction.
The first session of the Legislative Assembly was held in the reading room of the Legislative Library on January 11, 1911. The session opened in the Post Office Building on Scarth Street on December 15, 1910, then immediately adjourned to re-open in the new Legislative Building. The Legislative Assembly met for the first time in their new chamber on January 25, 1912.
His Royal Highness, the Duke of Connaught, dedicated the building at an extravagant official opening ceremony complete with fireworks, flags waving, and beautiful decorations along the city streets.
The final cost of construction of the Saskatchewan Legislative Building in 1912 was $1.8 million.
Major Developments Since 1912
1978: the Saskatchewan Legislative Building was the first building in Saskatchewan to be designated a provincial heritage property.
1997: an emergency rehabilitation of the Legislative Building began, which was completed in 2001. The project addressed major structural deficiencies to stabilize the building’s foundation. In that same year there were upgrades to the building’s safety components and accessibility standards. Accessibility upgrades included the construction of the Prince of Wales entrance.
2005: the Legislative Building was designated a national historic site.
2014: in May, a rehabilitation of the Legislative Building’s iconic dome began. The project addressed repairs or replacement of damaged Tyndall Stone, replacement of the copper façade, and a new water management system. The project was estimated to cost $15 million and be completed by December 2015. Unforeseen issues with the concrete required a re-design of the wooden structure. The delay extended the length of time the massive crane needed to be on site along with skilled workers. The project was complete by May 2016 at a cost of $21 million.
2015: a rehabilitation of the exterior grand staircase began. The project addressed masonry concerns, water and environmental damage as well as the steel structure underneath. More work on the stairs took place over the summer and fall of 2016.