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Saskatoon – Laid Back City on the Banks of the Saskatchewan River
Often referred to as “Paris of the Prairies” or “Bridge City” on account of its position along the lazy and winding South Saskatchewan River, Saskatoon is the largest city in the province. Arts and culture have been well supported by both the city’s corporations and its population at large. The city is also at the centre of tracts of rich agricultural and mining land, with some of the wealth generated by these activities used to create outstanding civic amenities.
From Temperance Colony to POW City
Looking at Saskatoon today, there is little to indicate that the city can trace its origins to the temperance movement. Toronto residents belonging to that movement, and unhappy with developments in that city, established Saskatoon as a “dry’ community in the late 1800’s. Times have moved on since then and today the city is just like any other in terms of alcohol laws. Today it is better known as “POW City” on account of its importance in serving Saskatchewan province’s potash, oil and wheat industries. This has brought a good deal of prosperity, which is perhaps easiest to notice downtown. The area houses not only the majority of the city’s hotels, including the very grand Bessborough Hotel, but also the headquarters and regional offices of major corporations.
Visitors looking to orient themselves should perhaps start on 21st Street downtown, which acts as a Main Street of sorts. It has a number of cafes, bars and restaurants and also the Midtown Plaza Shopping Centre, perhaps the most convenient one-stop shopping destination for those staying in the city centre.
Art, Culture and Festivals Abound
As Saskatchewan’s largest city, Saskatoon is certainly no slouch when it comes to encouraging and displaying its local arts scene as well as hosting artists and performers from across Canada and the world. The corporations that call the city home, and the wealth generated by their activities, has resulted in a number of well-funded cultural institutions and local festivals. In terms of theatre, the summer months bring the Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan Festival, where guests can watch the Bard’s immortal plays in tents set up on the banks of the South Saskatchewan River. Even more popular is the Fringe Festival, where modern cutting edge theatrical productions are staged at a number of indoor and open air venues throughout the city. A map of all the venues can typically be obtained from the organisers. The city’s prime art gallery, the Mendel, closed in 2015, but visitors can look forward to the reborn Remai Modern Art Gallery, which opens in 2017. It will incorporate the Mendel’s collections and bring in many new works as well.
A Winter Wonderland on the Banks of the Saskatchewan
While the city and its riverside are both beautiful in the summer, it is in winter that they really come alive. Stark trees covered in frost, regular snowfalls and a very popular outdoor ice skating rink make the winter months some of the best in which to visit Saskatoon. The Meewasin Park, which runs along the South Saskatchewan River, is especially beautiful at this time of year, with lovely riverside trails. Also in the park, just to the North of the iconic Bessborough Hotel, is the Cameco Meewasin Skating Rink, where residents and visitors alike enjoy skating in the brisk air and among beautiful surroundings. The much anticipated WinterShines Festival is held each year in late January and features spectacular ice sculptures, ice mazes and a host of activities that make this the city’s favourite winter festival among families and others. Hotels and motels tend to get booked up over this period, so advance planning is recommended.
The University of Saskatchewan and the Canadian Light Source
Perhaps the most dramatic attraction that only Saskatoon can offer, at least among Canadian cities, is not an event or building, but a very special piece of scientific equipment. Housed in a purpose-built facility on the University of Saskatchewan campus, the synchrotron is not science fiction, but a scientific apparatus that can accelerate electrons to very nearly the speed of light. Similar to the famous Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, though more modest in scale, it is the only one of its kind in Canada. Fascinating tours explaining the purpose of the machine and its applications in cutting edge research are held periodically. Several departments at the university also have permanent exhibitions open to the public, including in the Biology Building, which exhibits samples of dinosaur bones found in the prairies. The university occupies a lovely stretch of land on the eastern banks of the river and is not far from the downtown hotels and motels.