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Saskatoon: The Phnom Penh of the Prairies

Well, we have hit the road again and just arrived in our favourite hangout spot – Lago de Atitlan in Guatemala – for another long, relaxing stay. As such, I figured it was time to dust off the old keyboard and start updating this blog thing again but, in lieu of having done anything of note here just yet, or anytime in the near future I expect, I thought I might recap what has become our annual Summer in Saskatoon.

Earlier this summer I got thinking how the more often we’re gone the more being home feels just like another leg of a trip. So, in that spirit, our first stop on the Canadian leg of our 2014 journey was the Bridge City, or is it the River City? Or maybe the Paris of the Prairies? Wait, I’ve been to Paris and I’m pretty sure that one doesn’t make any sense at all. Sure, Saskatonians and Parisians both wear a lot of scarves, but for such very different reasons. Of course, don’t even get me started on the even more broadly defined Saskatchewanians

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It’s always good to return home after a long trip. One of the many things I love about travel is how it makes us truly appreciate so many of the great things about home, things we normally just took for granted. Consistent electricity, water you can drink right out of the tap, speaking English and only English, TV, Vietnamese restaurants, having our very own mode of transport which leaves whenever we choose and stops for bathroom breaks whenever necessary. Then there is all the re-connecting that happens upon our return: with friends and family, fellow drinkers, old teammates, favourite bars, least favourite bugs, and simply eating what we want, when we want, and knowing what everything on the menu is.

Still getting used to "spring"

Our Home

Our first step, moving back into our little condo. A basic number in a building near the university inhabited mainly by students, pleasingly few of whom stick around for the summer months. So it’s mostly just us, a few summer students and whoever that person is that insists on blocking the back door open every day for some unknown friend who could never count on it remaining open anyway. Do they just prop it open and try their luck hourly? I’ve never figured it out. But you can bet I lock it every single time.

Nutana backstreets

Location is the big draw – close to school for our niece and her roommate during the school year, close to the river and Meewasin trail for us in the summer, close to the Fresh Asian Market whenever I find myself low on bags of noodles or overpriced loaves of stale bread. Inside, our humble abode features a big whatever-the-opposite-of-flat-screen TV that was state of the art back around the time Friends was dominating the small screen, a rickety air conditioner of a similar age that is mostly for show and, the real highlight, a gigantic couch the perfect size for one person to stretch out on throughout 49 World Cup games, or eleven medium-tall dwarves to gather for their annual group photo. The condo also features one cozy bathroom, stays super-hot pretty much all summer and is treated to sporadic wafts of pot from the courtyard and surrounding apartments. I think this is what realtors refer to as “well-equipped”.

The main thing for us, though, is that unlike our lodgings for the previous 4 months, it is not a hotel. Although some daily maid service would certainly help with those pesky tub rings.

Leisure Activities

Most of these revolve around the river. Strolling the College Drive / Broadway circuit in our workout gear and effervescent jogging shoes, enjoying the views, the weather and the confused looks of people wondering why we look ready for a triathlon while barely keeping pace with the pair of senior citizens making their way along the same path with the aid of a pair of walkers. Those same old people that get their old hearts tested a couple times per week when my bike bell shrilly informs them I’m bearing down on them ominously from behind. Sorry for the fright, folks! Never mind, I’ll just ride around, you can crawl back out of the bushes now… Unfortunately, no facial expressions or clipped explanations can convince single women to stop looking at my fingerless gloves without suspicion and distaste.

El Rio

And even, occasionally, jogging! Damn soccer, I hate the fact that now that I’m in my forties I need to engage in extracurricular exercise just to feel in shape enough to chase a ball around for an hour and a half once a week. I remember the days when one half practice / half scrimmage, one full session of beer drinking, then a single exhibition game made my lungs feel ready for the season. Of course, I also remember the days when I took pride in yellow cards for excessive body-checking, as well as a time when I listened to Third Eye Blind, so it’s safe to say that the past isn’t always glorious.

We also go to a lot of movies when we’re home, probably because they are always so hard to find when we travel. First you have to find a theatre you can actually get to without a car, or any clear idea of how to find our way around whatever grubby semi-dangerous city we happen to be in at the moment. Then they have to be showing something we actually want to see (foreign tastes in American movies tend to run toward mindless action blockbusters and anything by Disney). Our standards drop considerably while abroad, yet we could be standing in front of the world’s very first underwater IMAX built on a coral reef off a remote Indonesian island and you still couldn’t talk me into one of Transformer movies. Then it needs to be shown in English with subtitles, not dubbed into the local language with three local unemployed fellows combining to do the voices of every single character. And even then you need to be alert for movies that actually include a lot of foreign language themselves – Inglourious Basterds turned out to be quite an exercise in the reading of facial expressions, body language and basic Spanish verbs with 75% of the dialogue being either German or French subtitled in Spanish. Last but not least, the showtimes have to fit our schedule. Just kidding, “our schedule” isn’t a real thing.

Best place for Hi-Grade Furniture

At home I’ve gotten more and more into seeing movies at the old Roxy down on 20th Street. For one, it is a historic Saskatoon landmark, as becomes readily apparent the moment you slump down awkwardly into one of the loudly creaking ancient seats. But they show mostly interesting, unusual movies and there is nothing like walking down on a balmy summer weeknight, enjoying the quiet bustle of activity and great views of the river from Broadway bridge, the busiest time of day for hot career chicks to stay in shape, as well as the diverse mix of races, demographics and partially zipped up pants between the bridge and 20th, only to then experience the dramatic contrast of the freezing theatre, it’s dank mildew smell and our fellow patrons, usually affluent-looking people with neat hair, khakis and slightly self-satisfied looks, all of us feeling marginally smarter just because we sat through a two-hour “thriller” about an alien who takes the human form of a puzzlingly overweight Scarlett Johansson in order to lure horny and unsuspecting males into her van to be absconded and then do…something…to them…for some reason…and not being particularly good at it… In the end, we’re not sure exactly what happened, why, or why we should care, but it was a thinker, we tell ourselves proudly.

The best movies of the summer – Boyhood, Locke, A Most Wanted Man, Grand Budapest Hotel, Edge of Tomorrow, Palo Alto

The worst – Under the Skin, Planet of the Apes

The family acreage

Of course, as always a big part of my summer is spent in the pursuit of sporting excellence, or at least sporting mediocrity, and really just hoping not to get hurt too badly. Another successful soccer season saw us finish 2nd in our league, win the playoff championship and get our asses mainly handed to us at Provincials in PA (with the exception of one hard-fought draw with Regina, and a world-class job of juggling drinking/playing/rarely sleeping). Slo-pitch brought the usual results – middle of the pack all season, a few impressive games each tournament where we suddenly, but briefly, resembled a team of talented athletes playing seamlessly in unison, rather than our more common appearance as a team of aging has-beens and never-weres far more interested in drinking beer on the bench, or in the stands, or beer gardens, or somebody’s backyard, or pretty much anywhere, really. From that description you may be able to guess where we truly excel – generating recycled tin cans. And how.

Throw in a dozen or so games of golf, comprised of approximately 80% frustration and anger, 10% impressive shots creating a deceptive feeling of optimism, followed inevitably by a further 10% of even greater frustration and anger when, inexplicably, of course, it all falls apart on the very next shot. I did find quite a few beat-up old balls in the bush, though, so it hasn’t been a total loss.

All 10 Saskatoon Golf Courses: Ranked From Best to Worst

A minor rainstorm

Things I think of when I think of summer in Saskatoon:

Hot nights in the condo sleeping under one thin sheet with a fan blowing directly on me from a distance of 2 feet

The Bessborough (views of it, it’s not like they let guys like me inside)

Festivals on the river (Jazz, Shakespeare, Taste, Dragonboat, etc.)

The Fringe, the Ex, Folkfest, and many other popular Saskatoon activities I know about because I see flyers on lamp posts around town

“How was your trip?”

Road construction, only ever on roads directly between me and my destination

Annual dentist appointments

Annual oil changes

Annual haircuts

Brand new phone numbers!

BBQ, baby

Mosquitoes, oh the mosquitoes

The Daily Show

Milk that lasts for at least three weeks

Drinking beer on various decks

Office workers with loosened ties and dress shoes removed lying in the grass enjoying the sun on their lunch hour

Traffic gridlock starting at 3:30 in the afternoon on Fridays

Bud Light

Lots more Bud Light

Enduring jokes about guys who drink light beer

Guzzling another Bud Light in a particularly manful and meaningful way

Then lots of blurriness, some laughing, some stumbling, more stumbling…hangover

Next up, Waskesiu Lake, the other major component of our summer and, therefore, also worthy of the personal touch of an entry devoted to its sultry summer days and messy drinking binges. Hang on to your hat, baby, I guarantee it’s gonna be very, very pedantic.

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