After reading Sandra Martin's story Goin' Down The Road about Trans-Canada road trips in The Walrus I felt inspired to explore a part of Canada that I never thought I would see: I would drive, along with my best friend, from Vancouver to Saskatoon.
Perhaps this doesn't seem adventurous to most Canadians (the ones who probably own camping trailers and canoes) but for someone who has been living in London for the past nine years, it's a very strange thing to do. When I told my British friends, their reactions ranged from "Saskatche-where?" to "Why would you want to drive two days only to end up there?"
Initially, I was more excited by the road trip aspect of the adventure. I'm a huge fan of the road trip; I mean what's more satisfying than getting out of a car after an eight-hour driving stretch and realizing that you've finally arrived at your destination? It must be the same rush that pilots get when they land a plane.
The drive from Vancouver to Saskatoon can only be described as beautiful. You can stop and laugh at the murals of country singers like Dolly and Reba in Merritt, visit cowboy bars in Calgary and see the landscape transform from the awe-inspiring Rockies into the seemingly endless flat wheat fields as you enter eastern Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Although the road trip was an experience in itself, it was really the time that I spent in Saskatoon that gave me a real sense that there is life outside of Vancouver in Canada. If you think that Saskatoon is just some hick town in the middle of the Prairies, then think again. I discovered a vibrant city that has retained its small town charm while producing new restaurants and shops that rival those of its bigger neighbours.
They call it the "Paris of the Prairies" but I think Saskatoon deserves more than a cheesy comparison to a place that it has nothing in common with aside from a river that cuts through it and a lot of bridges. It's too special for that.
I loved that the downtown core still has leafy side streets. I loved that most of the houses resemble the houses I used to draw when I was a child: wood with pointed roofs. I loved that the chilled, hippy vibe marries perfectly with the its farming culture. There was a lot I loved about Saskatoon. I was, in a word, enchanted.
I don't believe that people in Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal and certainly not those outside of Canada, even think about Saskatoon as a travel destination. Saskatoonians are far too modest to shout and make a big deal about their city. So I urge everyone who wants to explore Canada not to write it off. Take this list as a beginners guide for those of us who live in bigger cities and want to get the best out of Saskatoon.
For the best in modern Saskatchewan cuisine you can't beat Weczeria Food & Wine on Broadway. Their menu changes often but everything is locally sourced and amazing. My meal at the W was by far better than any that I had while in Vancouver; the chanterelles were especially good but everything on the menu is seriously to die for.
We had brunch at this new hot spot called The Hollows on Avenue C South. The quinoa and poached egg was awesome as were the selection of fresh juices. The menu is hipster heaven and the restaurant has a kitschy Chinese décor (rumoured to be left over from the restaurant that used to be found at the address) but so fitting since it is located in the historic Golden Dragon building.
Saskatoon even has its own craft beer. Although, seriously what cool Canadian city worth its salt doesn't these days? Paddock Wood Brewing Co. beer is pretty good and can be found all over the city so trade in your can of Molson Canadian for a taste of the Prairies.
Duck Duck Goose Tapas Bar on 10th Street is the place to drink and I'm told their tapas aren't bad either.
For a piece of Canada's history visit the Diefenbaker Canada Centre at the University of Saskatchewan. Yes, it's all about a Prime Minister who you probably haven't heard of but he's a big deal in Saskatchewan. He was surprisingly progressive: he created the Bill of Rights and appointed the first woman into a Cabinet post. The museum is really well done, they have an awesome collection of proposed Canadian flags and you can even listen to a recording (via telephone) of a conversation between Diefenbaker and JFK -- totally makes it worthwhile.
You should also check out the Saskatoon Western Development Museum. I was lucky enough to get a private tour and believe me it's as educational for adults as it is for school kids; the Boomtown and Winning The Prairie Gamble exhibitions are both very well curated. It's a fascinating collection of machinery and media about Saskatchewan's farming history.
For something slightly less mainstream visit Paved Arts on 20th Street W. The gallery is a non-profit, community-based organization that exists to advance knowledge and practices in photography, audio, video, electronic and digital: PAVED. Be sure to check out their website in advance as exhibitions frequently change.
Sadly, I didn't get to see a Poetry Slam in person but I did watch some on YouTube and a few nearly brought me to tears. Saskatoon takes its poetry seriously and these guys are very good. You can find them on the odd Sunday night at Lydia's on Broadway. For more information visit the website.
Saskatoon has some of the most spectacular sunsets in the world. Drive to the edge of the city for a truly awe-inspiring sight. I guarantee you will be moved.
Finally, talk to the locals. You'll find a groovy mix of famers, aging hippies and university students but they will be happy to help you discover their city. Saskatoonians are some of the nicest people in Canada.
Leaving Saskatoon, I promised myself that I would return soon. It's the perfect two-day drive from Vancouver and truly a unique getaway. Hopefully my small list of recommendations will prove helpful to people looking to discover Saskatoon, however the city has much more to offer. If you spend some time there, I promise it will charm you as much as it did me.