Today’s Saskatoon city guide comes from April Hiebert, Robyn Robertson and Mark Sin, all designers and members of a Saskatchewan based design collaborative calledOPEN. Over the past three and a half years, they have grown to know as well as rediscover their favorite pieces and parts of Saskatoon. When they aren’t busy working on buildings, they work hard to advocate for good design and social change in their communities. Today they offer us a guided tour around this Canadian city. Thank you all for such a wonderful guide! – Stephanie
Saskatoon owes its namesake to the Cree noun “misâskwatômina”, a word used to describe the dark violet coloured Saskatoon berries that grow in the area. Defined by the South Saskatchewan River valley and a deep-seated culture of growing, Saskatoon is experiencing unprecedented growth related to its prospering economy. As the city transforms before our very eyes and as new buildings sprout up on the horizon, the lyrics of Joni Mitchell (a former Saskatonian) become yet again relevant, as we “pave paradise and put up a parking lot”. Don’t get us wrong, good things are happening in this burgeoning metropolis but they are happening quickly, so don’t blink too fast.
Canadian prairie dwellers have much in common including long hard winters, short hot summers, a love of nearby lakes, a hatred for mosquitoes, subtle accents (“ya know”) and an uncanny ability to talk about farming even if you have never farmed a day in your life. It is hard to believe that Saskatoon, “the Paris of the Prairies”, saw high emigration from the province until very recently. Now this big little city seems to be a hub for savvy businesspersons and creative entrepreneurs who are looking to ride the untapped wave of opportunity.
Lastly, if you weren’t a Saskatchewan Roughrider fan when you came to this province, it won’t be long before you’re converted, as it’s hard not to be immersed in Rider Nation festivities especially after a recent Grey Cup Victory.
This guide is a work in progress as it’s next to impossible to capture in one sitting, all of the new spots popping up on what seems like a weekly basis. This guide represents a few highlights and favourites that are worth a visit should you be staying or passing through the city. There are tons more on the horizon, especially as our license plates tout, in the “Land of the Living Skies”.
Be sure to check out this Google Map with all of the below listings.
photo by Vinh Nguyen
Most of Saskatoon’s downtown activity is bound by Idylwyld Drive to the west and 25th Street to the north. If you’re planning to explore the downtown area on foot, focus your efforts on 21st street, 2nd and 3rd Avenue for the best shopping and restaurants. If you want to get closer to the river, hit Spadina Crescent and walk north or south for miles along the snaking Meewasin Trail. To the south, you will encounter river landing and a giant construction site next to the Persephone Theatre, soon to be the home of the new art gallery.
Eat and Drink
Poached Breakfast Bistro/Flint
Poached by day and Flint by night, this intimate venue offers great brunch and appetizer options. Creative drinks keep you guessing when they are accompanied by dogville comedies projected on walls. This place comes highly recommended and is not to disappoint for a great evening out on the town.
Bon Temps Cafe
New Orleans inspired scene and menu with mood lighting that will temporarily transplant you. With a party of 6 or more and 24 hour notice, you can partake in the ‘Cajun Spice Boil’ complete with your fair share of crawfish, shrimp, andouille doubloons, potatoes and corn cobettes. Pot clanging and “Laissez les bon temps roulez!” hollering will follow you home.
Winston’s English Pub & Grill
This pub is located in the 100 year old Senator hotel smack dab in the middle of downtown. Noisy on the weekends but toasty by the fireplace during the winter months, this English pub stays true to its old world charm with golden oak from floor to ceiling and a never-ending list of beer choices.
Ayden Kitchen & Bar
Top chef Canada, Dale MacKay recently opened this new and highly anticipated restaurant on 3rd Avenue. Contemporary atmosphere with beautifully plated dishes, hot off the press satisfy even the most difficult of guests. Butcher shop and market to open in January of 2014.
The Woods Ale House
Stop in for a quick pint and a salty pretzel stick and stay for live music. Serving up the beer of Saskatchewan’s first microbrewery, Paddock Wood, is worth the detour.
Fantastic collection of scandinavian and european inspired modern furniture, lighting and decor. Knowledgeable owners source and showcase contemporary pieces made in Canada and do a great job of sharing their passion for design with customers.
This boutique for women has two locations in the city, one on 2nd Avenue and another on Broadway. Stock full of hipster fashion, you are likely to find something of interest if you look hard and long enough. Next door, check out Banjo Outpost, a shop for men that mimics its hipster sister.
Some of the most unique furniture finds in the city happen at Hiddenstitch. Specializing in handmade, repurposed and vintage home decor, this little shop will be sure to surprise you. Be forewarned, holiday storefront displays and custom upholstery work may knock your socks off.
Swank Shoe Lounge
Shoe boutique on 2nd Avenue that has good selection to choose from including Hunter wellies.
Tucked away in a back alley, this is our favourite art supply store in the city. If you can find it, this place will help you find everything you need for your future art project.
The Prairie Lily, of Wisconsin, recently acquired from the waters of the Colorado River, offers sightseeing and dinner cruises on the South Saskatchewan River. Cruises are an easy and relaxing way to acquaint yourself with the city. Tours available from May to October and it’s a good idea to book in advance.
Rent or borrow a bike and explore the Meewasin Trail. Our favourite way to see the city and the best way to spend a few hours when the weather permits. Pack a picnic and make a day of it. For rentals, check out Saskatoon Bicycle Rentals
Darrell Bell Gallery is a commercial gallery that exhibits amazing work by a growing list of artists. The gallery owner, Darrell Bell, is extremely knowledgeable on all things art especially the work in the gallery that he curates. Also be sure to stop by the design shop, Lifestyles by Darrell Bell Gallery, on the main floor.
The James Hotel
Former apartments were converted into this thoughtfully designed boutique hotel. Rooms were designed using an efficient european scale and are complimented by a chic lobby and lounge. This romantic getaway can leave you wondering what city you’re visiting.
Sheraton Neighbour to the historic Bessborough Hotel, this 8 storey hotel was built circa 1960 complete with retro exterior. Its interior have been recently upgraded and rooms are comfortable and well appointed. Be sure to reserve a room with a view to the river and don’t forget your bathing suit as the waterslides at the River Country Water Park await. This hotel is a very popular destination for out of town wedding guests and conference goers. The Windows restaurant provides diners with panoramic views to the park. It also is a great place to unwind after a long work week as it features the 6Twelve Urban Lounge with delicious house cocktails to boot.
This historic hotel was built as part of Canadian National Railway expanding rail network to serve passengers. It was built in the chateau style, completed just prior to the Great Depression, and is one of Saskatoon’s most iconic landmark buildings. It hails its visitors with tons of character and charm with gargoyles and turrets flanking its perimeter. It is rumoured to be haunted but this doesn’t stop it from being one of the city’s most celebrated attractions for weddings, concerts and the Sasktel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival.
photo by Robyn Robertson
West of the downtown, these neighbourhoods are all seeing some form of revitalization. Well positioned and close to the river and 20th street, they make up some of the oldest neighbourhoods in the city with plenty of cute character homes and fixer uppers. A good mix of amenities, housing and industry can be found here. This area surprises me most days as I never know what is going to pop up next. A Little Bird told me that a bakery will be opening up soon on 20th Street.
Eat and Drink
The address for plenty of collective or collaborative conversations, this coffee shop neighbours the Two Twenty, a co-working hub. Staffed by coffee lovers and connoisseurs, this coffee bar has decent coffee and is a good place for short coffee stays and people watching.
Saskatoon Farmers’ Market
Not to be missed market that is open Wednesdays (10-3), Saturdays (8-2) and Sundays (10-3), showcasing Saskatchewan’s finest locally produced food and craft.
Formerly the Golden Dragon Restaurant, the Hollows is run by two young chefs that bring their worldly culinary experiences to the city fraught with a desire to bring contemporary and locally produced food to the table. Open Wednesday through Saturday for dinner and Saturdays and Sundays for brunch.
Mogul Divaan is a family run hidden gem with a buffet of authentic flavours. Good service, butter chicken is delicious and Naan is done right. Both menu and buffet options will have something for everyone.
A piece of Saskatoon’s history, this 1950s inspired diner has lineups on weekends for breakfast and brunch. Neon sign, worn booths, pie cupboard and vintage collectibles all lend themselves to creating the atmosphere for the food you’re about to consume. Eggs benny, in-house cured and smoked bacon and burgers are a few menu highlights.
Seoul Korean Restaurant offers delicious and authentic dishes. Greeted with a menu in the form of an iPad and accompanied by side dishes, foodies will appreciate the flavourful options this restaurant has to offer. The barbecue option is a must for first-timers and the bibimbap will not disappoint.
James Hopper Furniture
James Hopper makes furniture the way all furniture should be made. His understanding of wood contributes to his sensitively crafted designs that stand the test of time and the harsh prairie climate. His workshop and small showroom is worth a trip.
Back To Coffee Beans
I used to eat jelly beans from the 5 cents machine out front when my Mom first started buying antiques from this shop that was previously located off Broadway. Now relocated to 33rd street, this place is crammed full of good and unique finds. Get a coffee and take your time perusing.
Owl & Crate
I literally stumbled across this new market on a recent outing. There is something antique and vintage for everyone here but they are only open on weekends or by appointment.
The Roxy Theatre
Built during the Great Depression and recently restored by the Rainbow and Magic Lantern Cinemas, the interior of this theatre is adorned with Spanish villa influences. It is home to an eclectic variety of independent, international and classic films. It also presents the Silence is Golden event where classic silent movies are accompanied by a live orchestra.
Paved Arts and AKA Gallery share an address and are hard not to miss with the building’s crowning art billboard. The former is a non-profit, community based organization that supports the practice of media art. The latter is an artist-run gallery that organizes an annual art walk. Both hold exhibitions, shows and artists’ talks fairly frequently so be sure to check their events page. The Underground Cafe is sandwiched nearby.
photo by by Mark Sin
North of the downtown, City Park is an established mixed-use neighbourhood. A big well used public park, the city hospital by architect Arthur Erickson and a beautiful canopy of mature trees characterize this area.
Eat and Drink
Recently renovated coffee shop usually filled to the brim with locals that often overflows onto the outside deck during warmer months. Best chai lattes in town and their selection of cakes will make you drool.
Best kept secret in Saskatoon but not for long. Hidden behind Ingredients, great neighbourhood pub with stangs and growlers to quench any beer lovers thirst. Copper holding tanks and beer making aesthetic create a unique experience.
Ingredients Artisan Market
Walk into a tall wall of wines and discover their broad selection of high quality products. Wine and imported beers with plenty of ingredients to compliment them, this market has introduced me to a whole new world of products that I never knew existed and am thankful for. Sample wine, take a cappuccino to go or stock up on a selection of appetizers for an evening of entertaining good friends and family.
Harden & Huyse
The Hardenne’s learned their craft from old-world Belgian chocolate makers. In 1983, they opened their first store in Saskatoon and have since been honing and perfecting assortments of chocolates that melt in your mouth. Great place to satisfy any chocolate craving or perfect gift for any occasion.
Mendel Art Gallery
The legacy of a wealthy businessmen and art collector lives on with the Mendel Art Gallery that holds Saskatchewan’s largest public art collection. Located on the banks of the South Saskatchewan River, the Art Gallery houses changing exhibitions that feature the work of local, national and international artists. Go early, have a coffee at Museo and wander through the conservatory and exhibit. Open every day of the week and admission is free.
Part of my childhood memories, this park has been around for ages. Currently undergoing an overhaul, this park will someday soon be restored to its former glory along with some new additions including a ferris wheel, carousel, water feature and new train loop. It’s a nice place to have a picnic and watch the hot air balloons take off during the summer months.
For an urban cross country skiing experience, this park has well groomed trails with a 2.7 km loop. Skis can be rented at Eb’s Source for Adventure.
Good views can be captured from any of the bridges in the city but none can quite compete with those from the Train Bridge. Sunsets are spectacular and the weir provides plenty of food and play for the American White Pelican that surfs its wake.
photo by Mark Sin
Highly sought after area given its proximity to Broadway Avenue and the University Campus, this neighbourhood is stock full of character homes, as well as some of the best views of the city from Saskatchewan Crescent.
Eat and Drink
The Bulk Cheese Warehouse
Heaven for cheese lovers, this warehouse carries over 200 varieties of gourmet cheese and all the fixings to accompany them. There is also a butcher in the back with cold smoked steaks that will make any bbq.
Christie’s il Secondo is the second instalment (hence the name) of the established Christie’s Bakery on 33rd. Originally known for their fresh baked artisan bread and pastries, the family-owned and run business has expanded to not only become a convenient pick up point for fresh baked goods but also a popular lunch spot with Italian-style wood-fired oven pizza, grilled paninis and specialty coffee made right before your eyes. The only downside is they are closed Sunday and Monday, just when you are craving that cappuccino and croissant the most.
Homestead Ice Cream is known for its 50’s inspired atmosphere complete with jukebox. Ice cream floats, banana splits and in-house-made experimental flavor offerings such as “dill pickle” and “wasabi” means there is sure to be a treat for everyone’s tastes. Just up the ‘hill’ from the Victoria Bridge, Homestead makes a perfect detour during that stroll along the river on a hot summer’s night.
Las Palapashas dubbed itself as a ‘Resort Grill’ for good reason. With its tropical-inspired charm, from the interior décor right down to the cocktail menu, a night out for dinner will transport you, or perhaps, depending on the season, even make you forget that it’s -30c outside.
The broadway location is the second instalment of Museo Coffee, first establishing their reputation at the Mendel Art Gallery.The owner and baristas are serious about their coffee, and have their fresh, high grade beans shipped in weekly and roasted to perfection in-house. The small offerings of daily baked goods taste like homemade and make the perfect espresso pairing.
Yard and Flagon has all the feel and ambience of an old-time pub, complete with the beer and food menu to match! Come summer, there is no better way to spend a lazy afternoon on the roof top patio sunning yourself with some good company, a cold beer and a plate of nachos.
Calories has long been the ‘go-to’ place for coffee dates with a tempting array of cheesecakes and desserts which are well worth the indulgence! The dinner and lunch menu boast a chef-created and seasonally changing french-inspired cuisine using local produce, poultry, meat and game. Sunday brunch books up fast, so reservations are recommended.
Amigos Cantina can range from fully crowded to empty depending on the night, as the restaurant also doubles as a popular venue for live music. Amigos is also a favorite tex-mex joint frequented by local families, as minors are allowed to dine there until 8pm.
Duck Duck Goose is Saskatoon’s premier tapas bar, and has quickly gained a reputation as an after-work venue to enjoy a quick drink or a before dinner snack, which can easily lead into a full blown evening out with friends for good food, drinks and conversation. Just off the beaten path from Broadway, Duck Duck Goose, though maybe too small for large groups, is an intimate space that more than makes up for its size with charming staff, eclectic décor and a small but well considered menu.
The Better Good promotes sustainable products to support a sustainable lifestyle. Their inventory includes products made of natural, recycled or organic materials, local, Canadian and internationally handmade goods and other healthy consumables, that are produced in a fair and equitable way. Every Sunday in the summer, bring your yoga mat to Rotary Park to join the Better Good for free yoga by the river.
Modern Country Interiors
True to its name, this store carries a mix of modern and country furniture and decor. Perfect place for someone looking for custom furniture and all sorts of art and giftware.
Hands down Saskatoon’s most long standing tea and coffee merchant. For over 75 years, this family owned business has been serving Saskatonians and visitors. Don’t be mistaken, this is not a coffee shop, it’s where you can buy coffee or tea from an assortment of glass canisters that line the walls.
Vinyl Diner Cd’s & Records
Climb a staircase clad from floor to ceiling with graphic posters to reach this music mecca that has stacks of CDs and records. Don’t be shy, feel free to ask the guy/gal behind the counter what they would recommend, as this music store may be one of the few left where staff could compete with the likes of the cast of High Fidelity. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, check out Beaumont Film & Record or The Vinyl Exchange.
If you’re looking for Saskatchewan keepsakes that are made by the hands of local craftspeople, this is your place. Operated by the members and for the members, this shop has long supported the culture of craft in the community. There are too many artists to note but someone I know has an affinity for the work of Winston Quan and Michael Hosaluk. It’s definitely worth a stop along the Broadway trek.
In business since 1991, the Brainsport running store has become a pillar for the running community in Saskatoon. Brainsport is a locally owned shoe store who not only goes out of the way to fit you with the best pair of shoes that you’ll ever wear but also strives to serve the community both locally and abroad. Patron donations of gently used running shoes have found their way to local schools to provide adequate footware to children for physical activity and to the feet of Olympic level athletes training in Kenya. Regular ‘learn to run’, 10k, half and full marathon clinics motivate those to run their first races. Drop by for Wednesday nights at 6 to join the running club for a jaunt around the city – all levels of runners are welcome!
The Broadway Theatre built in 1946, with its prime location and unique history, perseveres as one of Canada’s 7 remaining community owned and operated theatres, featuring a variety of domestic and foreign independent film, live performances and diverse cultural programming. Depending on the night, the mid-size venue offers an intimate setting where you can catch live music, a play, a public lecture or a movie that you’ll be sure to never see in the ‘big theatres’. Check the monthly calendar handout for the schedule of events.
Other Attractions and Events
The University of Saskatchewan Campus is arguably one of the most picturesque in Canada. The best way to see the campus as a visitor may be through the Diefenbaker Canada Centre which provides free, leisurely walking tours that will highlight the University’s history, achievements, and unique architecture. The tours run Wednesday and Sundays at 1 during the summer months but be advised – pre booking is recommended. If you can’t make a tour, walk through the ‘bowl’ round which most of the campus’ historical buildings are located. There are also small museums and galleries to visit dispersed throughout campus which may be worth pin-pointing before you head out. Check out the biology building for a selection of aquarium and skeleton displays (including a full-size T-Rex) or the the campus observatory open-house Saturday nights. Even if it is the middle of winter – don’t fret – the majority of the central buildings are connected by covered and heated tunnels.
The Saskatoon Forestry Farm Park & Zoo
Nestled on the edge of a residential neighbourhood, this zoo brings a little bit of wild to the fringes of the city. This is the perfect place for a family outing. In the winter months, drive through the Enchanted Forest Holiday Light Tour.
Flock and Gather Craft Collective
Known for semi annual craft markets, this collective brings together local artists a few times a year to sell their beautifully crafted handmade items. If you’re in town at the right time, these events shouldn’t be missed.
Cameco Meewasin Skating Rink
If you’re in the city over the winter, lace up a pair of skates at the outdoor skating rink next to the Bessborough Hotel. Skating and skates are all free!
Sasktel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival
If your stay in Saskatoon happens to fall during the end of June, you’ll likely be greeted by the sounds of music pumping on one of a number of outdoor stages along the river. It is an event that most Saskatonians look forward to every year with a world class lineup of artists. Reserve tickets early as shows sell out quickly.
The Potash Fringe Theatre Festival
Organized by the 25th Street Theatre Centre Inc., this week long festival shuts down part of Broadway and is a platform for performance art that takes place in theatres and on the street. Street buskers, vendors, food trucks and crowds of onlookers temporarily transform Braodway Avenue during the beginning of August.
The Sheep Dogs, musicians
Joni Mitchell, singer/songwriter
Yann Martel, writer
Catriona LeMay Doan, speed skater, Olympian