There’s an old local joke that describes Saskatchewan as a place that is “hard to spell, but easy to draw.”
That saying rings true. The rectangle-shaped province with the long name is home to 1.3 million people. It’s been called the “bread basket” of Canada. Rich rolling farmland covers its southern plains, with rivers, lakes and thick forests in the north.
To be honest, I hadn’t spent much time in Saskatchewan. But small towns and rural life appeal to me, so when I got the opportunity, I jumped at the chance to visit.
The first thing most visitors to Saskatoon notice is the wide South Saskatchewan River that winds its way through heart of the city. A series of bridges connects the east and west sides of town, and a kilometers-long trail runs along the river.
Perched along the trail overlooking the river stands the grand chateau-style Delta Bessborough. Just walking into the historic hotel feels like a step back in time, only this step back in time includes luxury rooms and fine details that show off its 4-diamond elegance. This would be the perfect base for the next few days.
But relaxing at “the Bess” as locals call it, would have to wait to wait, because I was eager to explore the city. With 222,000 residents, Saskatoon is the largest city in Saskatchewan. Those numbers will soon change, because Saskatoon is among the fastest growing cities in Canada. Younger Canadians and start-up companies have found an affordable and welcoming home here, and that youth and vibrancy is obvious.
Former run-down neighborhoods, like Riversdale and Broadway District, have experienced an impressive renaissance. The streets are lined with unique boutiques, busy coffee shops and bustling restaurants. As I browsed, I noticed a proud focus on local products, from Saskatoon Berry jam to the latest local designers.
That local focus came into better into view when my friends and I dined at The Hollows. Owned by former model Christie Peters and her husband, Kyle Michael, the cuisine uses the best ingredients in the region, from vegetables grown in the restaurant’s garden to local fish and wild-harvested mushrooms. While this farm-to-table focus is common these days, it’s the preparation of the dishes that takes this cuisine to the next level. It’s fresh, flavorful and well-presented, and I have to admit – I was impressed.
The Hollows isn’t the only restaurant making a splash in Saskatchewan. Later, we dined at Ayden Kitchen & Bar, run by Canada’s original top chef Dale Mackay, and partners Nathan Guggenheimer and Christopher Cho. Their scrumptious dishes are just what you’d expect from such a star-studded team.
Even the tiny, but bustling Calories, a long-time local favorite, hit it out of the park with their tasty cuisine and bakery items. With dining options like this, I was going to have to loosen my belt during my time here.
First Nations Heritage
Saskatchewan’s First Nations is honored at Wanuskewin Heritage Park, just a few minutes from the city. This National Historic Site shares the story of the land and its first people with visitors. It's also an important archeological dig site, with artifacts dating back more than 6,000 years.
“When you come to Saskatchewan, you should experience First Nations culture,” our guide, Chris Standing, told us. “It's our story, our heritage. For more than 6,000 years, the Indigenous peoples of the Northern Plains have come to this region, following the bison.”
We watched a teepee being built, and learned about its special meaning. Later, we got to try our hand at throwing an atl atl, a type of wooden spear that was used for hunting more than 3,000 years ago. It takes some practice.
Urban Adventure in Saskatoon
After exploring the province’s First Nations heritage, we wanted to see the city’s adventurous side. The Wyant Group Raceway is a local NASCAR raceway that holds stock car races and other events. On select days throughout the season, they offer visitors the chance to drive a stock car themselves.
After getting suited up, I climbed into a bright purple stock car and got strapped into all the safety gear. Then I was ready to go. As first, I was timid as I pulled out onto the track.
“Go high in the straightaway and tight in the corners,” the instructor told. And so I did, edging faster and faster. The car’s tires were wide and fat, and they squealed as we went around the corners.
“Now you’re doing it!” my instructor exclaimed. I gave the car more gas.
There was a huge grin on my face when we pulled back in. I’d never imagined driving a stock car in the middle of the Canadian prairie, but it was an experience I won’t forget.
Kayaking on the South Saskatchewan River
The sky was bright blue on our last morning in Saskatoon, which meant it was the perfect time for some kayaking. The South Saskatchewan River is wide, and local outfitters rent kayaks, paddleboards and prairie-river canoes. We each selected a kayak, and within minutes were on the water. The river provided a different view of the city, as we paddled under bridge after bridge, viewing the urban activity of Saskatoon.
Though Saskatchewan may be known for its farmlands, water is a central part of life here. The province has more than 100,000 lakes.
“We have to tease the Minnesotans when they brag about their 10,000 lakes,” one local from Saskatchewan told me. “We have 10 times that many.”
And indeed they do.
Prince Albert National Park
One of the most popular lake regions is found in Prince Albert National Park, just a few hours north of Saskatoon.
The national park draws Canadians and Americans who come for the world-class fishing, but it’s also a favorite lakeside destination for families. Cottages, campgrounds and small hotels are plentiful. We chose to stay at the Elk Ridge Lodge, which is set in the heart of a boreal forest. There’s a golf course onsite, and in the winter, many come for cross-country skiing and ice-fishing.
Prince Albert National Park has 3,875 square kilometers of protected land, which includes everything from grassland to aspen parkland to boreal forest. We saw this on our day hike to Grey Owl’s cabin with a guide from Waskesiu Marina.
Grey Owl and his wife had pet beavers and the cabin had a “beaver door,” so to speak. The animals could swim up from the outside into a beaver den which was located in the cabin, then they would exit the den into the home. It sounds fun, except that beavers are smelly.
Fishing at Prince Albert National Park
We spent our last day in Saskatchewan on the lake. The expert fishing guides at Waskesiu Marina offer a “Learn to Fish” program, so we took them up on it. Our guide directed the wide pontoon boat to a favorite fishing spot on the lake. Then with a little instruction, we cast our lines.
Soon enough, the fish were biting, even for me. You should have seen the HUGE pike fish that got away from my net. (Really!) There’s something so relaxing about drifting slowly on the water under a deep blue sky.
“This is pretty sweet,” one of my friends said, looking across the lake.
I could only nod in agreement. Yes, indeed.
When You Go to Saskatchewan, check out these two sites:
Author Bio: Janna Graber is the managing editor at Go World Travel Magazine, and the editor of three travel anthologies, including A Pink Suitcase: 22 Tales of Women’s Travel.