When people ask, “What was the most memorable part of your trip?” I’m likely to answer, “The hike on the alpine trail near Mt. Revelstoke, British Columbia.”
But for the longest time, I was answering, “Saskatoon”.
This response often led to blank stares as in, “Huh?”
Saskatoon was the first of the larger cities that we really liked on our trip. Later we would add Victoria, B.C., as well as Seattle, and Portland, Oregon. Saskatoon came on the heels of a rain-soaked stay at a mosquito-infested campsite in neighbouring Manitoba. We decided to add a day to our next stopover, Saskatoon, and were able to do it at our Airbnb for a reduced price.
When we arrived, we were met by the owners of the Airbnb and were shown the private entrance to our suite. This couple’s residence was a rebuilt house located on one of the many quiet, tree-lined streets found in this residential neighbourhood, only a scenic 20-minute walk along the South Saskatchewan River to downtown.
I had known that Saskatoon was on the up-and-up for many years. I had read that Jan Martel had decided to live there; it had developed a growing reputation as a good place to visit.
Once downtown, we were both impressed by the boutiques; Naomi went on a clothing-and-gifts buying spree, which is quite unusual. I was impressed by the quality and look of the goods for sale; many stores relied on an eclectic and funky mix of ecologically-oriented and recycled home and art objects. There was a kind of Arizona/New Mexico feel to the stores; you could browse for hours, and the locals whom we met there were super-friendly. In conversation, we discovered that locals are very proud of their town, a place where they feel small-business entrepreneurial dreams can be fulfilled.
Soon, in my vivid imagination, with Saskatoon’s “sattvic” vibe dominating my awareness, I imagined myself in an alternative universe as a young man starting a career in Saskatoon and raising a family there. Naomi’s not that fond of the mental games my imagination plays, and she also opined that Saskatoon was too small for her. Still, we both enjoyed the openness and friendliness that we felt.
There were a few off-putting things. One was the almost empty sidewalks downtown. Where were all the people?
Near the market in the part of town called Riversdale we found many desolate side streets – we were told that this was once a down-and-out part of town; some of it still exists.
We also weren’t too fond of the wide, wide avenues, so common in Western Canada. At least they were, for the most part, tree-lined.
The artificial turf on some of the residential properties instead of a normal lawn – where’s that at?
There is a great disparity in the residential architecture where many wealthier people buy a lot, or two, raze the existing house, and built a large, super-modern home. So you have teeny-tiny houses beside monstrous ones.
The people here also seem to like giant – and I mean giant – address numbers that can be seen a mile away.
There were virtually no gardens in front of the houses that we strolled past.
But, all in all, Saskatoon seemed like a fresh, young, well-grounded and idealistic place to put down roots, or visit.