Hello! This is the inaugural post for Early Saskatoon Architecture!
My name is Jonathan Cey. I’m a third year student of history at the University of Saskatchewan. This is a blog about my hometown, Saskatoon, and its beauty. The Paris of the Prairies! People today might think Saskatoon acquired the moniker because of its cuisine as mentioned in the video in the link, but there is some ambiguity about the origins.
Downtown Saskatoon. Author Reid Bykowy. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
If it was in a Tragically Hip song, it must be true, right? According to the Hip Museum, western immigration agents inflated the qualities of towns to attract settlers in the late nineteenth century, including first Winnipeg and Calgary. For some reason it stuck to Saskatoon. Maybe it was Hip singer Gord Downie’s use of the nickname in the song “Wheat Kings”. When visiting for the Junos in 2007, Downie made it clear that he believed himself responsible.
Perhaps it had something to do with the Château-style Bessborough Hotel, the last of the great Canadian railway hotels. Built just as the Great Depression dawned, excavation on the site of the Bessborough started in February 1930, but was not completed until 1935 as financial problems brought the building of such extravagant pieces to a halt in Saskatoon and across Canada . At any rate, that’s all speculation, and this is in fact a history based blog, and will include proper sources and citations. If I do track down the first use of the nickname in Canada, I’ll be sure to let you know. I am a student of history, and these kinds of things tend to bug me until I get to the bottom of them.
For now what’s important to know is that this is a project I’m starting for a class called Digital History at the U of S. It will consist of some short essays on the establishment of Saskatoon, and its architectural development in the Canadian context. Look at the banner of this site, and the picture above on this post. These shots are of roughly the same area, the east banks of the river looking west near the Broadway bridge. In the banner image, many buildings are present that Saskatonians will not recognize. For example, the large building on the corner is the YMCA building that used to stand at the corner of 20th Street and Spadina Crescent. As the photo was taken in 1912, Saskatoon icons like the Bessborough Hotel are yet to be built, while others like the Connaught and Glengarry buildings are still visible .
By the beauty of Saskatoon, I must admit that I want to share in my love for the city, region, and its history. Whether we are talking about the river valley, the architecture (which as a native Saskatonian, I was admittedly kind of unimpressed by growing up. I guess I was more concerned with the bike paths on the Meewasin at that point), the parklands to the north, or the plains in every other direction, Saskatoon has all of the best of the prairies. The winters are cold but I find a beauty in that, too.
Saskatoon in January, 2014. The steeple of St. John’s Anglican is lit up. St. John’s, built in 1913 is an example of Gothic Revival, common to Canadian churches .
There’s boosterism there, for sure, but in the rest of the work on this blog, it will be absent. The purpose of this blog site is to understand how people came to be in this place now called Saskatoon, what kinds of living spaces they created and why, and which remain today. The ostensible limit is the mid-twentieth century. I hope to include as much as possible in the time I have for the class. Should I continue the project afterwards it could stretch beyond that date, although for all intents and purposes, this is to be a blog about the early architecture of the city.
Now here’s a song that’s maybe more appropriate (and a tad happier) than the Hip’s “Wheat Kings”. I hope you enjoy this blog.
1. Shannon Ricketts, Jacqueline Hucker, and Leslie Maitland, A Guide to Canadian Architectural Styles, 2nd ed. Peterborough, Ont: Broadview Press, 2004, 102; Diamond, Elizabeth, and Gail Youngberg. Saving Our City: Saskatoon’s Protected Heritage Structures. Saskatoon: City of Saskatoon, Municipal Heritage Advisory Committee, 1994, 10.
2. For jazz fans, the Glengarry used to house the Bassment Jazz Club, and now holds the Glen Scrimshaw gallery. The Connaught building is now home to the Saskatoon Community Youth Arts Program, aka SCYAP.
3. Ricketts, Hucker, and Maitland, 55.