Moments after I landed at Saskatoon’s airport I spotted a massive rainbow flag and the letters P-I-N-K splashed across a two-storey facade. It was my first visit to “the Stoon,” and felt I was being drawn to explore what Prairie Pink was all about.
I hopped out at 69 24th St E, tip-toed past a truck and pushed through a door before arriving in a dusty space that was “under construction.” Moments later I found myself shaking hands with Skipp Anderson, chatting with him about Pink, Saskatoon’s newest gay club — a double-decker space to replace 302 Lounge and Discotheque located just down the street. (The club opened in September 2015.)
My first impression of Saskatoon, an abandoned building undergoing a gay makeover, is a perfect metaphor for how Saskatchewan’s trendiest city is evolving — it’s now one of Canada’s fastest growing cities. Many locals who departed here in their youth looking for fresh prospects are returning in droves to open their own businesses.
Top Chef Canada’s inaugural winner Dale MacKay is Saskatoon’s poster boy for this migration and making a remarkable impact. His globally inspired comfort food restaurant, Ayden Kitchen and Bar, was listed as one of Canada’s top new restaurants by enRoute Magazine in 2014. Everywhere I turn, locals are preaching the same edict: “This is the land of opportunity and we’re happy to be home.”
Whether you’re visiting Saskatoon on a business trip or spending a weekend in town to explore, the city offers plenty to do in the summer. Like many cities across North America, life here is gay friendly: each June it boasts one of the largest Pride festivals in Western Canada; a lively and local queer population can be found lip-syncing at gays bars such as Diva’s; and there are plenty of trendy art and design–inspired restaurants and bars located in the hip, revitalized Riversdale neighborhood.
Saskatoon’s premier luxury hotel, The James, is a contemporary boutique hotel centrally located in the city’s vibrant downtown, on the banks of the South Saskatchewan River. The hotel’s lobby is the perfect spot to relax after a long day of touring around town. Earth tones splash around wooden accents, plush pillows, golden lampshades and a silver stallion bust. Tucked behind the lounge is the hotel’s petite bar where classic cocktails are enjoyed at one of the city’s best perches for people watching. Be sure to book a suite with a private balcony and jaw-dropping river view.
Also, be sure to visit these two gay-owned businesses; locals rave about them (and I do, too!):
Homestead Ice Cream
First opened in 1978, Homestead Ice Cream is one of the city’s most popular parlours. The interior offers a lovely throwback decor featuring an old jukebox and staff who wear white-and-red-striped uniforms. Twenty-nine-year-old Allen bought the business four years ago after spending years in rural Saskatchewan as a beekeeper, grain farmer and elk rancher. This friendly gay cowboy has created over 350 flavours of ice cream using top-notch local ingredients, with quirky concoctions such as coconut curry, dill pickle and peanut butter maple bacon donut. The shop’s most storied offering is the dog’s breakfast, which features 14 scoops of ice cream, six sundae toppings, two bananas, cookie crumbs, sprinkles, nuts, whipped cream and a cherry, all served in a dog dish. I ordered a humble three-scoop sundae of mint chocolate chip cookie dough, peanut butter–filled pretzels and Saskatoon berry with cinnamon.
Created and operated by Roger Valliere and his partner Chris, Solar Gardens is a unique Saskatchewan experience that specializes in succulents and a few cacti. Incorporating a love of art and creativity, Solar Gardens showcases the natural beauty of succulent plants alone and in artistic arrangements and containers. It’s located a short drive from Saskatoon and is a must-visit for horticulture and art lovers. Today, the 50-acre property is home to five greenhouses, Firestick Cafe (wood-fired pizza and freshly baked bread in the summer), a ceramic studio and an adorable gift shop featuring a smug Mona Lisa, tin-tiled ceiling, vintage record player, crystal chandelier and walls covered in over 200 bottles of balsamic vinegars and oils.
After chatting with locals for four days, I quickly learned that folks in Saskatoon hold a special place in their heart for Solar Gardens. It’s more than just a gift shop, nursery and restaurant. The owners have created a beautiful community space where they regularly host country music concerts (this past season had Lisa Moen and The Johner Boys headlining) as well as their signature succulent classes, which teach newbies how to arrange succulents for the best success. Solar Gardens had over 12,000 students attend their summer 2015 classes alone. So why not nibble on freshly scorched pizza and get your green thumb dirty?