Thursday, September 2, 2021

A River Runs Through It : Exploring Saskatoon

We spent several days in the beautiful prairie city of Saskatoon, cleaning and drying out our gear, losing our mail along with our winter gear, trying to catch up with our blogs and other commitments, attempting to resupply, exploring, and hoping to relax and re-energize ourselves before pushing onwards.  Here are some of the highlights and impressions from our stay.


We enjoyed walking the busy and vibrant downtown streets, which provided a nice mix of modern and historic buildings.  The tree- lined promenades of the downtown house boutique shops, many small cafés, eateries, and pubs, and a wide variety of services.  We visited during the labour day weekend, which meant students were returning to the University of Saskatchewan and the Nutrien Fireworks Festival was taking place along the waterfront.  After spending so long traversing the isolated and dusty prairie backroads we enjoyed being surrounded by so much energy, optimism, and activity. 

During our ramblings we visited the old Saskatoon Train Station, which was built in 1908 and is now a National Historic Site of Canada and a Heritage Railway Station.  The Canadian Pacific Railway station now houses a selection of shops and restaurants, but when it was built it served as a passenger depot, telegraph station, and a mail and freight depot.  Saskatoon was initially bypassed by both transcontinental railways, but it's growing significance as a major distribution point for south-central Saskatchewan resulted in the convergence of three separate lines by 1908, when the station was built.

Another railway-related landmark we enjoyed seeing was the iconic Bessborough Hotel, which was designed by Archibald and Schofield for the Canadian National Railway.  The Chateau-style building, which is now managed by Delta Hotels, was opened in 1935, and is recognizably one of Canada's grand railway hotels, bearing a striking resemblance to Quebec City's Chateau Frontenac.  Like many Fairmont Hotels across the country the exterior was decorated with carved stone grotesques, but instead of depicting demons and other scary mythical creatures, the ones on the Bessborough represent local animals, including a beaver and a bee.  The hotel is located along the river at one end of the main downtown street, and the facade of the old CN railway station can still be seen at the opposite end of the street on the front of the Midtown Shopping Center.  

The greenspaces and parks that border the South Saskatchewan River, and through which the Meewasin Trail passes, feature an interesting variety of statues, artwork, and interpretive signage that provides insight into Saskatoon's history and character.

At one end of the park we came upon the Founder's Statue, depicting Chief Whitecap showing John Lake where to establish his Temperance Colony during the founding of Saskatoon.

Another statue showed Gabriel Dumont, the renown buffalo hunter, entrepreneur, and military general riding his horse.  Dumont is perhaps best known as the Métis general who led the military forces against the Canadian Militia during the Northwest Resistance.  This five-month conflict occurred in 1885 when tensions between John A. McDonald's Canadian government on one side and the Métis and their First Nations Allies on the other came to a head.  

By the 1870's the Plains Indigenous People were facing starvation because the buffalo herds on which they depended were being pushed to extinction, their land was being signed away in the numbered treaties, and they were watching as settlers built towns, farms, and fences across the once expansive prairies.  The Métis were becoming concerned because their interests weren't covered in the numbered treaties, and they feared they would lose their homesteads and farms to settlement.  When communication with the government failed a number of battles were fought, and the resistance were eventually defeated by the federal troops.

Gabriel Dumont negotiated with the Canadian government prior to the outbreak of fighting, he was instrumental in bringing Louis Riel back up to Canada to lead the resistance, and he led the resistance troops during the conflict.  Dumont fled to the US to join Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show when the resistance was defeated, but he returned to his homestead in 1886 when he was pardoned by the Canadian government. He died in 1906, having earned the nickname 'the Prince of the Plains.'

We were very pleased to see recognition for the role Indigenous and Métis Peoples played in the history of the region, and to see examples of how the different cultures can come together and can coexist.  A nice example of this was at the Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan tent, next to which was the Contemplation Circle.  


The Contemplation Circle was a circular wooden structure intended for everyone to enjoy and to share stories, songs, or quiet contemplation.  Around the top was written 'Come in, you are welcome' in all of the original languages of the land.  Although the concept is a little different from a theater, it is a place of gathering and storytelling.


Next to it the Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan is a stage inside a large tent where professional productions of Shakespeare's plays and other related works are performed for the enrichment of all.  Sadly there were no ongoing productions being performed during our visit, as it would have been interesting to see an outdoor, riverside play.  

Just down the river from the Shakespeare theater was the dock for the Prairie Lily, a picturesque red and white riverboat that offers one hour sightseeing and dinner cruises on the South Saskatchewan River several times a day during the summer months.  We decided to take a sightseeing tour one afternoon, and very much enjoyed sitting on the open air upper deck and in the enclosed lower dining and bar area, as we saw Saskatoon from a different perspective.  





We learned a lot about the history of the city and its landmarks, and we enjoyed sailing under the many curved and unique bridges that span the waterway.  If you're ever in Saskatoon, this would definitely be something we'd recommend checking out!


In our many wanderings through the riverside parks we also enjoyed seeing the gazebo-like zhongshan ting, or pagoda, in Victoria Park.  This beautiful structure was donated by the Zhongshan Ting Committee to celebrate and commemorate the first Chinese immigrants and their contributions to the development of Saskatoon.  In Chinese culture the pagoda is a communal place of worship and fellowship, and the one in Victoria Park was covered in brightly coloured and incredibly beautiful patterns, giving it a rich, Imperial feel.  

Not far from the zhongshan ting was another public artwork by Gordon Reeve, entitled ' The Coming Spring' which celebrates the ongoing truth and reconciliation process in Canada.  The artwork is a metal 3/4 oval surrounding two teepee-like poles which represent two strong, simple systems in support of one another.  There are wind chimes hanging from the directional poles which represent the voices of children lost in the residential schools.  This monument is a symbolic commitment to truth and reconciliation and it signifies working together, recognizing and acknowledging each other, and looking through the past to the future.

Another tribute to the passage of time and to looking to the future we discovered in the time capsule that was placed in the park for Saskatoon's centennial in 1982.  Thousands of Saskatoon residents participated in the creation of the capsule, and it was dedicated by Her Royal Highness the Princess Anne. 



 
We very much enjoyed exploring Saskatoon over the course of a few days, visiting a few of its cafés and eateries, and even sampling the offerings of the 21st Street Brewery.  However, the short break ultimately did little to restore our energy and enthusiasm for pushing on.  We arrived exhausted, but despite quiet and comfortable accommodations we've been unable to sleep. To complicate things further, our mail has become lost in the system, we've failed to find replacement shoes in the right size for Sean, and despite trying hard we haven't found good replacements for our tent and tarp, or the bits and pieces of camera gear that have worn out, and many of the items we need are on backorder. The prospect of heading back out into the cool, wet, fall mornings we know are coming with no waterproof gear at all and very little energy made us decide to take a few days away from the trail to visit my parents, whom we haven't seen in nearly two years.  Hopefully we will return from BC in a week re-energized, re-supplied and ready for adventure. 
 





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