In keeping with our new hobby of exploring close to home, we ventured beyond the Alberta border toward Saskatoon, a city I love but haven’t properly visited in years. We didn’t realize it was only 6 hours away, and with a route that goes right through Drumheller, we hopped in the car for a long weekend in June. With a population of around a quarter million, it’s neither a small town nor big city – the perfect size for exploring, really. And like most Canadian city-towns it’s currently exploding with good food, new breweries and plenty of good coffee to be discovered.
W’s first discovery: phone books! Thick paper ones that listed everyone in the city. It was such a novelty, he lay on the hotel book reading it half the night.
The next morning, we hit the Night Oven. Love the name, the place, the bread, the pastries, the coffee. Some of the best bread in Canada is baked right here, baked with heritage grains – ed fife wheat, purple wheat, spelt, dark buckwheat, khorasan, einkorn and rye – sourced from Saskatchewan farmers and milled onsite, the loaves then baked in their own homemade wood-fired oven. These guys are hardcore bread artists. Their pastries, on the other hand, are flaky and delicate – that powdered sugar one on the right is filled with cream, as if a croissant and cream puff got together and produced delicious offspring.
The Hollows is one of my new favourite restaurants anywhere. It’s in the Riversdale neighbourhood, one of the oldest areas of Saskatoon, that like so many old inner-city neighbourhoods is seeing some revitalization. The Hollows took over a space that for generations housed a Chinese restaurant called the Golden Dragon – anyone who grew up in Saskatoon recalls eating there with their parents. In the basement, which is damp and low-ceilinged and now full of shelves of preserves, pickles and culinary experiments of all kinds, they found boxes of Golden Dragon plates and even order pads, which they still use. Chef owners Christie Peters and Kyle Michael cure, brine, smoke, butcher and preserve, forage dandelion greens from neighbours’ yards for the tastiest pesto, tan the hides of the animals they butcher, and use the fat to make the soap for their restaurants. (They also own Primal, which is more Italian-inspired and equally fantastic.)
We happened to be there on World Gin Day, and so went out to spend it with Barb and John at Black Fox Distillery, a two year old distillery who had just won best cask gin at the World Gin Awards in London, UK. Such wonderful people, and a gorgeous farm loaded with haskap berries, pumpkins just starting out, and fields of wildflowers. And the sweetest dogs. It’s so nice to get to know the people who grow and make your food. (And gin.)
We headed out to Wanuskewin Heritage Park, a national historic site and generally amazing place above Opimihaw Creek and the South Saskatchewan River, where archaeological finds have pre-dated the Egyptian pyramids. To date, 19 pre-contact archaeological dig sites have been identified in the creek valley bottom and coulee depressions along the valley wall. We went on a medicine tour, a walk during which we explored and learned about indigenous plants and their uses within the early Northern Plains Indigenous communities, saw beaver lodges and loons, and cooked bannock over an open fire.
There are open dig sites and other evidence of archaeological exploration around the grounds, and a cultural/interpretive centre with a theatre, meeting space, further storytelling and cultural artifacts, and a restaurant where they serve local whitefish, bison stew and stacks of smoky grilled bannock with berries and whipped cream.