Let alone being able to pronounce, hardly anyone knows the existence of small city Saskatoon (Sas-kuh-toon) in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan (Suhs-kat-che-wan) this side of the world.
Known for being cold and remote, it’s hardly (or rather never) associated with when travelling to Canada. The big names are Toronto and Vancouver with Montreal and Quebec City being sprinkled in conversations every now and then.
It’s not hard to see why: firstly, there are no direct international flights to Saskatoon, one has to transit from Vancouver. Second, the winters can be a rough time and those in hotter climate pine for a nice cold winter holiday but— not this kind of winter.
There’s also a running joke in Canadian circles that if your dog runs away in Saskatchewan, you don’t have to worry too much because can still see it after a few days as the lands are completely flat.
Paris of the Prairies
And I guess they aren’t wrong, the Paris of the Prairies as Saskatoon has often been called, have lands that are flat as far as the eye can see. Tack on the harsh winter that sweeps across Saskatoon, and not many are flocking there for their once in a year vacation.
But despite the -30℃, Saskatoon has a deep and inner warmth that not many around the world are privy to.
I remember trekking along the side of the road, trying to navigate to Wanuskewin Heritage Park, just slightly north of town. My boot was sinking deeper and deeper into the snow as cars whizzed past me on the highway. It must have been some 20 below 0 as I huddled and stared at a screenshot of the Google Maps I saved.
“Really wished I had WiFi right about now,” I muttered under my breath.
It looked like a short walk from the bus stop but I grossly underestimated the distance. There was no public transport and cabs were simply way too expensive. There was no building in sight, not even a highway petrol station.
Putting my head down and coat up, I trudged onwards, hoping to reach Wanuskewin Heritage Park before it closes.
15 minutes later and it didn’t seem like I was making much or any headway. Up ahead was a car parked on the shoulder of the road forcing me to wrap around it as snow continuously pelted my face. I had half a mind to turn tail and just head back to my dorm.
As I walked by the side of the car, a voice sounded out of the car, “Do you need help? Are you lost?” I turned to see a woman roughly in her late 20s with a cigarette in a her hand looking at me like I’m a lost puppy.
What followed was me hitching a ride in a totally random stranger’s car which was probably the most #YOLO thing I’d ever done.
It was a signature moment of what exemplifies the Saskatoonian spirit and the truth is, this spirit permeates throughout society, seen in the little things that everyone I had the pleasure to meet had graced me with.
From flashing the most heart-warming smiles to a simple “hello” and “good morning” as you walk by each other, it seemed the people of Saskatoon have rallied behind their kind loving nature that not even the freezing winter can shake.
Dynamic Culinary Scene
And for a place that is often categorised as remote and uninteresting, it is a happening city. The culinary scene is vibrant and buzzing, spearheaded by Top Chef Canada 2011 winner Dale Mackay who chose to open his flagship Ayden Kitchen and Bar in Saskatoon. Hipster cafes are sprouting up by the dozens, filling the cold air with warm smells of baguettes and croissants.
Chef Dale Mackay
Photo by aydenkitchenbar via Instagram
Museum with Avant-garde Architecture
The Arts got a serious boost with the construction of the new Remai Modern Museum overlooking the iconic Saskatchewan River.
Photo by remaimodern via Instagram
Come Summer, the Farmer’s Market in the heart of town comes alive where you’ll find the freshest baked goods to the iconic Saskatoon berries.
The niceties that seem exceptional and out of the way are common and second-nature to the people of Saskatoon. Many proclaim Canadians to be one of the nicest people in the world, sometimes to a fault. Well, in places like Vancouver and Toronto, you can still see the influence of a huge cosmopolitan city and its effect on people.
But this is the cold and remote Saskatoon in the state of Saskatchewan, where warm hearts battle the frigid winter.
Photo by stoonfarmersmkt via Instagram