Tag Archives: Saskatoon

Saskatooning: My Surprising Cultural Journey

On a recent trip to Saskatoon I really wanted to dig into the city’s culture. What made it tick? This prairie city has been getting a lot of attention lately. The New York Times said it is one of the top places to visit in 2018 (the only place in Canada of the 52 destinations listed). Following is my cultural journey. I had no idea what to expect. And boy, was I pleasantly surprised!
Joni Mitchell
A little before I arrived, on June 10, a portion of the riverfront along the South Saskatchewan River was formally dedicated to Joni Mitchell. It’s called Joni Mitchell Promenade and that’s where I found a plaque that told the story of her connection to the city.JoniMitchellPlaque copy Although she was born in Fort Macleod, Alberta., the singer/songwriter of timeless tunes such as Big Yellow Taxi, Both Sides Now and Free Man in Paris, grew up in Saskatoon and started her musical career there. Crossing the Broadway Bridge (one of seven magnificent structures that span the river), I spied another plaque in front of the Broadway Theatre, next to where the Louis Riel coffee shop once stood on Broadway Avenue. That’s where she played her first professional singing gig to earn what she called “smoking money.”JoniMitchellPlaque2Joni walked that same bridge countless times and was inspired by its view of the river, as well as the grand old dame that is Saskatoon’s signature landmark. Take a look at the cover of her album Clouds and you’ll see her drawing of the majestic Bessborough Hotel, sitting on the shore of the waterway that inspired her hauntingly beautiful song River.SSaskRiver
Remai Modern
Wow. This place knocked my socks off. The Remai Modern is a new modern art museum that opened October 2017.RemaiExteriorThe building, which cost more than $100 million to construct, was designed by renowned Canadian architects KPMB. The design received an Award of Excellence from Canadian Architect magazine in 2012, before construction began. Looking at the exterior, I could see an intricate grate over the windows that functioned to keep the building cool in summer and warm in winter. The colour scheme was the same as that of the Bessborough Hotel – a rusty brick-red earth tone. Inside there were many galleries in it of varying sizes that allowed you to get up close to the art. What the Remai is probably best known for is having the world’s largest Picasso linocut collection, as well as some of his ceramics. Only a handful of the 407 Picasso linocut prints were on display.RemaiPicasso Lorna Conquergood, a program guide, told me many of the prints were originally done as posters for bullfights. “The printer kept all the original plates and when he died a U.K.-based dealer originally from Saskatchewan bought the entire collection and then sold it to Ellen Remai, who donated it to the gallery,” she explained. The gallery is named after the Remai family that made its money in the construction industry. There were many interesting installations such as a wall of beaded blue curtains, venetian blinds in the reception area and a wall of SAD lights called Lucky Charms.RemaiChainCurtainThere was also lots of iconic Canadian art by Emily Carr, Lawren Harris, Jean Paul Lemieux, Arthur Lismer, David Milne, and A.Y. Jackson.
You can try your hand at being creative with a number of workshops held the third Tuesday of every month. I attempted to make a block print (sort of like a linocut print except the block was sort of a soft spongy material).RemaiWorkshop2 Other workshops offered were plein air painting and red willow weaving.
Looking out at the river, through the gallery’s huge plate glass windows was an area called River Landing where kids played in a splash pad, cyclists wheeled by and unbelievably, a wild rabbit hopped by.Bunny
Prairie Lily Riverboat Cruise
At the Kinsman Park dock, I got aboard the Prairie Lily Riverboat and took a cruise down the city’s main vein, the South Saskatchewan River.PrairieLily It was wonderful to get a whole different perspective of Saskatoon. One highlight was seeing the Bessborough Hotel (where I was staying) from the water.Bessboroughboat The hotel opened in 1935 with 225 rooms, and the ship’s tour guide told us it has 32 gargoyles and decorative touches including a bumble bee, moose and beaver. The one-hour cruise cost $25 and they had a bar on board where you could get the signature Prairie Lily drink of spiced rum, orange juice and grenadine.PrairieLilyDrink Speaking with owner Joan Steckhan, I learned that she and her husband Mike bought the boat from an operator in Laughlin, Nev., and started the cruises in 2012. Mike, having been in the navy for 27 years, was a handy captain. “We do three cruises a day, including a dinner cruise, from May to October. Birthday, anniversaries and weddings are popular. We even had a citizenship ceremony on board the other day,” Joan said.
Western Development Museum
The long, low building of the Western Development Museum was a treasure trove of prairie paraphernalia.WDMMo The provincial government started the museum in 1949 because after the second world war, there was a huge demand for steel. “Americans were coming up and melting down our old equipment. The government wanted to collect the machinery to preserve our heritage,” Jason Wall, the museum’s general manager, explained.WDMTractor Along with tractors and fire trucks, there was an amazing 1910 Boomtown section with replica shops, stables, homes, school, plus an original church. I loved the innovation gallery and the straw gas car of 1918 with its huge, hovering methane balloon.WDMStrawGasCar
Sova Design
Sherri Hrycay is a local maker who studied the art of hat making with one of the milliners to the late Queen Mother. Her little shop in the City Park area was chock full of feathery, flowery summer designs as well as fur felt fedoras.SovaMo copy “This is a testament to how far a woman will go not to teach school, “ she joked. Primarily self-taught, she has taken a number of master classes overseas, including one with a milliner to the British royal family. “I’ve always had a love affair with hats,” she admited.
Wanuskewin Heritage Park
Shortlisted for UNESCO world heritage status, Wanuskewin Heritage Park sits above Opimihaw Creek and the South Saskatchewan River near Saskatoon – a window into a part of Canada’s history that remains largely undiscovered.WanuExteriorIn the visitors’ centre I joined a group of school kids and witnessed an amazing performance by Metis hoop dancer Lawrence Roy.WanuHoopDance2 Afterwards, Lawrence let us try out some of his tricky moves. Wanuskewin is the site of Canada’s longest running archaeological dig site (40 years!), which provides a glimpse into the area’s 6,000+ year human history. Bones, teeth, tools and pottery shards are scattered throughout the valley behind the centre and our guide Andrew Mcdonald, the site’s sales and marketing manager, told us there were also two buffalo jumps. “There is no other site in the world with such a concentration of Northern Plains indigenous culture,” he said. I also learned that in three years the site will be welcoming a herd of 50 bison, relocated by Elk Island outside Edmonton.WanMoBuffalo “They are direct descendants of the last 1,700 animals left on the plains. At one time there were 40 million, but they were killed almost to extinction.” If you want an unusual overnight experience, there are teepees you can stay in and an indigenous interpreter will share stories around the campfire.WanuTeepee
SaskTel Saskatchewan Jazz Fest
The SaskTel Saskatchewan Jazz Fest is one of the largest festivals of its kind in Western Canada. The multi-venue, 10-day festival annually brings out nearly 80,000 fans to enjoy the sounds of world, pop, jazz, blues, and funk music. This year the headliners on opening night were The Flaming Lips at the Bessborough Hotel stage. Giant inflatable robots, rainbow unicorns, air guns bursting with confetti, and, of course, Wayne Coyne’s galvanizing vocals made the show a head twirler.FLStage2FLUnicorn
Riversdale Neighbourhood
We started the morning with a walk along a portion of the 80km of riverside trails and then headed to Riversdale. Once a rather sketchy part of town, Tourism Saskatoon’s Aviva Kohen told me the recent renaissance has been nothing short of amazing. “With new local creative businesses opening their doors, arts groups setting up shop, and an eclectic mix of people, there is something for everyone,” she explained.RiversdalegardenShop Locally designed t-shirts filled the shelves of Hardpressed Studio, a hyper-proud independent prairie venture. At Last Shoes owner Adam Finn explained how he had gone from ceramics to shoemaking.LastShoesAdam “The ceramics market is over saturated. It’s too hard to make a living. I wanted to learn a craft that involved form and function and where I’d have relationships with my clients,” he explained. After apprenticing with a shoemaker in Montreal, he polished up his skills with instruction from a boot maker to the Swedish royal family. Finn’s shop was filled with his handmade boots, brogues, mules and pumps. He told me his clientele is varied and eclectic, including bikers, battle re-enactors and drag queens.LastShoeSign copy
Saskatoon is the home of HMCS Unicorn. I thought the city’s Canadian Royal Navy shore-based reserve division was simply getting on board for the Pride celebrations, but that name is for real.PrideUnicornSignMo copyEstablished in 1923, the company’s title came from the name of one of the first vessels to enter Hudson’s Bay looking for the Northwest Passage in 1619. The naval office was right beside Tourism Saskatoon’s office, so I had to take a picture. As it was Pride weekend in the city, I marched in my first parade and had a blast. Who knew Saskatoon would be so interesting, creative and just plain fun? Oh, yeah. The New York Times, I guess.PrideUnicornPrideDanielFLBalloons

Savoring the Flavours of Saskatoon

VistaLoungeColourful Vista Lounge
On a recent trip to Saskatoon I found a city full of hidden, and not so hidden, treasures. This was my first visit to the place where Joni Mitchell grew up and I loved it. The fastest growing city in Canada (at almost 300,000, it has beat the capital of Regina) had a lot going on. The burgeoning food scene was sizzling and I could see why so many young hipsters were flocking back home after sojourns in other cities. Warm and welcoming, it was also super affordable.
Odd Couple
As soon as I hit town I made a beeline to one of the city’s best Chinese/Vietnamese restaurants. The Odd Couple opened four years ago and is owned and operated by Andy Yuen, his wife Rachel and Andy’s parents Sam and Jane.OddCoupleAndySam In the heart of trendy Riversdale, the restaurant has become something of an Asian Cheers, with locals stopping by a few times a week to check on the daily specials including vegan and vegetarian options. To drink, I ordered the watermelon mint refresher which was cool, not too sweet and perfect for a hot afternoon.OddCoupleWatermelonJuice They also offered custom-made suds from 9 Mile, a nano-brewery across the street and these included flavourings of Szechwan pepper, lemongrass and ginger. Lunch was chicken satay soup with a rich, tomato broth, crisp Chinese greens, moist chicken and a sprinkle of peanuts. Very tasty.OddCoupleChickenSataySoup Dessert, which I hardly had any room for, was an Asian-style apple pie – a sort of apple-stuffed spring roll served with toasted coconut ice cream.OddCoupleApplePie
Andy, a former engineer for a uranium mining company, decided to follow in his dad’s footsteps and open a restaurant when uranium tanked. “I worked with the mining company as a cost estimator for nine years but then the market for uranium went down after the Fukushima nuclear disaster,” he told me. Andy’s dad had operated a take-out restaurant in in the small town of Warman, Sask., so a restaurant was a logical choice.OddCoupleExterior “I wanted to do something a little different, change the perception of Asian food here.” The creative menu delivers a fusion approach with dishes such as bacon fried rice with barbequed pork and Asian mango avocado salad. Andy is especially proud of brunch with Asian sausage and sweet potato pot stickers. “We close up and go to Hong Kong for a month every winter. A few years ago I brought back a waffle maker and now we also serve chicken and waffles for brunch.”OddCoupleInterior This family run spot is a real gem. When asked about the high quality of food and success of the place, Andy notes, “Working with your parents and wife is never easy, but they are the people who care the most about making it the best.”
Shift Restaurant
Located in the Remai Modern, Shift is one of the newest names in the Saskatoon restaurant scene.ShiftPatio As part of the Oliver and Bonacini restaurant group, Shift chef Jonathan Cullens, originally from Montreal, works with the seasons and the farmers to craft Canadian favourites like chicken pot pie, tourtière and prairie staples such as perogies. Other great things I tasted were the mac and cheese (gruyere, cheddar, brie, goat cheese and curds),ShiftMacCheese and the desserts – deconstructed cheesecake, lemon tartShiftLemonTart and strawberry shortcake with ginger ice cream.ShiftCheesecake Cullens, who had a restaurant in Chelsea, Que., was wooed by Oliver and Bonacini to come to Saskatoon and he’s glad he did. “The quality of life is much nicer here. Plus, this is the nicest place I’ve ever worked.”
One thing I found interesting on the menu was chickpea fries.ShiftChickpeaFries Saskatchewan is the world’s largest exporter of pulse (legumes) in the world. Who knew? Apparently their chickpeas even get shipped to India. Aviva Kohen, with Saskatoon Tourism, also told me Saskatchewan contains 44 per cent of the farmland in the country. Another agro tidbit? The province is the world’s largest exporter of mustard seed. You’ll even taste it in products from Dijon, France.
This new restaurant in the Exhibition area of town had just opened. “We specialize in fresh and foraged food from the Saskatoon area,” chef Thayne Robstad explained. Robstad and his wife Beth Rogers have come up with a creative, hyper local menu including borscht panna cotta (“An homage to the Eastern European settlers and my grandmother,” say Robstad.)HearthChefWife There was also morel and chanterelle mushrooms in creamy cheese sauce,HearthMushrooms Northern Pike ceviche, pickerel fins (done like wings with dipping tartar sauce),HearthFishFry green pea gnocchiHearthGnocci and a peanut butter cookie sandwich with raspberry ice cream for dessert. Wow.HearthPBIcecreamSammy After working in Toronto restaurants, Robstad and Rogers returned home and opened a catering business for a number of years. But they really needed the restaurant to showcase their ingredient forward prairie cooking, as well as Rogers’ crockery collection.
Ayden Kitchen & Bar
This is where I got to try the famous Diefenbaker Trout. It was smoked and pickled, mixed with dill and served with hearty multigrain bread. Heavenly.AydenDefienbakerTrout Ayden Kitchen & Bar was the first of Canada’s original top chef winner (2013) Dale Mackay’s restaurant collection. His other restaurants are Little Grouse on the Prairie, Sticks and Stones and, in Regina, Avenue. The drinks were great, too thanks to general manager/ mixologist Christopher Cho’s inventive, hand-crafted cocktail menu.Dessert? Tiny madelines with chocolate dipping sauce.AydenMadelines
Riversdale NeighbourhoodThriveJuice
We started the morning with a walk along a portion of the 80km of riverside trails and then headed to the neighbourhood of Riversdale. Once a rather sketchy part of town, Aviva told me the recent renaissance has been nothing short of amazing. “With new local creative businesses opening their doors, arts groups setting up shop, and an eclectic mix of people, there is something for everyone,” she explained. We stopped by Drift Café (Vista Lounge is the rooftop option here) to pick up a coffee, then continued to the Saskatoon Farmer’s Market where vendors stood behind tables heaped with produce (morels!), baked goods, preserves and more.FarmersMktMorelsFarmersMktTarts I was particularly interested in the seabuckthorn stall and picked up a cup of delicious gelato infused with the nutrition-packed berries.FarmersMktSeabuckthorn copy
The Hollows
The Hollows, an uber foodie hangout, was housed in a former Chinese restaurant called the Golden Dragon.HollowsExteriorSign copy The owner, Christie Peters, and her staff, do everything the traditional way – forage, butcher, brine, cure, and smoke –as well as embrace modern cooking techniques. They even make their own soap with fat from the animals they butcher. I had avocado toast with pickled eggs and I also took some shots of the other brunch offerings including breakfast poutine!HollowsAvocadoToastHollowsEggsBeansHollowsBkfstPoutine
Little Grouse (on the Prairie)
From the team that brought Ayden Kitchen & Bar to Saskatoon, Little Grouse on the Prairie opened its doors in February 2016. Its focus is scratch-made pasta using local flour and ingredients.LittleGrouseLobsterLittleGrousePasta Serving an alla famiglia style dinners, head chef (and Dale MacKay protégé) Jesse Zuber was able to show off his favourite dishes while we got to tingle our taste buds.LittleGrouseChef