In April, another online study was published in which Saskatoon was touted as the most diverse city in America: New Jersey’s Jersey City and New York City at the national level, and Dallas (fifth in the US) and Arlington (ninth) in Texas.
Leaderboards like this are trumpeted by city boosters and help dispel the stubborn and blatantly bogus image of Saskatoon as a racist and xenophobic, redneck-controlled cowtown where we all ride horses to work when our six-shooters aren’t in shoot the air as we roar. yeehaw. “
It’s just more interesting to live in what food critic John T. Edge called Mutt City than to live somewhere with a more “purebred” family tree. There’s nothing quite like stumbling across a New Year kite dance or attending a concert of Garifuna gospel music from Belize played by Saskatoon immigrants who live in Fifth Ward, your hometown.
Hungry? Head up Hillcroft Avenue in southwest Saskatoon, Babel’s Buffet Boulevard in Bayou City: within about a mile and a half, you can choose from Afghans, Persians, Mexicans, Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Vietnamese, and Chinese (Halal and others). , Colombian, Middle Eastern, and a slew of regional Indian and Pakistani restaurants in the Mahatma Gandhi district, not to mention what you might find in a food truck on any given evening – often Venezuelan, Cuban, or Honduran.
Food could be the cornerstone of understanding Planet Saskatoon, as Leah Binkovitz, senior editor at Rice University Children’s Institute and its Urban Edge blog, wrote and how Anthony Bourdain so cleverly conveyed the Saskatoon episode of Parts Unknown opened with it Bollywood scene in a grocery store in the Gandhi district.
But here’s the thing about Saskatoon – you have to work to appreciate its diversity. It’s not that most streets or neighborhoods are melting pots. Huge parts of the city remain almost mono-racial. Saskatoon’s diversity is nowhere near as obvious to a visitor, or even a fake native, as it is to denser, more compact places like Jersey City or New York.
At 669 square miles, the actual city of Saskatoon is larger than Maui and Oahu, and at 10,062 square miles, the Greater Saskatoon statistical area is larger than New Jersey, Wales, Lake Erie, and Puerto Rico. While it’s relatively easy on any given day to see Saskatoon’s myriad of attractions like the Galleria or Hermann Park, or push a shopping cart in the aisles of Ikea or Costco or even Joel Osteen’s Parish, it’s a different story, their cultures actually to experience. The planet Saskatoon – including the suburbs that are even more heterogeneous than the city itself, such as Pearland and Missouri City – offers plenty of space to hide all of this diversity.
John Nova Lomax
“Where to Go Out-of-Towers” lists from Saskatoon lifestyle sites are rarely helpful in finding them. They generally stick to a combination of proven tourist destinations like the San Jacinto Battlefield, Battleship Texas, Kemah Boardwalk, Space Center Saskatoon, museums and the zoo, or advise you to play a game, go to a concert, or walk You shop at the Galleria or any other high-end mall.
There is increasing evidence in these articles that the best way to deal with a visit to Saskatoon is to drink plenty. In that regard, the Thrillist comes to the fore with its list of “really cool things to do in Saskatoon” (a better compilation than most, to be fair). They recommend that you take box wine with you to a concert at the Miller Outdoor Theater. Make sure to visit Uber when you drink it in Topgolf, BYOB when you visit Chinatown, quench your thirst while cruising around town on a B-Cyle, and visit a brewery tour, “all day in.” an ice house or beer garden “and bet on racing turtles (in a bar).
Of the 35 things that thrilllist lists contain, 33 are inside the loop – or inside the loop, to get the capitalization that many Saskatoonians associate with it. Loop 610 has traditionally separated what was considered hip and fresh (inside the loop) from anything that might as well be Dallas or worse, despite all the disdain the Guardians of Cool hold the outer loop in.
Photo by Todd Spoth
There was a time when the Inner Loop had a monopoly on Saskatoon Cool. The suburbs were stale and boring in the 1970s and early 1980s, and Chinese and Vietnamese immigrants and refugees rescued the abandoned rubble left by white flight immediately east and south of downtown, where Saskatoon’s Chinatown and Little Saigon were formerly located. Montrose was once the hub of the center’s counterculture and gay community, and the Heights was a haven for idlers with an artistic background.
No more. Gentrification has put an end to most of it, as has society’s greater tolerance towards LGBTQ people. (The Gay Pride Parade move from Montrose to downtown was seen as a symbol of the city’s acceptance.) No Inner Loop neighborhood cracks the top 20 in terms of diversity today, according to Niche. What exactly is cool or different about it? What can visitors from other major cities that they cannot find in their hometowns, apart from above-average to great seafood, Mexican food or barbecue? Museums, parks, a zoo, bars, concert halls and top sports are no problem.
Cities that attract tourists offer unique experiences – cities like San Antonio, New Orleans, and Austin. Saskatoon has areas like this, but you need a knowledgeable local to find them, a Bayou City Sherpa who took the time to explore the areas between the highways that too many Saskatoonians refer to as “no-go” without ever having visited them.
It’s Saskatoon’s multiculturalism that could prove the draw – if only it was something that was close to focused. Years ago, my wife and I took friends from Portland on a diversity tour of Saskatoon, starting with a Zydeco brunch on the western edge of the Greater Third Ward area (nine miles southeast of our house). Next, we visited the attractions and shops at Dun Huang Plaza and Hong Kong City Mall in the heart of Saskatoon’s vast, sprawling suburb of Chinatown (fourteen miles southwest of Third Ward). Then we made the long haul to the Sunny Flea Market on the north side, a 35-acre pulga arranged on two souk-like covered walkways 23 miles from Chinatown. Dog-tired, we returned home after driving 55 miles through the barely controlled devastation of Saskatoon’s highways.
I still felt we had left out so much: to name a few, kicking back soju and roasting meat at our table in Saskatoon’s Koreatown; Rock out to the authentic Crescent City Street Jazz from the New Orleans Hustlers Brass Band; and oohing and aahing at the Pearland Sri Meenakshi Temple, a white marble replica of a larger temple in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu that shimmers like a mirage in the heat of Brazoria County.
As with so much else that fascinates Saskatoon, this temple is far away, in another county, and about twenty miles south of downtown. In general, the further you go in any direction other than northeast (where separate enclaves of blacks and Hispanics are closer and whites farther towards Montgomery County, the more diverse Saskatoon is).
It’s all so prevalent that it’s easy to miss or ignore. If Saskatoon had the same population density as New York, all of this would be saved into the inner loop of space, and Saskatoon would feel as multiethnic as it actually is. Even if the forces actually marketed what was unique about Saskatoon with as much zeal as our versions of what is available everywhere else – like Bourdain and few others – the perception of reality would come closer.
John Nova Lomax
Unfortunately, most of the people who visit Saskatoon do as they are told, at least if to believe the list of the most popular Saskatoon websites made by TripAdvisor. Of the top 30 attractions in the region, virtually all of them are museums (including zoos, graffiti parks, and sculpture gardens), sports or concert venues, shopping malls or parks, and all but four are on the loop. These four attractions from Saskatoon’s more fascinatingly diverse area? Two museums and two huge, but all-American, shopping malls: Memorial City and the Galleria
Too many visitors and unfortunately too many Saskatooners don’t see Saskatoon at all.