By Debra Smith | May 13, 2021
It’s little wonder The New York Times Places to Go hit on Saskatoon a few years back: This is a small prairie city that punches above its weight. Culinary creatives preserve the best practices of the first settlers, Indigenous artists are showcased at a gleaming international gallery, and a museum started by women in the 1930s celebrates Ukrainian culture. And all that good prairie grain needs to go somewhere—think: doughnuts and distilleries.
Things to Do
Picasso on the prairies? Yes, the Remai Modern, an architecturally stunning museum that opened in 2017, holds the world’s largest Picasso linocut collection. Beyond its permanent collection, the museum is dedicated to exploring the concept of modern art in as many ways and from as many perspectives as there are artists. In particular, the museum supports the work of Canada’s Indigenous artists as they explore themes like reconciliation and healing.
The Ukrainian Museum of Canada, a mid-century-modern building overlooking the broad South Saskatchewan River, began as a vision of the Ukrainian Women’s Association of Canada in 1936. In 1967, the organization commissioned William Kurelek to create a series of highly detailed paintings honouring women pioneers. The Main Gallery holds one of the largest collections of woven and embroidered textiles in North America, along with displays of pysanka, intricately designed, colourful Ukrainian Easter eggs.
Nothing beats a leisurely float on a riverboat. The Prairie Lily, a 64-foot replica paddlewheeler, runs one-hour cruises on the South Saskatchewan complete with an amusing historical commentary. Sunset dinner cruises book up far in advance, but the bar is open on the afternoon cruises. Try the signature Prairie Lily cocktail, but don’t go overboard.
Lucky Bastard Distillers is a perfect name for a distillery funded by a lottery ticket and the first one built in Saskatoon since Prohibition. They’ve been pushing their luck ever since to great success, making more than 30 kinds of spirits, including Lucky Bastard Absinthe, Chai Vodka and their almost-always-sold-out Dill Pickle Vodka. Take a tasting tour or drop in to the gift shop for samples and get lucky.
Give in to your darkest impulses, chocolatey or otherwise, at Darkside Donuts. As irresistible as the name implies, these sweet treats are named after local celebrities like Richard St. Barbe Baker, an environmental activist. The house special Darkside Dip is 100% vegan, so you can feel wicked and good at the same time.
Half an hour south of town lands you at Farm One Forty, a family farm that hosts multi-course dinners, cooking classes and campfires.
Name-check “The Chief” with a plate of Diefenbaker trout served at chef Dale MacKay’s award-winning Ayden Kitchen & Bar. Or bring on the romance by candlelight in a dark wood-panelled booth and share a roasted chicken for two with bacon and Gruyère scalloped potatoes. If Canada’s original Top Chef winner has committed to Saskatchewan, you can too.
Where to Stay
Conveniently located on the Riverwalk, right across from Remai Modern, the trend-setting Alt Hotel has been carefully curated, right down to the local artwork by its Canadian owners, the Germain Group. Find everything you need, from blackout blinds to a bedside USB port, right at your fingertips.
The grand CNR hotel Delta Hotels Bessborough was built in 1935, and it still retains charming details like penny tiles in the bath and transom lights. The pale-blue velvet-and-cream furnishings are plush but not stuffy, just like the hotel. “The Bess” lets the good times roll every summer, hosting Rock the River and the Saskatchewan Jazz Festival on the lawn that fronts the Riverwalk.