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Cracks, a 'corkscrewing dome' and falling stone at the Saskatchewan Legislature

It wasn't a good sign when Tyndall stone started falling off the Saskatchewan Legislative Building.

Fixing problems beneath the Saskatchewan Legislative Building added up to $20M repair bill

In 1997, it was discovered that the Saskatchewan Legislature needed $20 million in repairs. 2:02

The chunks of fancy stone that had fallen without warning at the Saskatchewan Legislative Building probably gave some provincial officials a sinking feeling.

Perhaps especially when they learned the province had a $20-million repair bill on its hands, which couldn't be put avoided — in part because the building was both sinking and shifting.

Why? As the CBC's Eric Sorensen explained to viewers, it appeared the Prairie clay underneath the Legislative Building had been shifting for a while and that wasn't going to stop without some substantial repairs.

"Just how urgent the problem is became apparent when big chunks of Tyndall stone began to fall off the building recently," he reported on The National on March 24, 1997.

'The wings of the building are moving'

Cracks could be seen in the exterior of the Saskatchewan Legislative Building in March of 1997. (The National/CBC Archives)

Sorensen added that "in effect, the wings of the building are moving in opposite directions and the dome is actually corkscrewing up, ever so slowly."

Structural engineers led journalists on a tour of the building, highlighting problems that had been discovered — including cracks in the building's exterior, as well as marble inside the legislature.

Hence the need for the costly repairs, which Sorensen reported would involve driving supports down to bedrock located 30 metres below the building. It was believed the work would take four years to complete.

William Brennan, a historian at the University of Regina, said the work would be worth it, despite the cost.

"It is probably the most-visited public building in Saskatchewan by tourists and certainly by schoolchildren," he told The National.

Reporter Eric Sorensen showed viewers a sample of some of the Tyndall stone that had fallen from the exterior of the Saskatchewan Legislative Building. (The National/CBC Archives)

"Armies of schoolchildren have visited this building, to see democracy in action, since the building was completed before the First World War."

Hal Kalman, an architectural historian and heritage consultant, said it was "unfortunate" to see what had happened to the Saskatchewan Legislative Building.

But he had an explanation as to why such deterioration could occur at a government building as prominent as the provincial legislature.

"Governments, quite naturally, defer maintenance very often because it's sometimes hard to sell taxpayers with the idea that we have to spend a lot of money on maintaining our buildings," he told The National.

Architectural historian Hal Kalman said governments often defer maintenance on public buildings as it can be difficult to sell the necessity of doing so to voters. (The National/CBC Archives)