Chef Dale MacKay of Ayden Kitchen & Bar has put Saskatoon's dining scene on the map (photo: Tourism Saskatoon)

The Weekender: Saskatoon

By Tracy Hyatt

It’s no surprise that Saskatoon is rocking a refreshingly youthful vibe. It’s the youngest city in the country according to Statistics Canada, with a median age hovering around 35—not to mention ample creative energy and entrepreneurial vigor. From chefs to shoemakers, thirtysomething-year-old business owners are non-conforming and breaking industry conventions. Combine that with Saskatoon’s thriving arts scene and you’ve got a city that’s smashing all stereotypes.

The Saskatchewan Jazz Festival (June 23 to July 2, 2017) is one of Canada’s most underrated music festivals. Artistic director Kevin Tobin is the mastermind behind the event’s innovative program, which expands beyond jazz to include hip-hop, folk, soul and more. Recent years have seen Feist, Janelle Monae and Wyclef Jean grace the mainstage at the Delta Bessborough gardens. This year, Poncho Sanchez, Jesse Cook, Lauryn Hill and Metric are slated to play to (more than likely) sell-out crowds.

It may take some coordination, but the work is worth the effort to paddle board down the South Saskatchewan River. Rent boards and lifejackets at Escape Sports, located across the street from the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market, then drive 10 kilometres northeast to Whiteswan Drive to access the river. From there you can enjoy the eight-kilometre, two-hour journey downstream to the 20th Street bridge. A less strenuous way to discover the waterway is to board a riverboat cruise: The Prairie Lily offers daily afternoon and evening voyages.

Saskatoon has also become a hotbed of phenomenal produce thanks to the University of Saskatchewan’s leading agriculture and agribusiness program. Head to the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market to stock up on tasty goods for your pantry. Among the best local finds? A Nokomis Craft Ale growler, artisan cheese from Herschel Hills and sea buckthorn berries from Northern Vigor Berries.

Saskatoon’s Riversdale neighbourhood is going through a bit of transformation right now. Pawn shops and mechanics are being replaced by independent cafés and entrepreneur-led co-working spaces. Among the shopping options, Hazlewood is a can’t-miss destination for vintage finds. Owner Michaela Michael has expertly curated a collection of reasonably priced denim shirts, bike jackets, ankle boots and jeans. Get measured at Hazlewood for a pair of bespoke Oxfords from Last Shoes: Shoemaker Adam Finn started his pop-up business back in 2012 and has earned a loyal following of hipsters.

Saskatoon’s culinary renaissance started at Ayden Kitchen & Bar with memorable dishes like Thai wings, aged rib eye steak and baked Diefenbaker trout. Dale MacKay, the acclaimed chef behind Ayden, recently opened his second venture, Little Grouse on the Prairie, which offers similarly fantastic fare but with an Italian twist. For Sunday brunch, hit up The Hollows for the breakfast poutine—fries, curds, chicken gravy, a poached egg and bacon lardons.

Saskatoon Delta Bessborough Hotel
The Delta Bessborough hotel’s impressive chateau-style edifice (photo: Eric Lindberg/Tourism Saskatchewan)

Few places hold a candle to the cocktail lounge at The James Hotel. The ultra-chill 20-seat room is the perfect place to pretend you’re as cool as Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. Every Friday, a DJ spins vinyl for the boutique hotel’s guests—though the tunes are turned down low so you can still have a conversation while sipping cocktails. The Delta Bessborough, Saskatoon’s legendary railway hotel, is also an excellent choice downtown. Its lush private grounds back onto the South Saskatchewan River and are great for a stroll.

Give yourself about six hours to drive from Alberta to Saskatoon. Much of the journey takes you through smaller prairie towns. Consider upgrading to a Plus or higher membership, which allows for extended towing distances, free passport photos, free fuel and deliver and even-more trip collision reimbursement.  And don’t forget you can pay for your membership monthly for as little as $9 a month.