Exploring the Canadian Heartland in Saskatoon

By Janna Graber
Janna Graber
Janna Graber
Janna Graber has covered travel in more than 55 countries. She is the editor of three travel anthologies, including “A Pink Suitcase: 22 Tales of Women’s Travel,” and is the managing editor of Go World Travel Magazine.
September 24, 2019 Updated: October 28, 2019

In Saskatchewan, locals joke about living in a place that is “hard to spell, but easy to draw.” I’d have to agree. Before visiting the Canadian province, I didn’t know much about this part of Canada, let alone know how to spell it.

Located north of Montana and North Dakota, and tucked between Alberta and Manitoba, Saskatchewan is shaped like a rectangle and home to 1.3 million people. The province has been called the breadbasket of Canada—and for good reason. Rich rolling farmland covers its southern plains with rivers, lakes, and forests in the north. If you live in North America and eat chickpeas and lentils, chances are they came from Saskatchewan.

Tourism Saskatchewan
Rich rolling farmland covers the province’s southern plains and rivers, lakes, and forests in the north. (Tourism Saskatchewan)

Saskatoon: Youthful Vibes and a Growing City

Though Regina is the capital, I’m headed to Saskatoon, the largest city in Saskatchewan. The first thing most visitors to this town of 270,000 residents notice is the South Saskatchewan River, which winds its way through the heart of the city. A series of bridges connect the east and west sides of town. The popular Meewasin Trail runs along both sides of the river and through the city’s many natural areas and landscaped parks.

View of the Delta Bessborough Hotel
The Delta Hotels by Marriott Bessborough. (Tourism Saskatoon)

I’ve chosen to stay at the chateau-style Delta Bessborough, a large historic hotel located right on the river. Walking into the “Bess,” as locals call it, feels like a step back in time, only this step back in time includes luxury rooms and fine details that show off its four-diamond elegance. It’s the perfect base for exploring the city.

Saskatoon is among the fastest-growing cities in Canada, and it has a youthful vibe, thanks in part to the University of Saskatchewan. Schools aside, young Canadians and startup companies from across Canada have found an affordable and welcoming home here. That youth and vibrancy are obvious.

Neighborhoods such as Riversdale and Broadway District have experienced an impressive renaissance. The avenues are filled with tidy coffee shops, busy restaurants, and unique boutique stores. Many of them focus on local cuisines, products, or designers.

Dining in Saskatoon

I get to sample some of that local focus when my friends and I dine at The Hollows, an eatery that prides itself on fresh, local produce. Owned by former model Christie Peters and her husband, Kyle Michael, the cuisine uses vegetables grown in the restaurant’s garden, as well as local fish and wild-harvested mushrooms.

Local products take center stage in Saskatoon, as I learn when we stop by Lucky Bastard Distillery. Saskatchewan’s premium micro-distillery has an obvious passion for its work, and that shows in its products. Its handcrafted liquors and spirits have won numerous awards.

First Nations Heritage

While I enjoy a good meal, there’s much more to explore here. Not far from Saskatoon is Wanuskewin Heritage Park, a National Historic Site that shares the story of the land and its first inhabitants.

Europeans were not the first to settle this land; for thousands of years, many indigenous cultures called it home. That rich heritage is honored at Wanuskewin Heritage Park with educational exhibits and hands-on history. The site is also an important archeological dig site, with artifacts dating back more than 6,000 years.

“When you come to Saskatchewan, you should experience First Nations culture,” our guide, Chris Standing, tells us. “It’s our story, our heritage. For more than 6,000 years, the indigenous peoples of the Northern Plains have come to this region, following the bison.”

At Wanuskewin, learning is not only educational, it’s fun. We watch a demonstration on how to build a teepee, and then learn about its special meaning. Later, I get to try throwing an “atl atl,” a type of wooden spear that was used for hunting more than 3,000 years ago. Truth be told, it is a hard skill to master.

Kayaking on the South Saskatchewan River
Kayaking on the South Saskatchewan River. (Tourism Saskatoon)

Kayaking on the South Saskatchewan River

While I may not be any good at throwing an atl atl, I can handle myself in a kayak—and the South Saskatchewan River is a good place to do that. Local outfitters rent kayaks, paddleboards, and prairie-river canoes. I pick up mine and within minutes our small group is on the river.

The sun is high in a bright blue sky as we paddle under bridge after bridge. The river provides a different view of the city. We paddle past runners and cyclists along the river trail, then pass the grand Delta Bessborough, standing tall along the river. It’s a fun way to spend the afternoon.

Urban Adventure in Saskatoon

On my last day in Saskatoon, my friends and I see a bit of the city’s adventurous side. The Wyant Group Raceway is a local NASCAR raceway that holds stock car races and other events.

On select days throughout the season, they also offer visitors the chance to drive a stock car themselves. For a reasonable fee, you can take eight laps around the track. An expert driver accompanies you and oversees your driving.

author driving racecar
The author driving a stock car. (Courtesy of Janna Graber)

Though I’ve never imagined driving a stock car, I can’t pass up the opportunity to try it myself. After getting into my safety suit and helmet, I climb into a bright-purple car. My instructor makes sure I’m safely strapped in.

Then I’m ready to go, and I pull onto the track timidly.

“Go high in the straightaway and tight in the corners,” the instructor tells me. I do as I’m told, edging faster and faster as we go.

The car’s tires are fat and wide, and they squeal when we round the corners. I back off at the sound, but the instructor encourages me to give it a little more gas.

“Now you’re doing it!” he exclaims.

There’s a wide grin on my face when I finish my laps and pull the car back in. It’s been a trip full of surprises, and I’ve enjoyed every minute. Perhaps that’s the beauty of Saskatoon.

Janna Graber has covered travel in more than 45 countries. She is the editor of three travel anthologies, including “A Pink Suitcase: 22 Tales of Women’s Travel,” and is the managing editor of Go World Travel Magazine.

Janna Graber
Janna Graber
Janna Graber has covered travel in more than 55 countries. She is the editor of three travel anthologies, including “A Pink Suitcase: 22 Tales of Women’s Travel,” and is the managing editor of Go World Travel Magazine.