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Surprising Saskatoon: cool neighbourhoods and culture, too

SASKATOON – There are so many changes going on in this great Saskatchewan city. Here’s a look at a few highlights from my trip this week.

Saskatoon has smartly invested in a massive riverside park system. There are some 70 km’s of trails for biking and walking, and they’re adding a cool new art museum to the mix. Stunning views of the city and, in summer, great spots for swimming or boating.

Riversdale is an area of the city undergoing a huge transformation. Buy a perfect iced coffee at Collective Coffee and sit outside on the sidewalk and watch the world go by. Next door at Storefront you’ll find a great gallery where they also do special showings and architectural installations. Super fun.

Just across the river from downtown, the Broadway area feels like a cross between Leslieville and Leaside; with great coffee shops and pretty clothing stores standing near a Mexican grocery and gift store and trendy restaurants. It’s got something of a reputation as a hippie haven, too.

Damara Day Spa is located inside the lovely, historic Delta Bessborough on the S. Saskatchewan River. Their two-hour aromatherapy treatment is as good as it gets and includes a massage, a good, long soak in a hot tub and a hot paraffin wax treatment that will leave your hands and feet as smooth as a baby’s bottom.

Dakota Dunes is a gorgeous golf course carved out of the sand hills south of Saskatoon. The conditions are immaculate and the course is both challenging and pleasing to the eye. Winds can wreak havoc on your score and turn what are usually simple par-five’s into remarkably tough opponents.

The city’s annual summer blowout is called FolkFest , with dozens of pavilions focussing on the city’s multicultural communities. It’s not unlike the old Toronto Caravan program. You’ll find a German pavilion with bratwursts, beer and accordion bands, as well as a Jamaica pavilion with reggae and cold Red Stripe and jerked chicken. This being the prairies, you’ll also find plenty of perogies and cabbage rolls and Ukrainian liqeurs called Hutsul hammers. Four or five of those and you’ll be dancing on stage.

The Saskatchewan Western Development Museum is tons of fun. There’s a reconstructed city block from back in the early 20 th century, with cool old cars and saddle shops and a North West Mounted Police station and displays of old-time medical products such as Bishop’s Blackberry Brandy, said to be good for diarrhea and “summer complaints.” You’ll also find an awesome train locomotive, gleaming farm equipment and tales of pioneer men and women. A very pleasant surprise.

You can take a great canoe trip down the South Saskatchewan River with the delightful Cliff Speer from a company called Canoeski . Some routes go through the city, depending on conditions. Either way, it’s a peaceful paddle on a wide, slow-moving river with quiet and serenity to spare.

A stroll to the riverbank below the Broadway bridge will reveal hundreds of rocks painted by locals, with testimonials of love (and non-love) and sex and politics and just plain colourful paintings. Definitely worth checking out.

Wanuskewin Heritage Park is a wonderful site northeast of the city’s airport, where you can see traditional native dances and learn about the native way of life by walking beautiful trails through a lush river valley. You can climb a hill and find a large rock where bison used to rub themselves, as well as fine views of the South Saskatchewan River. There’s also an activity centre where you can make necklaces or small teepee’s. Educational and hugely relaxing at the same time.

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TOP CANADIAN DESTINATIONS

A new poll by hotels.com finds that New York City is the number one foreign destination booked by Canadians in the first half of this year. Next on Canada’s most popular list was Las Vegas, followed by London, Paris, Orlando, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Rome.

As for folks coming to Canada, Toronto remains the top destination for foreign visitors to our fair land. Next in the study was Vancouver, then Montreal, Niagara Falls, Calgary, Quebec City, Ottawa, Victoria, Banff and Whistler. That means three Ontario locations in the top seven, which is pretty impressive.

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