An artist's guide to falling in love with Saskatoon: Storm watching, karaoke and...thistle thickets?
Zachari Logan takes you on a tour of his favourite local spots in the Paris of the Prairies
Earlier this year, Saskatoon became the only Canadian city on The New York Times's annual "52 Places to Go" list, ranking 18th. Times writer Jada Yuan will be visiting all of the places on the list in order, meaning that this week is Saskatoon's big moment. So CBC Arts decided to ask artist Zachari Logan to run down some tips for Yuan and anyone else heading to his hometown this summer.
City named for a berry. City of bridges. Paris of the Prairies. Former home of Joni. Former home of me. As a child, I loved living on the edge of a suburban outskirt. There were plenty of frog ponds, wildflowers and endless dramatic skies. I never once found my landscape boring, physically — or later, as I became an artist, metaphorically. Saskatoon has always seemed sleepy to me, but in the best possible way. It is rousing to a few important changes since my teen years; a powerfully artistic place with intense beauty and ugliness as well. Complicated, isolated and present to the weather, as any northern prairie city is, here is my Saskatoon top 10 in no particular order...
"Back in my hometown, they would have cleared the floor just to watch the rain come down! They're such sky oriented people, Geared to changing weather..." - Joni Mitchell, "Paprika Plains"
In the summertime, simply look up and you will likely experience epic rumbling skies at some point. Thunderstorms are a favourite. I've witnessed tornados as well; they are as awesomely beautiful as they are dangerous. Winter storms can be equally impressive.
My favourite building in the city, hands down, is the Sturdy Stone Building. This monolithic elegant example of 1970s modernism is truly odd and stunning — it's a permanent art installation of Saskatchewan's clay gods, adorned inside and out by the likes of Joe Fafard and Vic Cicansky, with an unfathomably large ceramic relief on the exterior of the west facing facade by Jack Sures.
Second is the Bay Building, now known as the Bay Lofts. This very rare Hudson's Bay Building — with its gorgeous diamond-shaped brightly coloured tile murals on its exterior — was thankfully, in an uncharacteristic move, not torn down by the city after being left dormant for several years. This unique modernist building has now been repurposed as loft condos to stunning effect.
Third (and here I'm being a bit typical) is the Bessborough Hotel, nestled in the centre of Saskatoon's downtown at the head of 21st Street along the river. It's a replica castle, with great views; visible from most places along the river, it's truly an icon, appearing on almost every postcard of the city!
I love Riversdale, the main street of which is 20th Street West. This has always been my part of the city, well before it became a hipster haven with shops, art galleries, restaurants and the farmers Market just a block over on 19th Street. 20th Street has many important community centres, including the White Buffalo Youth Lodge and the Friendship Inn. The best coffee in town is at Underground Café, located right next door to AKA/Paved Arts, which is right across the street from Park Café, my favourite restaurant (you won't find a better eggs benny). The lovely Roxy Theatre is also near by and there is great thrift shopping with Village Green and Hazelwood.
University of Saskatchewan campus
Undoubtedly one of the most beautiful campuses in Canada, the University of Saskatchewan was founded 111 years ago in 1907, and the architecture spans that timeline. A central open green space called the "bowl" stretches off into walking paths throughout. Notably, the newest building on campus — the stunning Gordon Oakes Redbear Student Centre — is an intercultural gathering place aimed at ensuring the success of Inuit, Indigenous and Métis students; it was envisioned by renowned architect Douglas Cardinal.
Appropriately nestled in the same back alley as my favourite art supply store Art Placement, Divas is a great spot to dance and it's also a slice of queer history on the Prairies. It was the first gay bar in the province, formerly known in the 1980s as Numbers. Divas will always have a place in my heart because it's where met my husband (long before Grindr)...so go old-school for a night, turn off your apps and dance to Whitney, Sia and Scissor Sisters.
I am a karaoke freak, so another favourite is Cracker's Lounge. Located in Lawson Heights a ways from the downtown, this pub has a longstanding karaoke league, hosting regular karaoke with unending selection by longtime DJ-extraordinaire Cam Zoller.
Most magical spot
Thistle thickets along the east side of the south Saskatchewan river grow at least 13 feet high by mid-to-late July across an acre of land directly behind the University of Saskatchewan campus. It's magical to behold, or walk amongst, but maybe wear pants.
The Wanuskewin Heritage Park cannot be missed. This site is an ancient and incredibly powerful interpretive centre that has been a meeting place for six millennia. Wanuskewin is on the list of tentative World UNESCO sites, highlighting many intact features that long pre-date settler contact, such as a bison jump, campsites and Tipi rings. With extensive walking paths throughout the site, the longest-running archaeology field school in the country and art galleries aimed at programming contemporary Indigenous art to complement the interpretation of Indigenous culture of the northern plains (the only of its kind with such programming), Wanuskewin is a place to contemplate the pre-colonial histories and contemporary realities of the Indigenous peoples who inhabit the land now known as Saskatchewan.
Museums and art galleries
All of the public art galleries in Saskatoon offer great programming. AKA Artist-Run and Paved Arts share a space on 20th Street not too far off from the truly remarkable new Remai Modern. This museum, now housing the collection of the former Mendel Art Gallery, is currently working to expand the city's idea of a world-class art institution in continuation of Mendel's own 50 years earlier. The Kenderdine Art Gallery and College Art Galleries offer fantastic programming in a beautiful space across the river on the University of Saskatchewan Campus. Last but not least for public galleries, the aforementioned Wanuskewin also has project spaces with cutting-edge Indigenous programming.
As private art spaces go, The Gallery is worth a visit, housing a roster of some truly amazing Saskatchewan-based artists. And attached is Art Placement, the best art supply store in western Canada...and the place I drop more money than anywhere else in the world.
Simply walk, sit, sunbathe, nap beside, boat/kayak on or somehow contemplate her beauty...but no swimming — she's named "speedy current" (Saskatchewan translated from Cree) for a reason! In a particularly cold winter, one could even ice skate, as Joni Mitchell references in her classic song River. Saskatoon is known as the "city of bridges," and there are a few worth walking across for sure, Broadway Bridge and University Bridge offer good views: but the most spectacular may be from the old train bridge just off 33rd Street.
Check out Zachari Logan's website to see his work and listings of his upcoming shows.