In 1882, the Toronto-based Temperance Colonization Society was granted 21 sections of land straddling the South Saskatchewan River. The aim of the group was to escape the liquor trade in that city and set up a “dry” community in the Prairie region. The following year settlers, led by John Neilson Lake, arrived on the site of what is now Saskatoon and established the first permanent settlement. Years later the city bustled as an important stop along the Canadian Railway. Saskatchewan was affectionately dubbed Canada’s Bread Basket as some of the countries most bountiful farms sprung from freshly tilled soil.
Today Saskatoon is one of the fastest growing city’s in Canada with a current population hovering just over 300,000. Saskatchewan’s most cosmopolitan city is full of secrets and surprises. From the bustling city centre, vibrant Broadway and revitalized Riversdale district to 80 km of parkland trails along the scenic South Saskatchewan river spanned by seven bridges, to the burgeoning local food and drink scene. It is a city of contrasts admired for its theatre venues, prolific arts and culture scene as much as its funky festivals and “small town meets big city hospitality.”
Here’s my list of Top 10 Things to See and Do in Saskatoon:
1) The James Hotel
Saskatoon’s premiere luxury hotel, The James, is a contemporary boutique hotel centrally located in the city’s vibrant downtown, on the banks of the South Saskatchewan River. The hotel’s spacious and thoughtfully designed suites provide a fresh perspective to the guest experience, offering travellers’ uncompromised quality and comfort. Independent and family-owned, The James represents the legacy of a first generation hotelier, James Peter Leier. Born in Odessa, Russia, his family immigrated to Saskatchewan when he was an infant in the early 1900’s.
The hotel’s lobby is the perfect spot to relax after a long day of touring around town. Earth tones splash around wooden accents, plush pillows, golden lampshades and silver stallion bust. Tucked behind the lounge is the hotel’s petite bar where classic cocktails are enjoyed at one of the city’s best perches for people watching.
Be sure to request a suite overlooking the river as the views really do take your breath away. The hotel’s spacious suites include carrara marble bathrooms featuring Brazilian Arabescato vanities and deep soaker tub, L’Occitane en Provence bath amenities, Keurig in-room brewer, nightly turn down service, private balcony and dreamy Black Collection king bed with 600 thread count Monarch linens. This may just have been the most comfortable bed I’ve ever slept in and wasn’t shocked to discover that the hotel sells its pillows and sheets after receiving so many requests from their guests.
There’s nothing more dreamy than plopping a line of sweet eats on your bed at the breakfast hour. Fans of the flaky should be sure to stop by Little Bird Patisserie in Riversdale to pick up a box of take out treats. Must try’s include Lemon Tart, Kouign Amann, Croissant with whipped honey butter, Maple Walnut Cinnamon Morning Bun, Banana Toffee Eclair and an assortment of French Macaron (funky flavours include Salted Toffee, Yuzu, Strawberry Lavender, Maple, and Chai).
2) Saskatoon Farmers Market
Founded in 1975, Saskatoon Farmers Market is a member-owned, non-profit cooperative providing residents and visitors the best in local agricultural products, baking, prepared foods and crafts. In 2007, the cooperative moved to its year-round location at River Landing. The City’s former electrical garage was renovated to form an indoor farmers’ market and public market. New doors and the use of existing skylights provide natural light for the indoor market, while keeping a link with the past. On my tour of the market I spotted endless jars of homemade jam, fancy fudge, freshly baked bread and pies, summer’s fruit and vegetable bounty (with fond memories of the juiciest peach I’ve ever tasted) and plenty of chicken, pork and beef from the butcher.
9 Mile Legacy Brewery is located a stones throw from the markets main entrance and a must visit for beer fans looking to sample the city’s freshest brews. The owners describe their operation as a “nano brewery,” smaller than the traditional craft micro brewery. Visitors enjoy an intimate space where the brewmasters newest concoctions are poured straight from the tap. A few of their past favourites include Beet Picker Ale (sugar beet ale), Golden Ticket (belgian blonde), El Groucho (west coast ipa) and Riversdale Radler (radlerbier).
3) Drift Sidewalk Cafe
If you’re looking for a java jolt and want to hang out at one of the city’s trendiest spots while waking up to the world head to Drift Sidewalk Cafe. This quirky cafe features a ton of indoor seating as well as glass garage doors which are hoisted up in summer to let a fresh breeze whip through the space. Palms spring forth from the floor while skateboards, unicycles and drift wood hang from the walls. The most coveted seats swing, so be sure to plant yourself in the hammock nook which overlooks the street and offers a perfect spot for people watching. Be sure to enjoy the cafe’s two signature treats: Dirty Chai (spicy chai, espresso, steamed milk) and Chikita Crepe (cinnamon grilled pineapple, banana, coconut whip, toasted coconut, caramel).
4) The Grazing Goat
If you’re looking to enjoy a few craft cocktails head to The Grazing Goat in the heart of trendy Riversdale, located in a heritage building which dates back to 1905. The interior features rustic weathered wood walls, vintage portraits, antler chandelier and quirky art behind the bar. It was recently listed by Food Network Canada as one of the Top 5 Cocktail Bars in the country. I was happy to sample through a few in the early afternoon (it was a summer scorcher). Be sure to sip my two favourites, the Clover Club (gin, lemon, raspberry syrup, egg white) and Blackberry Bourbon Sour (bourbon, egg white, angostura bitters, blackberries, simple syrup).
5) Homestead Ice Cream
Homestead Ice Cream first opened in 1978 and is the city’s most popular parlour. The interior offers a lovely throwback featuring old juke box and staff who wear white and red striped uniforms. Twenty-nine year old Allen bought the business four years ago after spending years in rural Saskatchewan as a bee keeper, grain farmer and elk rancher. This friendly cowboy has created over 350 flavours of ice cream using top notch local ingredients with quirky concoctions such as coconut curry, dill pickle and peanut butter maple bacon donut. The parlours most storied offering is The Dogs Breakfast which features 14 scoops of ice cream, 6 sundae toppings, 2 bananas, cookie crumbs, sprinkles, nuts, whipped cream and cherry served in a dog dish! I ordered a humble three scoop sundae because I’m always on a diet (eye rolls) mint chocolate chip cookie dough, peanut butter filled pretzels, saskatoon berry with cinnamon.
6) Lucky Bastard Distillery
Lucky Bastard is Saskatchewan’s premium micro distillery and its wide selection of craft spirits can be found at top restaurants and bars across the province. The brands story began in 2006 when the owner won $14.6 million via Lotto 649. Like so many of us who dream about winning the lottery, it’s hard not to find inspiration in a story where a friendly Physician quit his job to pursue his passion for helping locals in Saskatchewan create the very best craft cocktails. The distillation team at Lucky Bastard get creative with their product line, which features liqueurs made with local organic fruit, handcrafted whisky which currently sits in charred oak barrels waiting for three years of aging, and smooth vodka distilled in a Willy Wonka-esque copper still. Their gin is a New Western Dry Gin and is produced in small batches using the finest botanicals including Saskatoon berries.
If you’re keen to enjoy a sampling of their best bottles pop by the distillery gift shop. They also have an open door policy for tours where spirit newbies are taught the basics on craft distillation and have an opportunity to walk through the back work area where all the magic happens!
7) Western Development Museum
Take a walk though the time of yore at the Western Development Museum, Saskatoon’s most visited attraction. History comes alive as guests are transported through 100 years of pioneer history and a life-size replica of 1910 Boomtown. Over 30 buildings portray community life – from the general store overflowing with everything from nails to gingham, to the blacksmith shop ringing with the sound of the hammer striking the anvil. The museum offers a vintage experience for fans of the Wild Wild West complete with a marvellous collection of eerie mannequins. Be sure to stop by the photo studio where visitors play dress up in their favourite trousers or frock.
8) Wanuskewin Heritage Park
Wanuskewin Heritage Park is a national historic site and Northern Plains Indians cultural interpretive centre located 5 kms north of Saskatoon. The park’s award-winning architecturally-unique Visitor Centre is a gateway to an unspoiled natural prairie landscape featuring 360 acres of scenic trails, interpretive sites, archeological digs, fauna, flora and herbs. Wanuskewin is perhaps most famous for being the home to the longest running archaeological dig site in Canada (native people’s have been living off the land here for 6,000 years) and the most northern medicine wheel known in the world. Pop by for a pow wow, sleep overnight in an authentic teepee or watch an enthusiastic chant meets dance!
9) Baba’s Perogies
As soon as I learned that Saskatoon was home to one of Canada’s largest Ukrainian immigrant populations I had to suss out the city’s most iconic restaurant so I could feast on a plate full of steaming perogies. Baba’s Perogies is the local favourite, a hole-in-the-wall restaurant which also dubs itself as Canada’s only Perogie Drive Thru! I ordered everything on the menu (and you should to): cabbage rolls with mushroom dill sauce, smokie sausage, potato and cheddar perogies with sour cream and bowl of borscht.
10) Solar Gardens
Solar Gardens is a unique Saskatchewan garden centre and experience created and operated by Roger Valliere and his partner, Chris. Specializing in succulents (and a few cacti), Solar Gardens incorporates a love of art and creativity while showcasing the natural beauty of succulent plants alone and in artistic arrangements and containers. It’s located a short drive from Saskatoon and a must visit for horticulture and art lovers. Today the 50 acre property is home to five greenhouses, Firestick Cafe (wood fired pizza and freshly baked bread in the summer), ceramic studio and adorable gift shop featuring smug Mona Lisa, tin tile ceiling, vintage record player, crystal chandelier and walls covered in over 200 balsamic vinegars and oils.
After chatting with locals for four days I quickly learned that folks in Saskatoon hold a special place in their heart for Solar Gardens. It’s more than just a gift shop, nursery and restaurant. The owners have created a beautiful community space where they regularly host country music concerts (this past season Lisa Moen and The Johner Boys headlined) as well as their signature succulent classes which teach newbies how to arrange succulent’s for the best success. Solar Gardens had over 12,300 students attend their classes this summer alone! So why not nibble on freshly scorched pizza and get your green thumb dirty?
My visit to Saskatoon was a press trip coordinated by Tourism Saskatoon. Flights, accommodation, restaurant visits and activities featured in this destination guide were complimentary.