This place is awesome!” My son happily declares as we survey the beautiful banks of the South Saskatchewan River from aboard the Prairie Lily river boat. The city of Saskatoon is weaving its spell over him. “Why did you ever leave?”
At 12 years old I had little to do with my parents’ decision to move from Saskatoon, a fact my son seems to care little about. Who cares about maternal family dynamics when you can see the spray park we just splashed in near the river’s edge, or the blackboard wall painted under the Senator Sid Buckwold Bridge where my sons and I wrote something we hope to do before we die (meet Batman, dance all night, travel travel travel, respectively.)
I might not state it as emphatically as “Before I die…” but I have wanted to revisit Saskatoon for a while now, but somehow other trips kept pre-empting my plans. This summer finally presented the perfect opportunity for me to bring my kids and show off the city where I grew up.
In our kitchen cabinet, circa 1984 Saskatoon, there was a mug. A mesmerizing mug that filled my heart with wonder. When it was filled with warm liquid, the words “Saskatoon is Magic” appeared like, well, like magic! I would trace the letters with my little fingers and recite the words like a mantra: Saskatoon is magic!
When we left Saskatoon to move to Edmonton (a similar city on a bigger scale, many assured me) I was suitably devastated, in the dramatic fashion of pre-teen girls. “Nothing will ever fill the void of the magical city I love!” I cried, shrilly and often. Eventually I grew to love my icy adopted home; traveling, but always returning, choosing to start and raise a family in Edmonton. But recently I have begun to wonder about the enchanted city of my childhood. I had such happy memories of the City of Bridges, could the reality measure up?
What I found was not quite the handcoloured magic of memories, but a fun, vibrant charm. The iconic Delta Bessborough Hotel still stands beside the river, and glimpses of things I half remembered shine through, but in many cases they have been touched by the boomtown wand of prosperity and growth.
A fitting place to start my “Running Back to Saskatoon” tour (a Guess Who joke reference that missed the mark every time I trotted it out) was the Western Development Museum. Lots of elementary school field trips came rushing back. The re-creation of a typical prairie town in 1910 forms the backbone of the museum, and the new interactive exhibit “Winning the Prairie Gamble” that follows a farming family from the early days right through to the present. My companion and I loved seeing the toys we used to play with on display (Rainbow Brite anyone?) the kids loved the 1920s funhouse. They went through it only about 15 times.
From Saskatoon’s humble beginnings we did a whirlwind fast forward through time to one of the most happening spots of today: Riversdale. From its previously sketchy roots, the magic of hipster gentrification is transforming Riversdale into a fun funky neighbourhood. We started our day juicing up at THRIVE Cold Pressed Juice (tip: our kids were not fans of the piquante ginger, but the other flavours were a hit!) before hitting the playground and walking on the riverside trail to a prairie themed splashpark. From there we headed back to Riversdale proper and one of its gems: The Saskatoon Farmers’ Market. As it was a Wednesday (the farmers are there Wednesdays and weekends) and bit of a slower day compared to the weekend, not all the vendors were out, but the ones that were offered a glimpse at what a great place it is. And of course the best part of any farmers market is the samples…the kids were delighted! There are also many trendy locally owned cafes and restaurants, like Cappanna Pizzeria. The less-than-a-minute cooking time meant the delicious pizzas (margarita with buffalo mozzarella and river trout with arugula) were on the table quickly. Important considerations when travelling with a herd of kids!
And seriously, what nostalgia tour would be complete without a carousel? The downtown Kinsmen playpark was always fun, in a small town kind of way. The miniature train would chug around the park, the little ferris wheel would raise its few passengers up and bring them gently back, and the carousel turned slowly, showcasing its whimsical menagerie. By sheer force of luck, we were there for the grand opening of the newly retrofitted park. The three rides remain (on a larger scale for the train and ferris wheel) but again, the transformative magic has cast a shiny spell over the place, replaced and reopened as Potash Playland at Kinsmen Park: the small town coziness has been replaced by a vibrant cosmopolitan feel. Additionally there is an enormous playground on the grounds with a teepee inspired slide, massive zipline and lots of cool obstacle courses and apparatuses to climb. My kids have begun advocating for a riverside park for Edmonton!
If you go experience the Magic of Saskatoon:
Where to stay:
The Sheraton Cavalier is in a prime location across the street from the river in downtown Saskatoon. The Sheraton Club level includes hot breakfast and appetizers in the evening (which served for supper one evening after a particularly large and late lunch.) It is also home of the newly renovated River Country Waterpark, where you can easily spend a happy afternoon slipping down the giant waterslide and splashing in the kiddie or big pool, or relaxing in one of the two hot tubs.
Where to eat:
Kid friendly fare and “artisanal burgers” are abundantly on hand at Jerry’s (with handmade gelato in amazing flavours!); a fun 50’s vibe and burgers for years are part of the treat at Pink Cadillacs Malt Shop, tableside food prep at the teppanyaki Samurai Japanese Restaurant in the Delta Bessborough is a cool special occasion spot. And because it’s a Delta restaurant, kids 6 and under eat free from the kids menu or half price entrees. For frozen yogurt, ice cream treats and assorted snacks served from a double decker bus, Bus Stop Refreshments (right across the street from the Bess’) is hard to beat…plus great photo ops!
Your kids will also love:
Apex Trampoline: if you saw Amazing Race Canada in Saskatoon, you saw all the bouncing fun you can have at Apex!
Auto Clearing Motor Speedway: Kids 12 and under get in free for a great summer night activity!
Museum of Natural Sciences: Visit the stunningly beautiful University of Saskatchewan campus and search out the free dinosaur exhibits. Don’t forget to bring this scavenger hunt with you (here are the answers!)
Many thanks to Tourism Saskatoon for hosting our family.