The Mall

The Mall

FTLComm - Regina - Sunday, October 19, 2003
Saturday, I had the opportunity to spend several hours in what was once Saskatchewan's most impressive shopping mall and we need to think about this phenomena. Regina is a small prairie city which had about half of its present population when the development of shopping malls began. The Golden Mile was one of the first in the city followed shortly by the Northgate and later the Southland with other shopping centres springing up in the quickly developing suburbs. As this process began to take shape, the downtown of the city, was having problems, as Regina is not the sort of heavy duty main office for corporate Canada and its retail outlets were old and of another era. Those retail outlets were replaced with a new Bay and the centre of the city was all but dead.

To bring it back to life the Cornwall Centre was built with Eatons (now occupied by the Bay) anchoring one side and Sears the other. Scarth street was built over and in front of the mall, Scarth Street between Eleventh and Twelieth was shut down to traffic. Large parkaids and a new hotel sort of polished off the project, with a four screen movie theatre and there were customers.

The world doesn't stand still and Regina, just like Saskatoon, began a cycle of growth in population while at the same time rural Saskatchewan underwent extreme depopulation. The small towns of Saskatchewan were struggling just keep their elevators and many went on to lose their schools as well. Two factors had kicked in at once, the extreme problems with agricultural marketing, which have not gone away and the remarkable growth in population of Sasktchewan's aboriginal population, who needed a place to live as they moved from the poverty and lack of housing on the reservations.

But there was more. Woolworths, the monster retail chain, which had formed the anchor stores for the North and South Malls was about to submerge and Wal-Mart took over the chain's Woolco stores. As the pressure grew in rural Saskatchewan, Regina and Saskatoon began the process of raiding the retail markets of all of the province's smaller centres. The largest population in the rural part of Saskatchewan is in the South East and Regina's retail market moved and expanded at the end of Victoria Avenue. Now most of Regina's retail trade is East of the Ring Road and the equally remarkable development on the North West. Even the Superstore shut down its centre of the city operation and opened two new outlets, one on the East and one in the North West.
Regina has changed in less than a decade and the Cornwall Centre and the large mall at the centre of Saskatoon, share the same problem, their little cities have grown out.

There is a chance that the era of the mall may have been the eighties. Though it is pretty close in time to see it with any real persepctive, but the large city malls were successful in the eighties and may now be heading toward the inner city gloom that targeted the same area in the late sixties.

We need to really reflect on what the mall is all about before it passes into dimming memory.

The ultimate shopping mall is of course the West Edmonton Mall and we will have a story on this web site about the Mall of America in a few weeks. These huge retail markets are quite a bit more than a place to get the things we need. The mall is both a noun and a verb because what we think of as the mall is decidedly related to the consumer society. It is also a place where architects and retailers have invested a great deal of effort into making the environment a place to go just for recreation.

Canadian malls like this one, Polo Park and St. Vital in Winnipeg present the visitor with an enviroment that is both attractive, but also combines almost every aspect of entertainment. One of the contrasting things we saw in the Minneapolis Mall of America was that there seemed to be less recreation and more actual shopping, but that is a pretty subjective thing.
When this mall was constructed it was decided to preserve one of the bank store fronts as part of the mall's design. I quite vividly remember seeing news boys selling papers in front of the edifice that now stands in front of this escalator.

The food court is a confusing sort of fast food thing found in every larger mall. I had spent almost $10 on stuff that might have been food and was gazing back with the $1.13 cookie stand just off the right of this scene and the clerk in the jewelery outlet staring vacantly between two signs. This to me says something about this mall and the mall experience. It had potential and may still have potential but it just might be that its hayday is over.
The composite picture above shows the excellent interior design of this setting. The light is reflecting off of the gold tinted windows of the SGI building lighting the Metalsmiths space with only one shopper struggling with a kid and the two clerks seen first on the right then on the left in the scene.

This was a Saturday, the main shopping day of the week and yet the level of customers was less than overwhelming. I noticed that the interconnecting walkway from the Cornwall Centre to the Midtown Galleria was closed and the shoppers were not loaded down with purchased goods but were indeed "just looking."

The theatre is now closed as Regina's cinema scene has changed a great deal in the past decade with second run theatres opening and it looks like this one, with out free parking, lost its customers.

In this picture we see the cracked pavement of Eleventh Avenue, At one time this was the "big city" Simpson store on the right, Kresges, the old Drake Hotel. Things change, the market place is fluid, there is eBay to contend with, direct shopping online and more diversified entertainment that has robbed ambling around a shopping mall as a thing to do on a Saturday afternoon.

Timothy W. Shire


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Editor : Timothy W. Shire
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