Saskatoon, a city in the central province of Saskatchewan (say that 5 times fast) took on a mythical status on our trip. We quite often would talk about when we got to Saskatoon….neither of us had any idea what it was like. I had certainly never been to Saskatchewan before, so could not really advise on the situation. All we knew was that it would take a 12 hour train journey from Winnipeg to get there.
We boarded The Canadian, VIA rail’s flagship train which travels from Toronto to Vancouver 3 times a week. The full journey takes about 5 days, and there were plenty of people on the train that were doing just that, many with children. They were all starting to become a bit feral by the time they reached Winnipeg; some of the train carriages looked like a bomb had gone off. They were probably all complete zombies by the time they reached Vancouver.
The train itself is a bit tired looking, but the seats are really spacious and comfy and there is a dining car and a bubble top viewing car, so plenty of opportunity to move about while you watch the scenery go by. I have always wanted to cross the prairies by land, so this was a real treat to see the landscape during daylight hours. There is not much civilization between Winnipeg and Saskatoon, but we passed through many tiny hamlets, which probably were settled as the railroad was built. I had always known that there was a huge Russian and Ukrainian wave of immigration to the Canadian prairies in the late 19th century, but I was astonished that every tiny town we saw had a church built in the Russian style, with a domed roof and a cross on top. The towns themselves looked very desolate, but the churches shined in the wide open sky.
We arrived late at night in Saskatoon to one of the most run down train stations I have ever been to, with mosquitos on the attack from every angle. The train station used to be in the centre of town, but some 1960’s town planner thought it was good idea to knock it down and move it the outskirts of the city, which is all bit useless when you want to use the train to visit a city.
However, Saskatoon itself is a very small with loads of charm. Located on the Saskatchewan River, the streets are nicely laid out, with the old CPR railroad hotel The Bessborough gracing the skyline. There aren’t a lot of sights to see, but there are quite a few nice restaurants, pubs and shops for such a small city. It was quite relaxing to stroll the streets and pop into a restaurant run by local people and full of local people.
We only had a short time in Saskatoon, but it was a nice reprieve before we had to get back on the road and push further into the wild West. It seemed like another milestone had been reached, and at the very least, the mystery of Saskatoon now unlocked.