Paris of the Prairies lives up to name

Week­end, Oc­to­ber 13-15, 2017 A new chap­ter in Saska­toon’s art his­tory is open­ing

Metro Canada (Calgary) - - TRAVEL - Photo ADRiEn Wil­liAMs/CouRtEsy RE­MAi MoD­ERn TOrsTar NeWs ser­vice

On sum­mer days, peo­ple from all over this city scram­ble down the river­bank be­low the Broad­way Bridge to cre­ate a mas­ter­piece or two. A pile of painted boul­ders makes up this ev­er­chang­ing spon­ta­neous art in­stal­la­tion along the banks of the South Saskatchewan River.

Up the road, along Broad­way, where Joni Mitchell played her first paid gig in the 1960s, bright mu­rals line the al­leys be­hind lit­tle ar­ti­san shops. Across the river, in Rivers­dale, there are more mu­rals, artist stu­dios above a pawn shop and steady traf­fic into a store that sells T-shirts em­bla­zoned with “Made in SK.”

Bob Dy­lan once dubbed this pretty lit­tle city “Paris of the Prairies.” No one seems to know ex­actly why. But it’s a safe bet Dy­lan’s moniker had some­thing to do with the cre­ativ­ity flow­ing through the streets.

“This is a re­ally great art town,” says Jen Bud­ney, a long­time cu­ra­tor and cur­rent PhD stu­dent at the Univer­sity of Saskatchewan. “I’ve lived in all kinds of cities across Canada, in New York and Mi­lan, work­ing in the arts, and I moved to Saska­toon be­cause of the in­cred­i­bly vi­brant arts scene here.”

The scene has flour­ished, in part, be­cause of eco­nomics favourable to artists.

“It was a have-not prov­ince for so long, so real es­tate was cheap, artists could af­ford to live here,” says Bud­ney over tea and un­der paint­ings hang­ing at the Un­der­ground Café. Be­ing “iso­lated and cold” helped build the warmth of the arts com­mu­nity. “It’s a very vi­brant close-knit scene here,” she says. “Peo­ple help each other.”

A new chap­ter in the city’s art his­tory is slated to be­gin Oct. 21 with the open­ing of the Re­mai Mod­ern, a mu­seum of mod­ern and con­tem­po­rary art with a large per­ma­nent col­lec­tion that in­cludes Pi­casso linocuts and some of his ce­ramic works.

The sleek, four-storey build­ing has 11 gal­leries — lots of white, oak and pol­ished con­crete with prairie light spilling through floor-to-ceil­ing win­dows. There is no ad­mis­sion fee for the main floor, a gor­geous atrium that in­cludes a five-me­tre-long fire­place with “Wel­come” writ­ten above the flames in half a dozen In­dige­nous lan­guages.

“The atrium is meant to be the liv­ing room of Saska­toon,” says Ste­fan Deprez, the Re­mai’s guest-ex­pe­ri­ence man­ager, dur­ing a sneak peak. “Peo­ple can be in­ti­mated by an art gallery. We want to make the build­ing as uni­ver­sal as pos­si­ble. It’s a mul­ti­pur­pose space, not just an art gallery.”

As well as room for a cou­ple of hun­dred peo­ple to lounge around, the main floor in­cludes a gallery that will fea­ture lo­cal artists, an Oliver and Bonacini restau­rant and a gift shop with lots of Pi­casso-themed good­ies.

On the fourth floor, stand­ing in the space that juts out over the river, you can watch the sun bounce off the South Saskatchewan and see the colour­ful painted boul­ders up the way.

The Re­mai “will en­rich the whole cul­tural land­scape of Saska­toon,” says Felicia Gay, the cu­ra­tor at Wanuskewin Gal­leries, the only gallery of con­tem­po­rary In­dige­nous artists on the Prairies. Art fans com­ing to see Pi­cas­sos can go home with an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of this place and the peo­ple who have lived here for mil­len­nia.

The gal­leries are part of Wanuskewin Her­itage Park, a for­mer cat­tle ranch 15 min­utes from down­town Saska­toon.

“It’s the long­est con­tin­u­ously run arche­o­log­i­cal project in Canada,” says the park’s foren­sic an­thro­pol­o­gist, Ernie Walker, as we walk past the spot where 6,400-year-old ar­ti­facts have been found. Over the past 40 years, arche­o­log­i­cal teams have un­earthed ar­row­heads, plenty of bi­son bones and a few an­cient gam­ing pieces.

“There are 19 pre-con­tact sites,” says Walker. “We’re on num­ber nine. We haven’t got to the big­gest ones yet.”

Back in­side, Wanuskewin’s restau­rant has been lauded as one of the best In­dige­nous restau­rants in the coun­try. And down­town, Saska­toon’s culi­nary and cock­tail scene is a tour de force all of its own.

Try the potato gnoc­chi and car­rot top pesto at the Hol­lows, Diefen­baker trout at Ay­den Kitchen and Bar and bi­son tataki at Sticks and Stones. Or­der lentil cream ale or any num­ber of in­ven­tive cock­tails to wash down your meal. And, with glass in hand, toast Saska­toon’s mod­ern art, an­cient his­tory and all the other good stuff in be­tween.

De­signed by Bruce Kuwabara of renown ar­chi­tec­tural firm KPMB, the four-storey Re­mai Mod­ern con­tem­po­rary and mod­ern art gallery won a 2011 Award of Ex­cel­lence from Cana­dian Ar­chi­tect mag­a­zine be­fore con­struc­tion even be­gan.

The au­thor was hosted by Tourism saska­toon, which did not re­view or ap­prove this story.

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