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Saskatooning: What to do in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

Some words are just fun to say.

Saskatoon and Saskatchewan are two of them, and when I was planning to travel from Vancouver to Toronto on The Canadian train and saw Saskatoon was one of the possible stops, I knew I wanted to get out and have a look around.

I knew next to nothing about the city at the time, except for the fact that I’d met someone from Saskatchewan who had such great energy that I figured if they were any indication of the kind of people I might meet I needed to get off that train.

Besides, I’d never met anyone who’d been to Saskatoon. And I wanted to be someone who had.

Fortunately for me, it turns out Saskatoon has a lot more going for it than simply being a fun word to say.

Saskatoon VIA Rail Canada luggage tag

I had planned on spending two days and nights in Saskatoon but The Canadian train isn’t exactly known for its punctuality and I ended up losing one of those days.

After worrying about getting in before dawn at 4.40am I’d arranged an early check in. Turns out that definitely wasn’t needed as delays on the tracks meant we got in 18 hours later at 10.37pm instead.

One top tip when doing a stopover on The Canadian: always make it for two days in case you lose one.


Even though we’d only met once before my new Saskatchewan friend, Jodi, who lives in the capital Regina, was sweet enough to drive to Saskatoon so we could have a fun day and night of Saskatooning together with another lovely local lass.

Which meant not only did I get to have great company for the day, I was in the hands of people who knew just what to do in Saskatoon if you only had a day to play, and so I can now share their fun plans with you.

Saskatoon’s Modern Art Moments

After waking up in The Delta Bessborough, one of Canada’s grand railway hotels and one of the best known landmarks in the city, Jodi and I walked along the river to the Remai Modern Art Gallery.

Remai Modern Art Gallery, Saskatoon, image Nic Lehoux

This striking building is a new addition to the banks of the South Saskatchewan River. When it opened its doors in October 2017 it became the new home for more than 8,000 artworks from the Mendel Art Gallery, and the building is a work of art in itself.

As we were shown around the gallery I did a double take when I was told that the Remai Modern has the largest collection of Picasso linocuts in the world. I’m not sure where I thought this Picasso claim could be made, but admit Saskatoon wouldn’t have been in my top 100 or so guesses.

The gallery has more than 400 works by the legendary Spanish artist, including editioned prints, experimental proofs and ceramics, as well as pieces by contemporary artists from Canada and around the world.

One of my favourite exhibits was by the German-Italian artist Rosa Barba called Send Me Sky. Here some of the pieces were inspired by the work of the woman who discovered pulsating stars, astronomer Henrietta S. Leavitt, and another called Language Infinity Sphere involved printing press letters being put onto a sphere and used to print art works.

The Remai Modern is open every day except Mondays, and has public tours and multimedia tours that include interviews with gallery’s curators, artists and the architects.

To find out more and plan your visit check out the Remai Modern’s website.

Inside the Remai Modern Art Gallery, Saskatoon

Sasksatooning for Foodies

Saskatchewan is known as Canada’s bread basket and has 44% of the country’s farmland within its trapezoid border.

In the past few years Saskatoon’s food scene has been undergoing a bit of a revolution and changing the way the rest of the country thinks about ‘prairie food’.

Chef Dale Mackay is credited with starting the city’s foodie transformation. A Saskatoon boy who went on to open restaurants for Chef Gordon Ramsay in London, Tokyo and New York before winning the first Top Chef Canada, Mackay is now back in Saskatoon with three restaurants.

His first Saskatoon restaurant, Ayden Kitchen and Bar mixes globally inspired comfort food with hand-crafted cocktails and wine, Sticks and Stones is his take on Korean and Japanese food with a rocking sake menu, and Little Grouse on the Prarie is Italian.

Read: Toronto’s baseball view hotel – watch the Blue Jays from your room

I had planned on having lunch at Sticks and Stones and dinner at Ayden Kitchen and Bar on my first Saskatoon day, and I’m not going to lie, it hurt when I watched those times slip by when I was on the train.

But the next day I still had a chance to try two other great Saskatoon restaurants – The Odd Couple and Primal.

The Odd Couple gets its name from the father and son who bring their traditional and modern takes on Chinese food to the mix.

As a sucker for a good pad Thai I had to try their Tomato Pad Thai which had a house tomato curry sauce twist on the classic, and as filling as that was there was no resisting Apple Pie Spring Rolls and ice cream. Yum!

They even have their own beer in collaboration with 9 Mile Legacy Brewing, which includes lemongrass, Szechuan pepper and other Asian flavours.

9 Mile Legacy Brewing Saskatoon
Beer flight at 9 Mile Legacy Brewing, Saskatoon

Beer lovers don’t have to go far to try more of 9 Mile Legacy’s local craft beer as they’re located just across the road, and are a great place to pop in for a cold one. Or if you’re like me and can’t decide, a flight of cold ones so you can try a few.

Over on the next block Little Bird Patisserie and Café is a top spot for giving into any sweet cravings and getting a coffee, tea or chai fix. The adjoining Anthology Home Collection is also drool worthy in a home interiors kinda way.

Fortunately I managed to find room in my belly again for dinner at Primal.

Chefs Christie Peters and Kyle Michael’s second restaurant is all about creating Italian food with handmade pasta from Saskatchewan heritage grains and whole animal butchery.

At Primal they don’t just believe in nose to tail cooking, they do everything they can to use every part of the animal, with excess animal fat turned into soap and animal pelts that Peters tanned herself adding an extra primal touch as they’re scattered throughout the restaurant.

Bunny Hugs and other Saskatoon shopping

When I met Jodi in the hotel lobby that morning I told her how much I loved her t-shirt. She smiled and told me that later that day we’d be going to that very store after lunch so I could get my own.

Turns out it wasn’t a long walk as Hardpressed is right next door to The Odd Couple, and while unfortunately Jodi’s shirt was no longer in stock, I was busy finding lots of other ones that I wanted to take home.

I was also introduced to the bunny hug.

No, staff members don’t dress up like bunnies and take you into their arms. Though that would have its charms.

Bunny hugs are sweatshirts with hoods and some front pockets at the front in the general belly button area that you can put your hands in, like the one you see here…

A bunny hug from Hardpressed, is a top souvenir from Saskatoon

At first I thought it was a super cute Canadian term, but was then told it’s actually only used in Saskatchewan, which made me love it even more.

And don’t even think about calling a hood-free sweatshirt a bunny hug. I laughed when I saw former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall correcting that one on Twitter.

Bunny Hug tweet from Brad Wall

After finally settling on two t-shirts, one that pays tribute to one of Saskatoon’s favourite sons, Gordie Howe, or Mr Hockey as I now know to call him, and another that nods to Saskatchewan’s many lakes, we moved onto another part of town.

Over on Broadway Avenue we visited the Joni Mitchell plaque that was unveiled last June, on the same day a prominent walkway was renamed the Joni Mitchell Promenade.

The legendary singer-songwriter performed her first paid gig at the Louis Riel Coffee House, and while that venue is long gone the plaque can be found in front of The Broadway Theatre that stood beside it.

Joni Mitchell tribute plaque is a new thing to do in Saskatoon for fans

And a few doors down I found a treasure trove of local and handmade designs at Joyne.

What started as a pop up is now a permanent space for local artists to sell their wares and I loved some of the jewellery and print designs, and now that I’m back on the other side of the world I still go to sleep every night with a little Saskatchewan moment as I use a beautiful face oil with frankincense and myrrh from Oil Love. It smells great, it feels good and it brings back memories that make me smile. A combo that’s a great addition to any beauty routine in my book.

Buffalo Jump Lessons

When Jodi asked me if I’d heard of a buffalo jump as we drove to the Wanuskewin Heritage Park I admitted I had no idea, and wondered if it was some strange sport I’d missed. Was there a National Velvet of the buffalo world?

Turns out the reality is much more interesting than what I was dreaming up.

As I was to discover, buffalo, or rather bison in this case, can run really fast, hitting around 50km/hr in in a stampede, but they’re not great at stopping. First Nations and Native American people realised they could use this to their advantage if they could somehow get a stampeding herd of bison to run towards the edge of a cliff without knowing the ground was about to fall out from underneath them.

That’s already a clever idea but it’s how they got the bison to do it that blew me away.

A boy, usually around 15 or 16 years old, would pretend to be a young bison and infiltrate the herd. He’d cover his skin in bison fat, hunch over to be the size of a bison calf and cover his body and head with bison fur, so that he looked and smelt close enough to the real thing.

Buffalo Jump Calf Runner, image Wanuskewin Heritage Park

Bison function in a matriarchal society and so the boy would pick some of the most influential female bison and try to trick her into adopting him as her own. Once he’d done that he could then slowly lead them towards the cliff as she would follow him every time he went astray and the rest of the herd would follow her.

In the lead up to the cliff a V-shape of cairns, or piles of rocks had been set up to funnel the bison to the right spot, and when they were close enough the boy would run away from the herd and join the hunters of the group who would scare the bison and spark a stampede.

Women and children would be hiding behind the stone cairns and would jump out, waving hides over their heads to make them look bigger than they really were to keep the bison heading down the funnel, and then over the cliff.

While the bison would often die in the fall, hunters would be waiting below with bows and arrows and spears to kill any that had only been injured so that they wouldn’t suffer.

I only wish there was a way to see the whole thing unfold, to see how he interacted with the herd and then what happened on the day of the death stampede.

But while we can’t see that the Wanuskewin Heritage Park visitor centre is built on the edge of a buffalo jump and helps to paint the picture so well that it’s something I’ll never forget.

The centre shares more than 6,000 years of First Nations history and from May to October also has a Tipi Sleepover where guests can sit around the fire and learn about Indigenous traditional living.

Where to Stay in Saskatoon

While I’d love to sleep in a traditional tipi, this time around I stayed in a rather special Saskatoon hotel.

The Delta Bessborough is a landmark hotel in Saskatoon

The Bessborough is known as the castle by the river, and is one of the city’s best loved landmarks.

Built in 1935 by the Canadian National Railway it started life as one of Canada’s great railway hotels, and is about to be given a new lease of life when it’s renovated and rebranded to become part of Marriott’s Autograph collection of boutique hotels.

Three very different  hotels in Quebec City

“The Bess” (pronounced Bez) is surrounded by five acres of Elizabethan gardens and is right on the river, and I loved waking up to a river view in the company of gargoyles on the side of the building.

The Bess is such a part of Saskatoon that you can see it in Joni Mitchell’s self portrait on the cover of her Clouds album, and even the copper coloured metal screens on the Remai Modern are inspired by hotel.

So if you want to stay in a piece of history with a story you can check availability at The Bessborough here.

South Saskatchewan River views from The Bessborough hotel, Saskatoon
Pillow at The Bessborough hotel, Saskatoon with Tweedsmuir Lodge Teddy bear

Goodbye Prairies

When I told my waiter in Vancouver that I’d be stopping in Saskatoon on the way to Toronto he joked that he couldn’t go to the prairies because he gets dizzy and falls over.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think Vancouver’s a great city, but I also loved those long horizons and big skies that the prairies provide.

And as much as I wasn’t ready to leave Saskatoon so quickly, when it was time to get back on that train I soaked up the meditative magic that comes from watching the prairies roll by outside.

Exploring Quebec’s charming Charlevoix

A week later when I settled in for the long flight back to Australia I spotted Deadpool on the in flight entertainment and fired it up.

Sure I’d seen it a few times before. But I’d never seen the scene where he tells the audience he’s from Saskatchewan when I was wearing a Saskatchewan t-shirt I’d bought in Saskatoon before.

And so I ordered a Caesar cocktail, settled in, and raised a glass to a stopover to remember.

Amanda Woods travelled as a guest Destination Canada, Tourism Saskatchewan and VIA Rail.

This post contains some affiliate links, so if you click on a link and book something I will get a little something to help pay those blogging bills, but don’t worry, it’s no extra cost to you.

Drinking Caesars on The Canadian Train in my Hardpressed Saskatchewan shirt

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