If you have a thing for European-inspired traditions, take a detour to Regina on your next North American road trip. Set squarely among Canada's most agricultural province -- a vast expanse that was once part of the Northwest Territories -- Saskatchewan's capital is all about traditions.
You might expect to find a fast-and-loose cowboy town out here, which is true a few hundred miles south and across the U.S. border in Montana. But here, in Canada's prairie, everything is done with a distinct British flair, from the regal Government House to the unexpectedly stately capitol building, to the intriguing Royal Canadian Mounted Police "Depot" division, where every Mountie is trained.
Hail to the queen
One of a handful of historic buildings to survive the Depression, both World Wars and the march of time is the Government House. Built in 1891, it was once the official residence of the Lieutenant Governor of the Northwest Territories.
Oh, and there's a monkey. More on that in a minute.
The building is currently a mixed-use heritage site. Part of the building housing the business offices of the current lieutenant governor of Saskatchewan. The residential spaces have been restored to appear like the Government House at the turn of the 20th Century. The kids flew from room to room with one purpose in mind, to find former Lieutenant Governor Amédée Forget's capuchin monkey, Jocko.
Jocko had free reign of the building when the Lieutenant Governor was in charge back in 1905. Today, a stuffed monkey doll is hidden in one of the rooms, much to the delight of the kids who visit. You can hear their thrilled giggles once they've spotted it.
For our family, it was also a lesson in civics. In Canada, the lieutenant governors are the representative of the Queen herself, residing in each province. It isn't unusual for Saskatchewan in particular to have a visit from the queen, this part of the former Northwest Territory is often referred to as "The Queen City." That and the fact "regina" is latin for queen.
The center of government
Deep in the heart of Wascana Park and along the shores of the man-made Wascana Lake, you can find the Saskatchewan Legislative Building. The lake was first excavated in 1889 to provide water for parts of the city and the legislative building, but was an immediate hit as a recreation park.
With circular paths and arched bridges, it remains a popular outdoor park. If you're traveling with kids, take some time to run around and enjoy the gardens before visiting the legislature.
It's the largest capitol building in Canada and a symbol of British parliamentary democracy and provincial identity. We've made it a point to tour almost every capitol building we come close to, as a result this one topped our Saskatchewan bucket list.
The oversized copper-domed building echoes with polished marble stretching above and below. The impressive structure was built between 1908 and 1912 to house the Legislative Assembly of the province of Saskatchewan, a serious undertaking. Here, you'll see more than a hint of Saskatchewan's British heritage, from the formal artwork and sculptures to the legislative chamber, modeled after those in the British Parliament in London.
Our kids were asking where the second chamber could be found, in line with the U.S. system. "There's just one," our tour guide explained. Speaking of traditions, one of our favorite exhibits was the collection of portraits of Indian chiefs who were a part of the original settlement, better known in Canada as the First Nations.
The redcoats are coming
Regina is the training headquarters for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), better known as the Canadian Mounties. It was created as a military police force to help bring order to the raucous Northwestern Territories. They wore red coats to distinguish themselves from American troops and Stetson hats to protect themselves from the sun. The RCMP upholds a tradition of maintaining the peace and protecting citizens, no matter how they get around.
We visited the RCMP Heritage Centre, which has exhibits and multimedia displays that explain the RCMP's origins. If you want to know more about the uniforms they wore, the way they traveled around before roads were built, or how their role in keeping the peace has changed, you'll find it here. You can even dress up as a Mountie.
If you're lucky, you'll time your visit so you can view the midday practice parade at the neighboring RCMP Academy, Depot Division, the training center that produces all of today's future Mounties.
For American visitors who may not know much about Canada (we admit, that was us!), Regina can be an unexpected discovery in the middle of a vast windblown province. But if you're taking a cross-country trip, as we were, all the pieces of the puzzle start to fit together. It's just one of the unexpected discoveries you make out here, and at a time you're least expecting to make it.