Saskatoon greeted the 20th century with an official population count of 113 and dirt streets. The town began as a vision of the Toronto-based Temperance Colonization Society to establish a “dry” community in the quick-growing Canadian prairies. In 1882 the anti-liquor contingent acquired land straddling the South Saskatchewan River and John Neilson Lake, a one-time Methodist preacher and commissioner of the Temperance Society, led a band of colonizers west. Unlike hardship tales that accompanied many 19th century settlers Lake’s group was able to take the train most of the way and used horse carts from Moose Jaw up to the site of its grants. Lake staked out the spot for a settlement which eventually picked up the Cree name for a sweet-tasting, violet-coloured berry that grew along the river.

Lake’s group, however, was unable to cobble together a large enough block of land to make the temperance community viable. The Qu’Appelle, Long Lake and Saskatchewan Railway built into town in 1890 which opened the west side of the river to development and by 1906 there was a city of 4,500 residents large enough to be chartered a year after the province of Saskatchewan formed. In 1907 the first Saskatchewan premiere Walter Scott mulled over the merits of the nascent province’s communities and selected Saskatoon for the home of the new provincial university and agricultural college.

With the University of Saskatchewan and its inherent geographical advantages that favoured its growth as a western Canada railway hub Saskatoon boomed in the years before World War I as the population exploded to over 20,000. The post-war years brought tough times and the Great Depression of the 1930s forced families off bankrupt farms but Saskatoon reacted to the lessening reliance on agriculture by expanding its potash and oil industries. The potash deposits in particular are the richest on the planet.

With its eight river crossings Saskatoon has earned the sobriquet of “City of Bridges” but in recent years the economy has hummed along to such an extent it is sometimes called “Sask-a-boom.” Our walking tour willcommence on the banks of the all-important South Saskatchewan River where Saskatchewan’s largest city remembers mileposts in its heritage... 

Vimy Memorial Bandshell
Kiwanis Park at the foot of 20th Street East

Many mark the Canadian assault on Vimy Ridge in northern France during World War I as the defining moment when Canada emerged from the shadow of Great Britain to take its place among the first rank of world nations. French attacks on the heavily-fortified German position had proved futile, leading to the loss of more than 100,000 troops. When the Canadian Corps was given the assignment to take the ridge four Canadian divisions stormed the hill with 15,000 infantry on the morning of April 9, 1917. The Canadians carried the day but the ridge was purchased at a frightful price - 3,598 killed and more than 7,000 wounded. A grateful French nation ceded Vimy Ridge to Canada in perpetuity. The Vimy Memorial Bandshell was erected in 1937 on the 20th anniversary of the battle to remember veterans.


Kiwanis Park
west bank of South Saskatchewan River

Kiwanis Park was developed as a memorial park between the Broadway Bridge and the University Bridge in 1946. A segment of the 60+-kilometre Meewasin Valley Trail snakes through the greenspace which is dotted with memorials, statues, benches and informational placards. The Memorial Fountain of Youth on the north (opposite side of the hotel) remembers Canadians who fought in World War II. 

Delta Bessborough
601 Spadina Crescent East at the foot of 21st Street

The Canadian Pacific Railway built one of its trademark chateauesque hotels in Regina in 1926 and immediately Saskatoon business leaders began lobbying for one of their own. Railway president Sir Henry Thornton complied and dispatched go-to architects John Archibald and John Schofield from Montreal to create a Bavarian castle overlooking the South Saskatchewan River. The price to the city to bring the ten-storey, 225-room guest house online was property taxes for 25 years. The hotel was named after Sir Vere Ponsonby, 9th Earl of Bessborough and 14th Governor General of Canada. “The Bess” was completed by 1932 but the first guests did not sign the register of the grand railway hotel until 1935 due to the economic hard times of the Great Depression. It was the last of the grand Canadian railway hotels; a copper roof tops the confection that boasts Tyndall stone emblems and gargoyles around the exterior. 


St. Paul’s Cathedral
northwest corner of 22nd Street East and Spadina Crescent

Sir Wilfrid Laurier, the seventh Prime Minister of Canada, came out from Ottawa to put the cornerstone into the ground for this sanctuary on July 25, 1910. Its relatively simple design reflects the fact that it was constructed as a parish church but was raised to the rank of cathedral with the establishment of the Diocese of Saskatoon in 1934. The stained glass windows were installed in 1945 to honour parishioners who died in World War II. The chime of Packard bells and a Casavan organ, however, are as old as the building, having been installed in 1912. 

Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist
816 Spadina Crescent East at northeast corner of 23rd Street East

St. John’s Anglican parish was founded in 1902 and a small wooden frame meetinghouse constructed several blocks away closer to the centre of town. The property cost $40, most of the labour was donated and the final price tag was $800. The town and congregation were growing fast, however, and a series of additions could not keep the original church from bursting at the rafters. Two acres along the river were purchased for $19,000 in 1911 and plans were hatched for an English Gothic-style sanctuary. A Saskatoon trio of architects, all trained in England, tackled the design: Norman Thompson, Brammal Daniel and G. Buller Colthurst. It took five years to construct the building, which contains more than 50,000 pieces of terra-cotta. The entrance steps are Tyndall stone, laced with fossils. The steeple is the tallest in western Canada and there is more stained glass here than any church in Saskatoon. St. John’s became a cathedral when the Diocese of Saskatoon was formed in 1932.

Knox United Church
838 Spadina Crescent East at southwest corner of 24th Street East

The first Presbyterian services in Saskatoon were held in congregant houses in 1885 as part of the Saskatoon Presbyterian Field Mission before a wooden church was raised near the river. Knox became “United” with the inclusion of the Congregational and Methodist churches. Montreal architects David Robertson Brown and Hugh Vallance contributed the imposing Collegiate Gothic style design for the dark red brick church that was completed in 1914. The “Burning Bush” stained glass window depicts the founding of the Presbyterian teachings. Knox United is known for the quality of its acoustics and can seat 1,200 worshippers; the pulpit is a relic of the original Knox church and the organ came from Cassavant Fréres in 1914.  

Turn LEFt on 24TH Street EAST. 

Star-Phoenix/Star-Phoenix Clock
southeast corner of 24th Street East and 4th Avenue North

The first editions of The Saskatoon Phenix appeared on the streets on October 17, 1902 and the paper prospered enough to become daily in 1909. By the 1920s there were two papers jostling for Saskatoon readers - the Daily Star and the Daily Phoenix. The Sifton family of Winnipeg, headed by one-time federal cabinet minister and owner of the Winnipeg Free Press Clifton Sifton, put an end to the Saskatoon newspaper wars in the 1920s by purchasing both papers and launching the Star-Phoenix in 1928. It remained the town’s only daily newspaper for more than eight decades. The clock on the corner is a Seth Thomas company model from 1920; the Connecticut-born Thomas founded America’s oldest clock company in 1813 when he was 28 years of age.   

HMCS Unicorn
405 24th Street East at at southeast corner of 4th Avenue North

The unicorn has a long and revered history as a name on Royal Navy ships, dating to the days when the HMS Unicorn was one of the first ships to sail into the Hudson Bay. The HMCS Unicorn was astone frigate of the Saskatoon Half Company, a Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve company organised in April of 1923. This building has been a recruiting centre and training facility for more than 3,500 enlistees into the Royal Canadian Navy during its more than eight decades of existence, preparing prairie sailors for coastal defense, navigation and mine sweeping. In the courtyard is a Prairie Sailor monument with a winged unicorn and two UN flags that flew during missions in World War II and the Korean conflict.

Third Avenue United Church
304 3rd Avenue North at northeast corner of 24th Street East

The first Presbyterian services were held in this English Gothic-styled church on June 27, 1913. The cruciform plan was executed with buff Tyndal stone from Winnipeg quarries. The auditorium, which could seat more than 1,200, was constructed with a series of hammer-beam rafters supporting the ceiling without pillars, a feat of engineering wizardry that made the church the venue of choice for Saskatoon concerts and political rallies.     


City Hall
222 3rd Avenue North between 23rd and 24th streets

The Saskatoon government received its first dedicated home with the construction of City Hall in 1954. Before that the city was run out of the rambling King Edward School building on 23rd Street East between 3rd and 4th avenues that dated to 1904. The architects for the new civic headquarters were John Webster and Edward Gilbert. David Webster had been one of Saskatoon’s first architects, hanging out his shingle in 1906. Among his commissions was the King Edward School. Webster forged a partnership with Gilbert in 1930 and his son, John, joined the firm in 1939.  

Sturdy Stone Centre
122 3rd Avenue North

Beginning in 1913 a seven-story building, the Standard Trust Building, occupied this site. When it was demolished to clear space for this Brutalist-style 13-storey combination parkade and office complex in 1976 it precipitated such an outcry that the Saskatoon Heritage Society was created to give other landmarks around town a voice in their survival. The architecture firm responsible for the Sturdy Stone Centre - Forrester, Scott, Bowers, Cooper and Walls - has had a hand in the creation of some of those landmarks, including the University of Saskatchewan’s modernist College of Education Building and the Frances Morrison Library next door on 23rd Street. One of the buildings that may be fighting for its existence is the window-deprived Sturdy Stone Centre. Brutalist buildings that sought to strip structures to their most basic forms have often not aged well on the streetscape, inspiring preservationists to remind folks that their mission is not only to save beautiful things. 

Drinkle No. 3 Building
115 3rd Avenue SouthThe legend of John Clarence Drinkle has it that he arrived in Saskatoon in 1903 with less than $500 in his pocket and by the time he bankrolled this building in 1913 he was the town’s richest man. Drinkle was born in Waverly, Ontario in 1878 and spent his early years working in various retail enterprises. Once in Saskatoon he set up a real estate office on the cusp of the town’s emergence from dirt streets to one of the world’s fastest growing cities. In 1906 he erected the first large brick office building in Saskatoon, Drinkle No. 1. Walter William LaChance, the town’s busiest and most flamboyant architect, drew up the plans. Drinkle moved the “largest and finest furniture store West of Winnipeg” into Drinkle No. 1, which also featured Saskatoon’s first elevator. Drinkle No. 1 was destroyed by fire in 1925. Drinkle No.2 was finished in 1913 and would meet the same fate in 1986.

By the time Drinkle bankrolled No. 2 he was living the high life in London, England but still harboured big plans for Saskatoon. He intended Drinkle No. 3 to be the tallest and most resplendent building in Saskatoon, a cornerstone of a metropolitan 3rd Avenue that would be the envy of Western Canada. Five storeys went up with marble corridors and quarter-oak trim but the economic boom was dissipating and the final five floors were never added. Businesses never moved in and Drinkle No. 3 was converted to residential duty in 1919. Drinkle’s Saskatoon assets would be liquidated and the building expanded for commercial tenants. John Drinkle ended his days selling commercial jams from the basement of his home in Ottawa where he died at the age of 73. On the 22nd Street elevation overlooking the parking lot is a 72-foot high mural depicting portraits of seven of the city founders, painted in enamel on aluminum by Henry Van Seters. 

Turn right on 22ND Street EAST. TURN LEFT ON 2ND AVENUE SOUTH. 

Hutchinson Building
144 2nd Avenue South

The worst fire ever experienced on 2nd Avenue swept this block in 1923, taking with it the town’s largest hardware store, Saskatoon Hardware Store Ltd. Saskatoon architect Frank P. Martin designed the replacement building with plum-colored bricks, Tyndall store highlights and glass transom lights. Much of the detailing was obscured over the years until a restorative makeover arrived in the 1990s. You can look up to see the name of the store owner, J.L. Stanley Hutchinson, carved into a central pediment on the roof.

Kempthorne Block
157 2nd Avenue South

This modified three-story commercial building is a souvenir of the Saskatoon boom of the early 1900s, completed in 1910. Typical of downtown buildings of the era the top floors were used as living space and the ground floor for retail endeavors. This was the location of Thomas Wesley Fawcett’s hardware businesses in those formative days. The design is the handiwork of busy local architect David Webster. The Saskatoon Business College conducted classes here for many years.

Turn right on 21ST STREET.        

Canada Building
105 21st Street East at southeast corner of 1st Avenue South

This eight-storey landmark hews to the principle of early skyscraper design to make high-rise buildings resemble a classical column that featured a base (the oversized lower floors faced in red granite), a shaft (the unadorned center storeys) and a capital (the terra cotta classical detailing at the cornice). The money man was Allan Bowerman, a graduate of Kingston Military College who came from Winnipeg to Saskatoon in 1899 to be the first postmaster on the western banks of the South Saskatchewan River. Bowerman became an active player in the development of the city. Look up above the main central entrance to see bison heads on either side.    


CIBC Building
201 21st Street East at southeast corner of 2nd Avenue

The Canadian Bank of Commerce, founded in 1867, merged with the Imperial Bank of Canada, founded in 1873, in 1961 to form one of Canada’s strongest financial institutions. The new Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce planted its footprint in downtown Saskatoon with this modern, 11-storey office tower in 1969.  


O’Brians Event Centre
241 2nd Avenue South

One hundred years ago the middle of this block boasted a handsome Neoclassical banking temple for the Royal Bank of Canada and next door was the Victoria Theatre. The live stage was later transformed into a Mediterranean-style atmospheric movie house billed as the Tivoli. In 2004 the buildings were combined and transformed into an entertainment complex - the outside of the bank retains its original appearance and the interior serves its original purpose.  

Scotiabank Theatre
347 2nd Avenue South at southwest corner of 20th Street East

Saskatoon screened its first moving pictures in a dedicated movie house in the Capitol Theatre from 1929 until 1979. For many of those years movies lovers could also catch a flick at the Daylight Theatre, Midtown Cinemas, Paramount Theatre or the Roxy Theatre at one time or another. The only place to grab a movie today in the Central Business District is in the Scotiabank, born as the Galaxy, which also features a VIP section that serves the province’s first alcohol at the movies. If only John Lake and his followers could see what has become of their little settlement on the banks of the South Saskatchewan River.    


McLean Block
263 3rd Avenue South

Downtown Saskatoon began filling with three-storey vernacular commercial buildings like this one in the years before the First World War. Aside from surviving a century the McLean Block stands out for its distinct brick-and-stone pattern of the facade and the decorative dark terra cotta heads looking down from atop the projecting bays at the north and south ends of the building.

Glengarry Block
245 3rd Avenue South

This classically-influenced six-storey building of dark brick trimmed in stone was constructed in 1912 as the date badges attest. It was best known as the home of the Bassment jazz club, a pillar for the Saskatoon underground music scene for 25 years beginning in 1983.   

Flanagan/Senator Hotel
243 21st Street East at southwest corner of 21st Street

This downtown hotel was the last word in Saskatoon luxury when it opened in 1907. James Flanagan bankrolled the project and Walter William LaChance provided the exuberant design. Guests could enjoy hot and cold running water, steam heat and a private telephone in each room - considered the mark of a first class hostelry. Flanagan was a bon vivant who kept a mirror in the bar so he would never have to drink alone. He died in 1909 and the hotel was sold by his estate for $150,000. Today it operates as a boutique hotel under the name The Senator, a title harkening back to its early days when political candidates used to give speeches from the raised balcony.

Avenue Building
220 3rd Avenue South at the southeast corner of 21st Street

Frank Roland MacMillan was born in Chicago in 1882 but spent all his years after the age of three in Canada, growing up in Toronto. As a young man he moved to Saskatoon and worked for the John Macdonald & Co. retailing operation for seven years until opening his own menswear business in 1908 with partner C.D. Mitcher. In 1911 he bought the stock of the Currie Bros. store and rechristened it the MacMillan Department Store. Two years later when he relocated to the Avenue Building the city was in such a froth to go on a buying spree in the new store that the newspapers claimed crowds of 10,000 people attended the Grand Opening celebration. The city population was barely 12,000 at the time so if the boosterism press is to be believed that would have been a very good day for Saskatoon house burglars. MacMillan entered politics at the same time, winning a seat on the city council as alderman and becoming Mayor of Saskatoon in 1919. He sold his business to Eaton’s in 1927 and eventually won election to the Canadian House of Commons.      

Eaton’s Building
310 21st Street East at northeast corner of 3rd Avenue

Timothy Eaton’s first store in Toronto in 1869 was scarcely seven metres wide by 18 metres deep. From that tiny space Eaton’s grew to become the largest department store retailer in the country; an Eaton’s catalogue could be found in every home in Canada. The retailing juggernaut took aim at Saskatoon in 1927. The plan was to build the tallest building in the city. One of the nation’s most prestigious architectural firms, the shop of George Allen Ross and Australian Robert Henry Macdonald, was summoned from Montreal to design the new store. They sketched out a Renaissance Revival plan with a parade of triple-arched Palladian windows to punctuate the Tyndall stone facade that was trimmed in black marble. The interior was outfitted with trademark bronze fixtures and fittings, an 80-foot long marble meat market counter and a Mediterranean-style dining room. The project was scaled back, however, to just three storeys. Eaton’s remained in its retail palace until 1970 before moving down the street to Midtown Plaza. After three decades as an Army & Navy discount outlet the former Eaton’s building was acquired by the Saskatoon Board of Education and given a long overdue facelift.


Land Titles Building
311 21st Street East

Tucked back from the streetscape this Neoclassical gem was built in 1909 to house the workings of the land title office. Architects Edgar M. Storey and his young partner William Gysbert Van Egmond came up from Regina to complete the project. Van Egmond had managed Saskatoon architect Walter W. LaChance’s office in Regina before signing on with Storey and the arrival of the Regina men in Saskatoon sparked a spirited rivalry in the chase for commissions during the early 20th century building boom times. The one-storey dark brick office building is wrapped in stone quoins and features an elaborate arched stone entranceway. The Saskatoon Land Titles Office occupied the stylish space until 1959. 

Odd Fellows Temple
416 21st Street East

The Middle Ages in Great Britain saw the banding together of tradesmen into guilds to promote business and fellowship. The carpenters had their own guild, the bricklayers had their own guild and so on. Trades that did not have a large number of practitioners were welded into hodgepodge guilds known as Odd Fellows. In the 19th century an International Order of Odd Fellows lodge building, usually exuberantly ornate, could be found in virtually every town. Saskatoon followed suit when the town crystallised in the 20th century when Saskatoon Lodge #29 came on board in 1903 and the North Star lodge followed in 1910. The three-storey building was designed by Walter W. LaChance and crafted with classical influences using terra cotta with sculpted heads gracing the pediment. Saskatoon’s first public library was housed in the basement from 1913 to 1923; the Odd Fellows used the building until 1959 before selling it to the Saskatoon Labour Council. 

Saskatoon Club
417 21st Street East

The private club of city business leaders held its first meetings in rented quarters on Spadina Crescent in 1907 before moving into this Neoclassical clubhouse in 1912. English-born architect Norman Livingston Thompson was the architect. He trained in his father’s office and emigrated to Saskatoon as an engineer for the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. The Saskatoon Club offers its 650 or so members a dining room, lounge, meeting spaces and a fitness centre. It was a gentlemen’s club until 1989 when women were allowed to join for the first time. Initiation costs $500 and annual dues are $700. 

Bus Stop Refreshments
Across from the Bessborough

Now anchored to sidewalk pavers this antique double-decker bus debuted on London streets in 1949. It had been ticketed for a life hauling rural passengers through the rolling countryside but a shortage of post-World War II transportation caused it to be pressed into duty in the hustle and bustle of the English capital. After 17 years it was retired to Niagara Falls to serve as a tour bus. A new life for the red bus was in store in Regina as a restaurant. Laurel Beaumont bought the bus in 1985 and started its runs on Saskatoon streets selling fish and chips. After 40 years on the road Beaumont parked the bus here in 1989 and built a cult following for the Bus Stop’s hot dogs and ice cream.