The Hollows (built inside a funky old Chinese restaurant) and Ayden Kitchen and Bar have been wowing Saskatoon visitors for several years. Little Grouse on the Prairie, run by the folks behind Ayden, also has earned fantastic reviews for its modern Italian cuisine. Now comes Sticks and Stones, a downtown place serving Japanese and Korean food which is run by the chefs who started Ayden Kitchen and Bar. Look for remarkable sushi, as well as a killer spicy ramen dish that’s rich and powerful without requiring a fire extinguisher. The octopus fritters also are remarkable. You’ll find wonderful Asian food in Riversdale at The Odd Couple, including a luscious tomato curry and sausages made with Thai spices. Regina’s food scene isn’t quite as established, but I had some of the best duck confit of my life at Crave Kitchen and Wine Bar. They have a great patio, as well.
The Riversdale area of Saskatoon is one of the coolest, trendiest neighborhoods in Western Canada. You wouldn’t have gone here 10 years ago, but the area has been cleaned up nicely now. Collective Coffee serves the perfect pour-over java in a cool, urban space, while Drift features a beach-y theme and serves great coffee lattes and other treats. There’s a rooftop patio, too. The magnificent Roxy Theatre, which dates back to 1930, is one of the few “atmospheric” theatres left in Canada, with an imitation Mexican village built into the walls and and romantic clouds and stars displayed on the ceiling. Hard Pressed sells organic denim pants called “nudie jeans,” as well as cool, Saskatchewan t-shirts with a nice, urban feel.
ON THE WATER
The Prairie Lily is a glorious old riverboat that provides nice rides on the South Saskatchewan River, passing under several bridges and steaming along past lovely riverside homes and parks. You’ll get great views of the city’s churches and skyline. A company called Canoeski can take you on guided canoe rides down the river into town. There’s even an unofficial nude beach on the river, a little outside of town.
They just announced this week that the beautiful, new Remai Modern art gallery will open in downtown Saskatoon in October. The gallery includes almost all the lino cuts produced by Picasso during his illustrious career. They’ll also have other modern and contemporary art. The building is a beauty, with lots of pale stone and tons of natural light. Not to mention great views of the South Saskatchewan River. Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan is a great acting troupe that does performances under a big tent in a park on the edge of the river, a short walk from downtown. I saw a rollicking rendition of Taming of the Shrew a few years ago. South of Saskatoon, the little town of Manitou Beach has a thriving arts community.
Just outside Saskatoon, the Wanuskewin Heritage Park is a marvellous place to learn about indigenous Canadian culture on the prairies. You’ll find wonderful displays about the ways of life of Canadian aboriginals and fantastic old photos and paintings. The region was a gathering spot for centuries; a place where once plentiful and life-providing bison could be hunted or berries gathered. In addition to checking out the indoor exhibits, visitors can take lovely hikes through the surrounding hills and admire a pretty, sweeping section of the South Saskatchewan River.
CRAFT BEER AND LIQUOR
Rebellion Brewing in Regina is trying to woo locals off bland, mass-produced products with a series of very good craft beers using Saskatchewan malt. They’re also super-casual in a “Hey, we’re just a bunch of guys from Saskatchewan” kind of way. Try their Amber Ale or the Prairie Cherry Mead. Nine Mile Brewing in Saskatoon was started by a couple of young Saskatchewan fellows who grew up on farms nine miles from each other. The beers are fresh and lively and wonderful without being too hoppy or bitter. They’ve named some of the beers after relatives, such as their Stand Up Brown, named after one of their stand-up bass-playing grandfathers. Not far from town is Black Fox, a handsome distillery where they also grow cut flowers. Their best known for their gin but are aiming to make the next great Canadian whiskey.
The town of Regina Beach is an adorable, small village on a hill that drops down to a pretty lake with a nice stretch of sand and a playground for kids. You might be in the middle of the continent, but it’s a fine beach. In town, check out the historic Bluebird Café for a burger or fish and chips. A bit further north is Manitou Beach, a mineral-laden body of water where just about anyone – or anything – can float. Only two others like it in the world, one in Czech Republic and the other being the Dead Sea. Stop in at Danceland to check out one of the great old dance halls of North America. It’s a beautiful, romantic building with many stories to tell.
They do a weekly market at Victoria Park in downtown Regina that’s a lot of fun. When I was there I tried remarkable goodies from Barbara Harder-Lutz, who calls herself the Cake Witch and makes cakes with everything from pears to limes to ginger. You’ll also find Nepalese sesame balls with molasses and food trucks dishing out everything from healthy sandwiches to perogies and Mexican food, as well as more exotic treats such as lemon kombucha and a Saskatchewan treat called “confetti cake,” which has coloured marshmallows, peanut butter, butterscotch and margarine. The market goes every Wednesday and Saturday from May 6 to Oct. 14. They also do night events. The Saskatoon Farmers’ Market is right downtown and has an outdoor and indoor section that offers everything from exotic Asian cuisine to locally grown fruits, including Saskatoon berries. They’re open year -round. A few restaurants are open Tuesday to Sunday, but most vendors are here on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. A wonderful and surprising market in a cool city.
MEET THE MOUNTIES
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are one of the icons of the country, and they do their training in Regina at the RCMP Heritage Centre. There’s an enjoyable, informative film you can see prior to a tour of the centre, where you’ll see where they do their parade marching and perhaps even see some training action. Graduates of the academy leave two dozen roses at a cenotaph each week to honour RCMP members who have died in the line of duty. There’s also a cool, 1883 chapel you can check out. The main centre building has great displays on the history of the Mounties, including colourful frontier figures and exhibits on modern crime-fighting techniques.
Saskatchewan folks like to joke that their province is so flat “you can see your dog run away for three days.” In fact, however, there are some pretty hills and also a very beautiful valley called the Qu’Appelle valley; a gorgeous ribbon that runs for miles and miles through the heart of the southern part of the province. Villages such as Lumsden are an easy drive from Regina. Stop in at Fourth and James coffee shop in Lumsden for a fantastic snack bar with coconut, butterscotch, chocolate and potato chips.
WHERE TO STAY
The Delta Bessborough, known as The Castle on the River, is one of those great, old hotels built by the Canadian National Railway a gorgeous brick throwback that towers over the Saskatchewan River. Rooms are very modern and well-equipped, and there’s a nice spa. Ask for a room overlooking the river. Hotel Saskatchewan is an Autograph Collection by Marriott property that’s your best bet in Regina, with a graceful lobby and beautiful rooms. They do a very good job at breakfast, too.