Saskatoon historic sites reflect the city’s diverse people and architecture.
Exploring Saskatoon’s boomtown era.
SASKATOON, KNOWN AS THE BRIDGE CITY, ironically got its start due to a desire to stop the flow of another liquid — alcohol.
Aviva Kohen, media director at Tourism Saskatoon, said that “seven bridges span the beautiful South Saskatchewan River, with eighty kilometres of trails, enticing visitors to explore the many local treasures Saskatoon has to offer.”
In 1883, a group of Methodists left Ontario to establish a “dry” community in the North-West Territories. Led by John Neilson Lake, the settlers travelled by rail from Toronto to Moose Jaw, in modernday Saskatchewan, and then completed their trip by horse-drawn cart.
Among the Methodists was Alexander (Sandy) Marr, of Woodstock, Ontario. A stonemason, he built a two-storey home for his family that today is a Saskatoon landmark. Noted for its blend of Second Empire and pioneer-style architecture, the Marr Residence was designated a municipal heritage property in 1982.Marr also built another historic building in the city — the Little Stone Schoolhouse, which opened in 1888. It’s located today on the University of Saskatchewan campus.
During the Northwest Rebellion of 1885, the Marr Residence was requisi- tioned for use as a field hospital for the treatment of wounded soldiers. The resistance was launched by local Métis peoples and their Indigenous allies as a reaction to the encroachment of the Canadian government on their traditional territories.
The five-month insurgency came to a head in May 1885 at the Battle of Batoche. At this community about seventy kilometres northeast of Saskatoon, more than 900 Canadian militia troops fought 250 Métis fighters led by Louis Riel.
After three days of fighting, the militia troops overran the Métis fighters, and on May 15 Riel surrendered. Charged with
high treason, Riel was convicted, condemned to death, and then hanged on November 16, 1885.
The turn of the nineteenth century saw an influx of European immigrants to the Saskatoon region. This period is showcased at the Western Development Museum’s 1910 Boomtown exhibition. Saskatchewan’s Western Development Museum has locations in Saskatoon, Moose Jaw, North Battleford, and Yorkton. The Saskatoon branch explores the boom period of the early 1900s through a recreation of a streetscape featuring historical businesses.
The 1910 boomtown street continues to grow with additions such as the Edwards Funeral Home, which portrays the ever-present reality of grief and death. Other exhibits in the museum explore the importance of train travel and automobiles to the growth of the province.
Another Saskatoon museum commem- orates the contributions of Ukrainian settlers. The Ukrainian Museum of Canada was founded in 1936 by the Ukrainian Women’s Association of Canada. It was the first Ukrainian museum in the country. The main gallery houses an amazing collection of hand-painted Easter eggs and, among other historical items, traditional clothing for daily wear or for special occasions.
Saskatoon’s Riversdale district is home to many independent businesses. Visitors will see a wide display of architectural styles and heritage properties.
A highlight for me was the Roxy Theatre, built in 1930 and decorated in the Spanish villa style with small balconies, windows, and towers depicted on the walls.
Another must-see is the historic Delta Bessborough hotel — lovingly known to locals as the “Bessie” — which was built in the château style between 1928 and 1932. Hint: Ask about the hotel’s resident ghost.
For a day trip just outside the city, we visited Wanuskewin Heritage Park, which celebrates the history and culture of Saskatchewan’s Indigenous peoples.
While there, we were escorted on a medicine walk along a six-kilometre trail wending through meadows, hills, and valleys. We learned about the many medicinal plants — such as boxwood, dandelion, lavender, and chamomile — as they are found in their natural habitat.
We also took part in a tipi sleepover. After we received instructions on how to correctly erect an authentic tipi, our guide informed us with a wry smile that “the tricky part is completing the basement.”
I rose at first light from my tipi to the melodic sounds of birds and other wildlife. It was the perfect ending to a perfect trip. I left Saskatoon determined to return and to continue exploring one of Canada’s best-kept secrets.
CTahpetioSnouth Saskatchewan River flows through downtown Saskatoon.
Above: The Delta Bessborough hotel, seen in the foreground, is an iconic landmark in the city.
Left: Visitors explore a replica of a store at 1910 Boomtown, an indoor representation of a typical Saskatchewan town at the Western Development Museum in Saskatoon.
Right: The Roxy Theatre, built in 1930, features Spanish Villa-style decoration on its interior.