When tourists plan their cross-Canada vacation, or muse about the places to see on route to a pre-determined destination, Saskatchewan repeatedly gets overlooked.
The easy-to-draw, hard-to-spell province – squished between that place with all the oil, and that other place that outsiders don’t know much about either – is known for being largely rural, and pretty much just handy for finding your lost pet three days after he’s run away.
The misrepresentation is, quite frankly, the tourist’s loss. Should they be so inclined to give Saskatchewan’s largest city a chance, they will find themselves welcomed into an up-and-coming, culturally diverse community to rival the most expansive, people-packed cities in the country. Saskatoon has local attractions like a visitor wouldn’t believe; many residents aren’t even aware of them all.
But you’re in luck! This savvy Saskatoonian, still new enough to be appropriately awed, but settled enough to know a thing or two, is here to take you on the Super Duper Saskatoon Sightseeing ‘Stravaganza!
First things first – get up early! There’s so much to see, and I’ve managed to wrangle up a perfectly beautiful, endlessly sunny day especially for your foray into this great place, so no dawdling. In a city so packed with sights and activities, you really need to leave time to squeeze in a detour if the mood takes you. Let’s start off at the water.
Divided somewhat down the middle by the winding ribbon of the South Saskatchewan River, Saskatoon achieves an immediate advantage over completely land-locked urban centers. Marching right along with the swiftly flowing waters are walking and biking trails that span much of the city, on either side of the river. Often, sections of the trail split off for a choice of well paved, sky topped pathway or tree covered, foot trampled track. There is little better than being able to escape the noise and bustle of the city without ever leaving its boundaries.
We will start our trek at Saskatoon Beach. Residents have long expressed the desire for a beach within the city limits, but the dangerous undertoe of the river has always prevented such an establishment. A few years back, a fair-sized sandbar attached to the north-east bank grew large enough to hold more than a few straggling passersby, and was immediately swarmed by sun tanning teenagers and families seeking a quick, easy outlet for their children’s sand-castle fever. The water is still unsafe to swim, but the beach itself – assuming there has not been an unusually large amount of rain – is all soft sand, fast-erected volleyball nets, and the chatter of lake-deprived individuals.
After we have lounged a bit on the hot sand and splashed in the shallows (hope you brought a towel!), let’s meander across Saskatoon’s most recent footbridge. Beneath Circle Drive Bridge hangs a suspension pathway that allows pedestrians to continue their tour on the other side of the river, without breaking their reverie by forcing them to walk alongside traffic. We can take a quick break at one of the look-outs, and watch for the glint of a trout or the swooping of swallows.
Now that we’ve crossed the vast expanse of the South Saskatchewan, the trail carries on as a paved walkway for a while. We will see a myriad of birds, maybe some frogs, and definitely one or two mosquitoes! Nature abounds here, though we are still fully surrounded by the metropolis. The hilly, curving path takes us within sight of the University of Saskatchewan campus, and the art student’s sculpture field. A brief detour will get you a picture in the clutches of a huge, concrete hand erupted from the earth.
At the train bridge, we will ascend and view the full stretch of the river that is enclosed by the boundaries of the city. To our left we catch sight of the Victoria, Broadway and Sid Buckwold Bridges – you will understand why Saskatoon is often called the City of Bridges. Gazing out across the water, we will almost definitely see a pelican or two – look! That one just caught a fish without ever laying foot on the water! The beauty of the view from way up here is breathtaking. I hope you aren’t scared of heights.
Carrying on across the bridge and down many flights of metal stairs, we will wander along the path beside the weir. Then, we can take a slight left down into the woods, to walk amongst the trees for awhile. In places, the birch and trembling aspen briefly give way to afford wonderful, ground level views of the water, and maybe even a secluded sandbar or two. We’ll stop at one of these to eat the picnic lunch you packed. Mmm – how’d you know I love fruit salad? By the time we reach the downtown core, you’re sure to have seen an impressive selection of the wildlife and flora our fine city has to offer.
So, we have explored the trails, worked up a good sweat and a great appetite (when it’s summer, a mere picnic lunch doesn’t last too long!); our logical next step is to wrap up that remarkable trek in front of Saskatoon’s own antique double decker bus – ‘Bus Stop Refreshments‘. The Bus (if you want to shed your tourist persona, call this trendy spot by its local nickname…and lose the fanny pack) offers a host of delicious ice creams, which you can pack into a waffle cone dipped in chocolate if you’re feeling really quirky. They also sell their Famous Riverbank Frank, popcorn, slushy drinks – they have tasty treats to strike anyone’s fancy. Since it’s a particularly sweltering day, I would suggest a waffle cone – less mess means more ice cream in your belly! We can gobble down these tasty treats beneath the shade of the beautiful Delta Bessborough Hotel – the Castle on the River.
Since we’ve already eaten and snacked, we’re going to put supper off until after the show. Now, if you know anything about Saskatoon, there’s a good chance you have heard of Persephone Theatre and Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan. However, if you time your stay right, you can visit not only the beautiful Remai Arts Centre or the riverside Shakespeare tent, but also catch a show put on by one of the various amateur troupes. We narrowly missed out on Greystone Theatre‘s Into the Woods, and Newman Players‘ Much Ado About Nothing, but keep an eye out for what’s coming next!
On this particular night, let’s forego a traditional play and see DancEgypt, at the Shakespeare tent. We’ve spent the day working hard – let’s sit back and watch those beautiful, colourful dancers do their thing, the gentle lapping of the river keeping time just outside the door.
It’s been a full and busy day! No doubt you are exhausted and will sleep great tonight, but I’m sure your stomachs are rumbling once more, so before we turn in, let’s make a quick trip back downtown, for nighttime eats at Bon Temps Café. One of Saskatoon’s newest restaurants, Bon Temps is unique in that it fills a niche not much recognized in the northern Canadian Prairies – New Orleans cuisine! I’m going to have a bean salad, but you really ought to try a po boy. You simply can’t go wrong, whatever you order, since most of the meals come with a side of sweet, spicy corn on the cob, and the glass in which they serve your frosty drink is a multi-colored, hand blown beauty.
I’ll drop you back at your hotel before I say goodnight. I hope you had as much fun exploring Saskatoon as I had showing you around! And promise me – next time an acquaintance says they’re jetting through Saskatchewan just to get to West Ed Mall before it closes, you’re going to set them straight, right? And you – you’ll be back again, won’t you? We still need to check out Persephone Theatre, River Landing, the Western Development Museum and all the wonderful little shops on 2nd Avenue!
Give me a ring when you’re back around. I’ll be here!