Why would you go to Saskatoon?

View all our photos of Saskatoon here

The prairies get a bad wrap from other Canadians.  The general consensus is that they are flat and boring, although a lot have never actually been to the middle of their country.  Those that have tell of days of monotonous driving across not featureless but drearily similar landscape stretching into forever on the horizon.  We certainly got a taste of this in Calgary with a couple of day trips out of the city.  Days and days of dead straight roads and flat farmland does not sound like the ideal road trip.  But the flatness in itself is a talking point.  Just how flat is it?  The jokes are that you can see your dog run away for three days or that you can see tomorrow coming.  In a way I was looking forward to this extraordinary flatness.

Imagine my disappointment to find hills in our first prairie town, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.  We hired cruiser bikes to ride along the big river that flows through town and I can assure you, it wasn’t dead flat.  Even Saskatoon’s most interesting feature, its flatness, is a let-down.

So without the flatness to fall back on you would think that Saskatoon had absolutely nothing going for it, but thankfully for us visitors that isn’t the case.  It’s not the kind of place you would make a special trip for unless you were visiting family or a friend as we were.  There are no big name attractions that you simply must see.  This made it tricky for our host, Calvin, as what do you do to impress a couple of travellers who have arrived via Vancouver and the Rockies.  It’s a tall order.

What Saskatoon lacks in spectacular scenery, or even scenery that is interesting in its dullness, is the feel of a happy and liveable city with beautiful old trees.  The view from Calvin’s apartment on the eighth floor near the river is a blanket of green treetops.  Of course, the view probably isn’t so appealing in the depths of winter when it can get to -30 celcius.  Saskatoon is a pretty town with a beautiful old University and quaintly picturesque suburban streets.

Even without big-name attractions we had the most fun at the Saskatoon Western Development Museum here.  They have done an incredible job of recreating an old west style street that you can wander around and through to get an old fashioned virtual reality tour of what Saskatoon used to be like.  In feel in reminds me of the ramshackle museum in Gulgong which they have filled with assorted random old stuff.  Unlike Gulgong they have built appropriate houses to show their random collection of old stuff and organise it so that it makes sense in its context.  When we were there they even had a trainee blacksmith making nails which they give to school kids as a keepsake.  Sarah was so smitten with the whole process that he made a nail for her which she promptly put in her handbag.  We joked at the time that we would have to remember that before going through airport security but of course we forgot about it.  Security found it for us, bless them.  I guess we should be thankful we weren’t in the US.

The museum also had a full-size steam engine and historical tractors and farm equipment, all lovingly restored to their former glory.  This is a farming community after all.  The information just kept coming and coming.  Sarah has never met an information board she didn’t like, and to be fair it was well presented and interesting.  I’m just glad there was a life-sized combine harvester cockpit with a harvesting game inside which kept me amused for five minutes.  At a certain point in museums my brain puts up the ‘full’ sign.

The other attraction Calvin organised for us was a visit to his friend’s farm on the outskirts of town.  The outskirts are only about 15 minutes drive from the centre of town and just off the main road was Calvin’s friend’s farm.  The farm has chickens, guinea fowl, pigs, sheep, a ram and a dog.  The dog had no control over the ram who blatantly stole grain intended for the pigs.  In fact, the sheep trotted after the grain wherever we went, even going so far as to attempt to stick their head in the grain bucket as it was being filled up.  The spoiled ram was the alpha male, as his low, throaty baa attested to.  Sarah did stare him down on one occasion but scooted out of his way on others.  The dog was useless.

That would have been it for Saskatoon if not for the Park Cafe, an old-style diner in the seedy part of town.  I have mentioned it before but any mention of Saskatoon would not be complete without mention of the Bacon Breakfast they dished up.  Three types of bacon (count ’em) with tasty hash browns and egg.  I will always love Saskatoon for that breakfast if nothing else.

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