Saskatchewan’s angular name comes from the Cree, “kisiskāciwani-sīpiy”, meaning “swift-flowing-river”. It has other secrets though. This oddly rectangular province is where chokecherries grow in the ditch, black-eyed Susan’s bob on the roadside and the smell of bright canola drifts alongside clouds of grasshoppers; where nightly summer storms roll through the skies visible for miles as they dampen the day’s dusty heat; this province is my home-not-home. Mention visiting Saskatchewan to most Canadians, and you’ll be met with a slightly sympathetic stare. Mention Saskatchewan to most anyone else in most anywhere else, and you’ll be met with glassy eyes, blank looks, or even a ‘Saskatchewhat?’
Land of the living skies, Paris of the Prairies, and miles upon miles of fly-over farmland set out like a patchwork quilt. It’s quiet here, and thriving at the same time. Small bars lurk in corners, quietly boasting one of the best indie music scenes in all of Canada. Summer is festival central. Fine dining is popping up in neighbourhoods gentrifying at a terrifying rate, their organic produce sprouting almost as fast as the housing demand. And yet. In less than 30 minutes you can ride horses in a field, and pick wild strawberries on the roadside. Many hands stay stained all summer with dark berry hues.
In late August, when the waning summer heat perks back up for a brief few weeks, something unexpected comes to town. Folkfest. This food festival spreads across the whole city, and with a dedicated passport I can flit from one continent’s cuisine to another. Samosas and bratwurst, hula and face painting. The crowing jewel of this event though, is the Ukrainian pavilion. Canada – and the prairies in particular – are home to one of the largest Ukrainian communities in the world, and if you have never tasted a homemade plateful of perogies you just haven’t quite lived. Poutine might be Canada’s guilty pleasure, but potato and cheese perogies are mine.
I’m forever charmed by this city of bridges, Saskatoon. Whether it’s the winding South Saskatchewan river in spring, the cold winters that leave ice in your veins, or the rumble of those distant summer storms – Saskatchewan gets under your skin, and it stays there. This place is in my blood, of my blood, and nowhere in the world – not even Australia, a scorched and starkly beautiful land in its own right – can erase the prairie girl that lives in me. Considering a visit? Don’t ask Saskatche-what? Ask yourself, Saskatche-when.