Gently, ever so gently, the VIA Rail train pulls out of Jasper mountain station. As it steams along, the blanket of the evening twilight settles upon the waning mountains, only to give way to what is commonly known as “The Great Prairies” beyond.
“Do you really want to go there, Elena? Thousands of kilometres of flat land? And Saskatoon? What brings you out there??” Numerous have been my fellow travellers’ questions about my choice of going East via the Canadian Prairies, and countless were the explanations that followed: “As somebody from Central Europe, I very much appreciate travelling across ‘The Great Prairies’, learning more about the First Nations culture on my stops, and understand how present-day cities, and settlements, have all but developed into modern-day, thriving communities. How exciting. In actual fact, I can’t wait to go !!”
That’s me beaming at all the doubters in delight. My fresh enthusiasm would eventually make them smile, and even encourage them to say something like:
“Well, Saskatoon. Did you know the ‘Paris of the Prairies’ is actually quite pretty?!”
I didn’t, but I certainly do now. Let me tell you more about my 48-hours stint at the “Berry Capital – Paris of the Prairies” in the heart of Lower Saskatchewan.
So why “Paris of the Prairies”, then?
Even I was first musing at this expression: A Prairie town of about 200.000 inhabitants being likened to the French capital of fashion, food & chic? Well, you may or may not believe it, but Saskatoon has a lot going for itself there. You can find everything from world-class art museums, great street & park art, fancy foodie places, stylish designer shops and some of those high-street boutique places that really make you think you were in “La Bohème”, not Riversdale, Saskatoon!
“Our downtown district Riversdale has especially undergone a lot of change in only the last couple of years”, Chad Reynolds, of Tourism Saskatoon and my fantastic guide for the day explains. “Look at the line-up of these shops: The fashion designers at ‘Hardpressed‘, for instance, have created a totally trending, YXE label based on Saskatoon’s airport code! There’s great coffee here at ‘The Underground Café’, and I already look forward to sharing dinner with you at the ‘Odd Couple’ later tonight ..!”
If in Saskatoon, do set aside at least half a day for exploring Wanuskewin Heritage Park. The First Nation cultural learning is stunning, and includes everything from language learning, to berry gathering & bison jumps!
“Bison jumps?!”, I gasp quite incredulously at the larger-than-life-sized bison bronze statues in front of me. At Wanuskewin Heritage Park of the Cree First Nation people, a building whose architecture itself takes the shape of a bison, I learn all there is to know about the seasonal migration patterns of the first people here, following the bisons around the Great Prairies. “We collected Saskatoon berries, made Moccasins out of bison skin and fur, we used everything in the animals for nutrition, health, spiritual beliefs, as well as protection and insulation in our Tipis”, Bonnie smiles while showing us around Wanuskewin. “Wanuskewin, in our native Cree language, means ‘being at peace with yourself’. On our culture days, we organise events such as ‘Migrating Moon Indigenous Plants & Food Gather’. Check out our website, https://wanuskewin.com, for events and interactive workshops that are happening when you come. We would love to have you back here!”
Oh, and so do I, excited to learn there are more creative workshops being offered for visitors like myself. I just love Bonnie’s natural, peaceful way of being and showing Chad and me around her land. It is through her that I begin to understand a little better the great context, and spiritual connections, of the local First Nation people with the Great Prairies: A place they have lived in, and felt at peace at, for thousands of years.
More? Yes please. Enjoy the entire of my Saskatoon travel photo gallery here:
I have also produced a travel video that highlights some of my travel adventures in Western Canada, all the way from Vancouver to the vast open plains east of the Rocky Mountains. A fascinating, funky take on what has truly been a life-changing journey. Enjoy with sound & smile 🙂
Disclaimer: I have been supported on this trip to Saskatchewan by VIA Rail as well as Tourism Saskatoon. All opinions are my own.