Saskatoon man opens saloon for nutty clientele

Dave Hunchak used his quarantine time to build a saloon for his backyard buddies, some Franklin's ground squirrels.

It's the kind of cozy place where you can just throw your peanut shells on the floor

One of the One Star Saloon's first customers nibbles on a bar snack. (Submitted by Dave Hunchak)

Many people have taken up new hobbies during the COVID-19 pandemic. Baking bread, tie-dying and puzzling have all become trends.

Dave Hunchak decided he would rather go squirrely.

Hunchak is a retired engineer. He has lived with his wife and two children on a property southeast of Saskatoon for 15 years. In that time he has cultivated a friendship with the local ground squirrels. He said they have all types, including Richardson ground squirrels, thirteen-lined squirrels and Franklin's ground squirrels.

It was the Franklin's ground squirrels that really grabbed his attention.

"They are so inquisitive and they just jump into my lap looking for peanuts," Hunchak said.

He believes there are five or six of them living on the property.

Franklin's ground squirrels were named after the explorer Sir John Franklin and at one time were considered at risk. Nowadays the species is prolific and locally abundant. Females can live for four to five years, while males typically do not survive beyond the age of two.

Last year, Hunchak was inspired to build a little set for the squirrels. He went to his wood shop and built them some little stools to sit on. He said had seen other people doing it online and he really enjoyed the pictures of squirrels enjoying their snacks in human scenarios.

Then COVID-19 arrived and brought with it the inspiration for the One Star Saloon.

"I started building it early into the pandemic and I put in probably about 100 hours," Hunchak said.

Hunchak and his family decided to all shelter-in-place together during the pandemic, which meant their grown children moved back home so they could quarantine together. He said building the saloon was great distraction from the world for all of them.

Hunchak's customers have the run of the place. (Submitted by Dave Hunchak)

Hunchak used a combination of textiles. He built a lot of it by hand in his wood shop, but used a 3D printer for some items like a wine bottle. Hunchak said that when he put the 3D-printed items out the first time, they melted in the heat, so he had to remake them with a stronger compound.

Once the saloon was built it was time to let the doors swing open for its first customer. Opening day happened to coincide with the launch of Phase 3 of the province's reopening plan, which allowed bars and restaurants to open.

Hunchak said it only took 15 minutes for his first squirrel to arrive, but the visit didn't go as planned. He wanted to create "the kind of place where you can just throw your peanut shells on the floor," but his first few customers grabbed the shelled peanuts and ran off.

"Then I put down peanut butter and they would stay in place long enough for me to take a picture," he said.

The proof is in the peanut butter! 

Hunchak said the squirrels are trying to follow physical distancing rules, because they don't like other squirrels being in the saloon at the same time. However, there have been a couple bar fights when two of them come in at the same time, he said.

In total, Huncak thinks the project cost him around $200 to build. He said it was money well spent, because ended up with photos that make people smile.

As for his wife, the squirrels are interrupting her gardening time. Hunchak said he has had to pause building anymore sets for the time being. Instead, he is busy installing a barricade around his wife's garden. 


Fiona Odlum

CBC Staffer

Fiona is a contributor at CBC Saskatchewan. She is from Winnipeg and that is where she started her broadcasting career more than 15 years ago. Fiona has done everything from traffic reporting in a helicopter, to breaking news, to anchoring and hosting talk radio across the country, to telling weather stories.