Travel
2 min

Turned on by Saskatoon

One gay night in the 'Paris of the prairies'

GOOD VIBES. Saskatoon is the kind of small prairie city where strangers are still friendly to each other, writes Kaj Hasselriis. Credit: (tourismsaskatoon.com)

In Saskatoon, the gay bar is called Diva’s. But you won’t find its name on a sign above the door and the entrance isn’t on a main street. Diva’s is located in an alley, which is where I found myself on a warm summer night in mid-August, making out with a kid who got kicked out of the bar for being underage.

I landed in Saskatoon (population: 250,000) that afternoon, bound for the wedding of a good friend. I quickly learned that it’s the kind of small prairie city where strangers are still friendly to each other. If you need directions, the locals won’t just tell you where to go, they’ll take you there. When you sneeze in public, a voice out of nowhere will say “Bless you.” And no matter what set of doors you approach, there will always be someone there, waiting to hold them open for you.

Perhaps best of all, the boys of Saskatoon have the ability to make their clothes vanish as soon as they step outside. The South Saskatchewan River cuts right through the middle of the city, with parks and paths along both cliffs, and there’s always a fresh set of bare-chested, football-throwing hotties to keep the eyes happy. The water itself is also a surprising source of fun and recreation. The enormously wide South Saskatchewan has the healthy blue-green hue of the Pacific Ocean, with sandbars and sunbathers lining the edges. In the summertime, the sea-dooing and waterskiing never stops.

It’s no wonder this hidden little paradise is called the “Paris of the prairies.”

With my friend’s celebration of heterosexual love just a day away, I had exactly one night in Saskatoon to be gay. So, I rounded up the other two homos in town for the wedding and set out for the easiest place to find prairie queers on a Friday night — Diva’s.

It cost us $3 each to get in and not much more for a Great Western, the local beer known as “the big taste of the prairies.” (“Brewed right up the street from here,” I was told.) When we arrived, it was already well past 11 but Diva’s was still dead. Not a good sign. I approached a couple of twinks and asked them what gives. One of them, Josh, told me Saturday is the good night. The other one, Nicholas, said he didn’t know because he was from the University of North Dakota. Note to self, I thought: Small-town boys like to hang out in other small towns. (And according to them, I noticed, the chinstrap is still considered high fashion.)

Pretty soon, though, the place started to rock. Diva’s looks like a refurbished old two-storey theatre, with an impressive staircase and a great iron railing that you can lean over while watching the dance floor fill up. One by one, the local characters appeared: a guy with a Def Leppard trucker hat pulled over long, unwashed blonde hair; a young Iggy Pop lookalike and another guy who reminded me of Napoleon Dynamite; the obligatory posse of A-listers, all doing their best to pretend they were better than everyone else in the bar; and finally, an upbeat band of barefoot baby dykes.

What separates gay bars on the prairies from gay bars in the big city is that everyone is in it together. In Saskatoon, there’s only one queer space to dance, so the whole community comes out as one. And that’s how I found myself grinding with a cute, smiling Aboriginal guy. But before I could even get his name, he was gone, kicked out of the bar for being 18.

Luckily, he didn’t run too far. That’s when the alley came in handy, and the next chapter of my evening began.

Whenever anyone asks what I liked best about Saskatoon, I tell them my first impression of the city was confirmed throughout my stay. It’s definitely the kind of place where strangers know how to be friendly to each other.