I recently travelled to a place where few people go, Saskatoon, in Saskatchewan, Canada, but I think is about to start getting a lot of visitors as a result of a new museum opening there. Most Canadians skip right over this gem known affectionately as “Paris on the Prairie,” a nickname recently made into a song by the popular band Tragically Hip. One nice Canadian gentleman told me he was visiting Saskatoon because he had been to every province of Canada except Saskatchewan, and he wanted to go each one. Contrast that with the young lady who explained she was born in Saskatoon, and now worked in Calgary, but that all who come from Saskatoon eventually return there.
Saskatoon, population 250,000, the largest city in the mainly agrarian Saskatchewan Province, is built on two sides of the South Saskatchewan River. On the West bank is the “downtown,” and on the right is the University of Saskatoon. Several bridges cross the river. From one you see what appears to be a dam that is only a couple of yards high. It’s what is called a “weir,” my very first encounter with this word or this structure. The locals in Saskatoon will take you to see the weir, one of the highlights of the town. Its function is to keep the river water level high enough for an upstream power plant.
But there must be more to Saskatoon than a weir, and there are, indeed, many other great reasons to visit. First and foremost are the very congenial people of Saskatoon, but the city itself is also very pleasant—at least during the summer with a climate about twenty degrees cooler than Dallas. There are many wooded jogging trails alongside both sides of the river and throughout the city. Elm trees form tunnels through older neighborhoods, reminiscent of Southern cities in the US.
Visiting during the winter months may be a bit nippy with lows of negative 40 degrees, but you can ski, play hockey, skate, and experience curling. Seeing curling on TV during the Olympics doesn’t quite do justice to seeing personally just how much skill is involved.
Near the weir you can walk to a children’s park, Kinsman Park, with a small Ferris wheel and low hanging zip line sponsored by the principal potash mine, a leading industry in the area. Nearby, during the summer months, a spoof of two Shakespeare plays is performed by local actors. Next to the theater you can take a tourist ship up and down the river for a water view of the city.
Scheduled to open in October, 2017, Saskatoon is in the final stages of completing an impressive new art museum, the Remai Modern, along the river, whose controversial construction costs are said to exceed 100 million dollars. The museum houses the second largest collections of Picasso linocuts and is already the buzz of the art world even before its opening.
Many worthwhile festivals fill the calendar in Saskatoon during the summer, including impressive festivals to the indigenous culture, a Ukrainian Day celebrating the culture of this large local immigrant population, and a well-respected jazz festival.
The University on the river’s east bank, with 22,000 students, has one of Canada’s premier agricultural and veterinarian programs. Visit the new indigenous cultural center, the Gordon Oakes Red Bear Student Center designed by Douglas Cardinal. With bragging rights to excellent physics and chemistry programs that have had Nobel prize winners, the University has the only Canadian synchrontron, the “Canadian Light Source,” attracting scientists from around the world, its nuclear science department developed the Cobalt-60 cancer treatment, and its agricultural scientists brought us “Canadian oil,” marketed as canola, from the abundant rapeseed plant harvested in this region.
In nearby communities, the fascinating indigenous culture of Canada is being revitalized and preserved after years of suppression in fascinating exhibits. Like to gamble? Outside town a nearby indigenous community runs a large casino.
For a fun family vacation, Saskatoon has much to offer.