Biggar, Sask., has big heart and community pride
CBC's virtual road trip series Land of Living Stories explores hidden gems across Saskatchewan
CBC's virtual road trip series Land of Living Stories explores the hidden gems and local stories across Saskatchewan. You can invite CBC's Laura Sciarpelletti to your community for a virtual tour. Visit cbc.ca/lovesk to pitch your ideas.
"New York is big. But this is Biggar."
That's what the sign reads when you drive into the town of Biggar, Sask. While the size of the town is anything but big, the heart of the community certainly is.
Biggar, about 90 kilometres west of Saskatoon, is nestled in rolling hills and surrounded by clumps of forest.
Ray Sadler moved to Biggar from Saskatoon in 1999. He fell in love with the community almost immediately. Sadler's businesses, Pizzeria Adria and Ray's Vinyl, are located in a funky building, built in 1924, in the downtown core of Biggar. He vividly remembers seeing the building for the first time.
"It was winter, it was very cold. I needed to [be] inside a building. When I first saw the inside, I thought, 'It has a lot of character! I can do something with it,'" Sadler said.
He was a bit of a curiosity to the tight-knit community when he first arrived in Biggar.
"But when they found out the food was OK — it was good — and I liked to laugh and I enjoyed the farm families and being out here, everything just kind of evolved in a beautiful way. My community is just really important to me. It's a strong community."
That connection pushed Sadler to eventually run for mayor. He won, and has been mayor of Biggar now for 14 years.
"Everyone here is unique to Biggar. Here you go all over the place to talk to people and they always come to visit you," said Sadler.
"This is the friendliness of towns. This is actually the friendliest of Saskatchewan."
So why not visit the town Sadler loves so dearly? Let's hop in the car and take a road trip to Biggar.
Beginning in Saskatoon, get on Highway 219 and head to Outlook. It's a lovely little town by the South Saskatchewan River, and happens to be the irrigation capital of the province.
Brenda Joyes has lived in Outlook for most of her life, and she wouldn't have it any other way.
"I love Outlook and I love the community. It was a wonderful place to raise my children," said Joyes.
Ray Sadler, Mayor of Biggar and owner of Pizzeria Adria and Ray's Vinyl, guest curated the 'Land of Living Stories' part 2 playlist. Hear his road trip picks here:
Her family loves being outdoors, and Outlook is known for its outdoor activities. It's even home to the country's longest pedestrian bridge — the Skytrail.
"We live right beside the river and the golf course runs along South Saskatchewan River. We love being there for canoeing and kayaking," said Joyes.
Anyone road tripping through Outlook simply must stop at Wolf Willow Winery, she says. The gorgeous winery, restaurant and camping destination makes its own fruit wine and mead, and guests can rent luxury teepees for camping.
"The luxury teepees are great for you to glamp in, and they overlook the river," Joyes said.
Wondering what "glamping" is? It's basically fancy and glamorous camping — but Wolf Willow offers up a creative Saskatchewan twist. And you are treated to a truly stunning prairie view.
Joyes says that if you want a true Outlook experience, try ditching the car for the afternoon.
"You can canoe or kayak along the river from Outlook to the Wolf Willow Winery and come up the banks of the river right at the winery and enjoy."
Joyes's favourite spot to eat in the area is Broderick Terrace, 10 minutes from Outlook. The restaurant has a packed menu that includes delicious Italian favourites like chicken cannelloni and veal parmesan.
Ancient Echoes Interpretive Centre
Time for a little learning. Hop back in the car and drive an hour west to the Ancient Echoes Interpretive Centre in the village of Herschel.
There you can take tours of both indoor and outdoor paleontology displays like dinosaurs, fossil displays and actual dig sites. Road trippers get a real immersion and in-person experience there.
Some of the best parts of the centre are the displays exploring First Nations history through petroglyphs, effigies, a buffalo jump, artifacts and much more.
Bison were once extremely prominent in the area, so it's a good idea to check out the art exhibition by Métis artist Jo Cooper called The Disappearance and Resurgence of the Buffalo.
And finally, we reach our destination: Biggar. Sadler's Pizzeria Adria is beloved around town for its many Greek, Italian and North American menu items. His suggestion is the Biggar Loaded pizza—a Saskatchewan twist on deep dish pizza.
The cheesy, filling pizza features jalapeño sausage made at local butcher shop Biggar Sausages & More, across the street from Pizzeria Adria. Sadler says you can't get better than the local meat shop.
Walking into Pizzeria Adria and Ray's Vinyl, you will see walls covered in writing by the many guests who have visited over the years.
"I've read comments where kids are, like, 10 and 12 and they're dating. And then they come back when they're 14 and 15 and erase that person's name," said Sadler, laughing.
There are splashy and colourful paintings lining the walls like one big collage. Toys hang from the ceiling and piles of records adorn most surfaces. It's easy to see that Pizzeria Adria and Ray's Vinyl are just as eclectic and fun as their owner.
"If this could be the vinyl pizza antique art store ... that would be beautiful for me. Because that's where I want it to go! I wanted something different," said Sadler.
"I always like to think outside of the box. When you get the outside of the box, you get the best stories from guests and kids. You know let him ramble and roll and what they do is they tell you their inner thoughts about everything."
History and nature
Biggar has a rich history with both good and bad moments. Sadler, who has delved deep into local history, says Biggar was once a bustling railway town. It was a major home for the Grand Trunk Railway, which employed a large group of Biggar residents.
The region was also home to the Ku Klux Klan for a period. During this time, there were reports of blazing crosses in the area. A flaming cross on a Biggar convent caused nuns to take to underground tunnels built between the parish and convent. The nuns were also trying to avoid being stoned and attacked by dogs, according to Sadler.
The tunnels still exist in Biggar today.
Sadler says that even though some of Biggar's history is upsetting, it's important for the community to acknowledge its past and work on constantly improving.
Today, Biggar families love the area for its close proximity to nature.
Ryan Huber, who owns Biggar Flower Shoppe and Hair Salon and his wife, Christy McCafferty, say they love hiking short trails surrounding the town with their four-year-old daughter, Lydia, and spotting wildlife like deer and moose.
"This is really where the interesting hilly-type area starts. You don't have to drive south for very long before it gets flat. From here all the way north is filled with hills and forests," Huber said.
Biggar also has its very own celebrity. His name is Milo Hanson and he is the very proud owner of the Hanson's Buck.
In 1993, Hanson was a hard-working Saskatchewan farmer. In his off time, he loved hunting deer with his friends. Little did he know one particular deer would change his life forever.
On a snowy November day, Hanson hunted and shot a massive white-tailed deer. Turns out he had just nabbed the biggest typical buck (a reference to antlers that grow straight up, rather than to the side) in the world.
The previous world record was shot 90 years ago, according to Hanson.
"I had quit smoking.... I hadn't had a cigarette for three years. I came out of the bush and I asked one of the guys for a smoke. It didn't taste good, but I smoked it anyway," said Hanson, chuckling.
Seemingly overnight, Hanson's life became public.
"When the word got out, different [hunting] show promoters were calling me and I started to travel to different places at trade shows. And then we ended up with so much traffic to our place," Hanson said.
Fame often comes with changes in personality. Hanson says he was no different. He says he went from being pretty introverted to being an outgoing guy in the aftermath of shooting the buck. His wife took notice.
"My wife said one day, 'I'll break this record with a hammer!'"
Twenty-six years later, Hanson still holds the world record for the biggest typical buck in history. No one has even come close.
Biggar has honoured Hanson by putting up a massive roadside buck figure. Hanson also donated a replica of the buck head to the Biggar Museum & Gallery — a must-see on any Biggar road trip.
Today, Hanson still lives in Biggar where he shot the buck that made him famous.
Needless to say, Biggar is big in some pretty fun ways.
Listen to the full Biggar virtual road trip here: