"It's just breathtakingly beautiful," said Bill Bolstad as he walked around Saskatoon's freshly opened Remai Modern art museum Saturday morning.

The lifelong art collector and admirer was among the first dozen members of the public to step foot inside the museum. Doors opened — following a lengthy opening ceremony — shortly after 10 a.m.

Bolstad drove from Regina just for the occasion, waiting patiently alongside the crowd of about 70 attendees in the chilly, rain-soaked air under the building's front canopy.

Bill Bolstad, first male from left

Art lover Bill Bolstad (centre, with hands clasped) drove from Regina for the opening. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

"But it was worth every minute," he said. "The building is just beyond words to describe. Just an absolute delight to be here."

1st impressions caught live

Darrel Epp, reviewing appetizer options inside the gallery's riverview restaurant, agreed, admiring the building's "wonderful, crisp space that Saskatoon is going to grow into."

While some people could be heard complaining about the wide, spare spaces, Epp said he dug it.

Remai Modern

Visitors got their first look at the 'clear, crisp space' of Remai Modern Saturday. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

"Because what happens in a clear, crisp space is that the people actually stand out in it," he said.

"If you stand on the second gallery and look down, the people will look like little miniature objects in black and various colours against that beautiful white floor."

Remai Modern

The view of the ground-floor lobby from the second floor. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

First-time visitors had fun pointing out the museum's quirks, such as the opulent-appearing front-lobby hanging display … 

Remai Modern

(Guy Quenneville/CBC)

… which, upon closer inspection, turned out to be a crafty nest of white blinds.

white blind display

(Guy Quenneville/CBC)

Some (like this film-buff reporter) found their way to the tucked-away, 150-seat Sasktel Theatre, where a subtitled art film showed off the theatre's impressive acoustics.

Sasktel Theatre at Remai Modern

The 150-seat Sasktel Theatre. Could a Top Gun screening be close at hand? (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

Mayor likens opening to 'birth'

The hour-and-a-half-long opening ceremony, marked by traditional First Nation and Métis performances from Buffalo Boy Productions and the Cree Land Dancers, began at around 8:30 a.m.

Mayor Charlie Clark, calling it "an ambitious building for an ambitious city," was visibly happy to be speaking at the museum's opening, thanking fellow city councillors for "staying the course" with the project over the years.

Clark remarked later that the delivery of the $84.6-million project seemed akin to a "birth."

Mayor Charlie Clark Remai Modern

Mayor Charlie Clark at the newly opened museum. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

The highlight of the opening ceremony was a rare speech by Ellen Remai, the Picasso-quoting prime gallery donor who normally ducks away from the spotlight.

"This gallery is not only an investment and a home for us to gather, to share, to celebrate," she said. "It is an investment in a vibrant, creative centre for a city. It is an investment with our future in mind," said Remai.

"We will all stand a little taller when we see ourselves on the world stage."

Watch her full speech below:

Visiting staff from Winnipeg-based Border Crossings magazine said the opening of a new art gallery in Canada on the scale of Remai Modern is rare, citing the 2010 reopening of the Alberta Art Gallery in Edmonton as the most recent such event.

Border Crossings magazine staff

Staff from Winnipeg-based Border Crossings magazine prepare for an interview with museum executive director Gregory Burke. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

And while the museum came in over its initial estimated cost of $58 million, another first-time visitor Saturday didn't really care.

"It's a beautiful space," he said. "We're happy to see that it's up. What's a drop in the bucket, I mean, really? A couple million? $74 or $104 million — meh."

"We deserve it," said his wife.