Saskatoon bills itself as ‘the sunniest city in Canada.’ Even in the depths of December, it gets more sunlight on average than Toronto. No one denies that winters can be cold (the record low for the city is a bone-chilling -50o Celsius), but the summer days, by way compensation, are very long and (of course!) sunny. And for LGBT travellers, at any time of year, there’s warmth in Saskatoon’s welcome.
Saskatoon, you see, is one of those places where the LGBT community is woven into the fabric of the mainstream. You don’t go there to bar-hop or see and be seen in all the ‘right’ places. Instead, you visit the city to relax, take in the sights, and just be yourself – anywhere. Yes there’s an active gay community, with bars and restaurants and the Avenue Community Centre, which provides social services to people of all descriptions.
But most of the city’s attractions are open to everybody. There are festivals – the city is festival-crazy, especially in summer – as well as art galleries, restaurants and other urban amenities, plus a range of outdoor activities from cycling to snowshoeing to communing with nature and discovering the lives of the region’s first inhabitants. That urban-outdoors mix is part of the package in what is, with a quarter-million people, Saskatchewan’s largest city. So is its relaxed attitude.
Curtis Korchinski was born and raised in Saskatoon. He and his husband (they’ve been married for over eight years and have an adopted son) run The Ivy Dining & Lounge, an upscale restaurant downtown.
“Most people think we live in a Prairie hick town and that you could never be out in this city,” he says. “But we do it. We live in a suburban neighbourhood and have a public business. There are no secrets in our life.
“Saskatoon is progressive and very gay-friendly. People just don’t care. We’ve never experienced an issue here at all. We go out as a family to many restaurants other than our own, our son is in different sports and other activities. We just blend in.”
Korchinski offers some insider’s tips for visitors to Saskatoon:
Explore the riverbank
The South Saskatchewan River flows through the middle of the city and is its geographic heart. (There are seven bridges across the river in the city.) The Meewasin Valley Trail (Meewasin is the Cree word for beautiful) follows the river and is a must-see for visitors, at any time of year. You can explore the trail on foot or by bicycle, and in summer, you can canoe down the river.
Go for brunch
One of the city’s landmarks is the Delta Bessborough hotel, the youngest in a series of castle-like railroad hotels built across the country in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It’s always worth a visit, but Korchinski says that for his money, one of the best places for brunch is the nearby Sheraton Cavalier. “It’s right on the river, and they have the most stunning views of the city,” he says, adding that the Bessborough is part of the view.
Peru on the prairie
Looking for something out of the ordinary? For a very unique food experience, Korchinski recommends The Hole in the Wall Restaurant, a destination restaurant about 40 kilometres south of Saskatoon on Blackstrap Lake. The owner is from Peru and has created a menu that fuses Canadian and Peruvian dishes.
A park with a view
Saskatoon is located in a transition zone between the boreal forests to the north and the grasslands to the south, in a region of the prairie called aspen parkland. Korchinski says the best way to get a sense of the vastness of the prairie is to visit the Wanuskewin Heritage Park, a national historic site about 10 kilometres north of the city. The park presents the story of the Northern Plains Indians (some of the archeological sites there are older than Egypt’s pyramids) and allows visitors to get a sense of the unspoiled prairie landscape.
Korchinski runs a restaurant, so it’s no surprise that one of his picks as a must-see attraction is the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market. It also makes sense because Saskatoon sits in the midst of a one of Canada’s major agricultural regions. The market is open year-round, though the selection is biggest when crops are being harvested.
Visit Tourism Saskatoon for information about the city. http://www.tourismsaskatoon.com/
Native son: Saskatoon’s place in LGBT history
Saskatchewan-born Doug Wilson (1950-1992) was one of Canada’s earliest and most prominent gay rights activists. In 1975, Wilson was vice-president of the Gay Community Centre Saskatoon and had been trying to start a gay academic union at the University of Saskatchewan. The dean of the university’s College of Education refused to allow Wilson into the school system to supervise practice teachers because of his public involvement with the gay rights movement.
Wilson was unsuccessful in his attempt to get the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission to protect him, and spent most of his life fighting for human rights issues, activism and AIDS organizations.
(Source: Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives)
Daniel Drolet is an Ottawa writer, a member of Travel Gay Canada and president of Éclair Communications.