November 17, 2017

Travel: Saskatoon’s Prairie cool

The new Remai Modern contemporary art gallery in Saskatoon, Sask.

Come to Saskatoon for the new modern art gallery—Stay for the great food and welcoming hospitality

By Joanne Sasvari

The city’s annual WinterShines festival gives locals and visitors alike a reason to love the season of ice, snow and bitter cold.

It takes only about a day, maybe two, in Saskatoon to realize that, if Canada has a new capital of cool, it’s neither in the east or the west but here in the middle, in the Paris of the Prairies, a place, as Gord Downie so memorably sang, of “wheat kings and pretty things.”
For one thing, Saskatoon has the Remai Modern.
Canada’s newest art gallery sits at the oxbow of the South Saskatchewan River, a Prairie Modern-inspired stack of angles and planes clad in glass and copper mesh. It opened on Oct. 21 after years of planning and construction and some $84.6 million spent. Now, at 130,000 square feet, it is one of the biggest contemporary art galleries in Canada and, with its sweeping 270-degree views of the city, quite possibly the most breathtaking.
Saskatoon is betting that visitors from all over will come to see the Remai Modern’s permanent collection of 406 Picasso linocuts—the world’s largest—as well as the Emily Carrs, Cornelius Krieghoffs and 8,000 other works inherited from its predecessor, the Mendel Art Gallery.
The city is also betting that those visitors will come back to take in the gallery’s ever-changing temporary exhibits, like the current Lucky Charms, a whimsical neon light show by Los Angeles-based artist Pae White, and Field Guide, a vast collection of works exploring the gallery’s mission by artists from Saskatchewan and beyond.
And when those visitors arrive, they’ll have a whole city ready to welcome them with traditional—and sometimes not so traditional—prairie hospitality.
Anywhere you go in town, it seems, folks are ready to sit and chat with you. They’ll likely give you something delicious to eat while they’re at it, when they’re not pouring you something tasty to drink, a local craft beer, perhaps, or a Caesar made with dill pickle vodka from Lucky Bastard Distillers.
That could mean a plate full of Baba’s tender Ukrainian perogies, best enjoyed slathered in sour cream with mushroom sauce on the side. Or it could be a bison burger on bannock bun from Wanuskewin Heritage Park, a First Nations gathering place that is the site of Canada’s longest running archeological dig and currently being considered for UNESCO world heritage status.
Then again, it could mean the creative new cuisine from Dale Mackay. Like so many young Saskatchewanians are doing these days, the winner of 2011’s Top Chef Canada returned to his hometown after working elsewhere—in his case, as chef of Vancouver’s celebrated Lumiere and chef-owner of Ensemble—to find success in his own backyard.

Winter transforms Saskatoon and the South Saskatchewan River into a sparkling fairyland. Photo: Scott Hunter for Tourism Saskatoon

In Saskatoon, he opened Ayden Kitchen & Bar, where his style of locally inspired elevated comfort food made the top 10 list of enRoute magazine’s best new restaurants in Canada 2014. With the help of rock star mixologist Christopher Cho and a talented team of cooks, he’s since gone on to open the noodle-and-cocktail joint Sticks and Stones, as well as Little Grouse on the Prairie, an Italian eatery where chef Jesse Zuber serves housemade pasta alla famiglia. Meanwhile, another former Vancouverite, Christie Peters, opened obsessively local The Hollows in a quirky old Chinese restaurant.
Many of these cool new restaurants and other artisanal enterprises, like cobbler Adam Finn’s handmade Last Shoes, are housed in historic old buildings. But the city is also experiencing a stylish building boom of contemporary architecture, including incubators and shared workspaces for young creative and tech workers. Some of it is in areas like the once-downtrodden Riversdale, which is now a vibrantly revitalized neighbourhood of boutiques, galleries and restaurants, as well as the vast Garden Architecture store, with its gorgeous gazebos, fountains and plants.
What’s remarkable is how easily history and modernity get along here, both in terms of design and community. This is not a big city, but a young one, and one that looks to the future with confidence. The Remai Modern is just one promising sign of what the future can hold for Saskatoon.
We can hardly wait to see what tomorrow brings.

If you go

Here’s what you need to know for your cool escape to Saskatoon.
Getting there:
Both Air Canada ( and WestJet ( offer direct flights from Vancouver to Saskatoon.
Staying there:
The James Hotel is a chicly comfortable boutique hotel just a few steps from downtown. the
Nearby you will find the Delta Hotels by Marriott Bessborough, better known as “The Bess,” one of the Canadian National Railway castles.
Dining there:
Chef-owner Dale Mackay offers elevated comfort food at Ayden Kitchen & Bar.
Also check out Mackay’s cocktail-and-noodle joint Sticks & Stones ( and Italian trattoria Little Grouse on the Prairie (
At The Hollows, chef Christie Peters prepares inventive dishes from local ingredients.
No visit to Saskatoon is complete without a stop at Baba’s Perogies.
Visit the Remai Modern Art Gallery of Saskatoon.
Order a pair of handmade clogs from Last Shoes.
Explore 6,000 years of First Nations tradition at Wanuskewin Heritage Park.
Celebrate winter at Potash Corp.’s WinterShines, Jan. 27 to Feb. 4.
For more information:

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