The Saskatoon area has been inhabited for more than 600 years. Its name is derived from “mis-sask-quah-toomina,” the Cree Indian name for a local indigenous berry. You’ll still find jams and pies made from those berries, a local specialty.
Not until the 1880s did the first European settlers arrive here. The year was1883 when a group of 35 Methodists from Toronto wanted to escape the liquor trade in their city. So they examined the area in the rapidly-growing prairie region of Saskatchewan and found that it would make an excellent location to settle their “dry” community, based on the ideals of the Temperance League.
The settlers, led by John Lake, arrived on the site of what is now Saskatoon by traveling by railway from Ontario to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, and then completing the final leg via horse-drawn cart (the railway had yet to be completed to Saskatoon). The plan for the Temperance Colony soon failed as the group was unable to obtain a large block of land within the community. Nonetheless, John Lake is commonly identified as the founder of Saskatoon: a public school, a park and two streets are named after him.
The Qu’Appelle, Long Lake and Saskatchewan Railway reached Saskatoon in 1890 and crossed the South Saskatchewan River, causing a boom in development on the west side of the river. In 1901, Saskatoon’s population hit 113 and the community on the west bank of the river adopted the name “Saskatoon”, while residents on the east side of the river adopted the name “Nutana”. A third settlement, “Riversdale”, also began just southwest of Saskatoon.
In 1906 Saskatoon became a city with a population of 4,500, which included the communities of Saskatoon, Riversdale, and Nutana. In 1956, the fast-growing community annexed the neighboring town of Sutherland.
After explosive residential growth in the 1970s and early 1980s, by the late 1980s development of new communities slowed to a trickle as the economy experienced a downturn.
By 2005, however, Saskatoon was in the midst of another growth boom with construction under way on no less than four major residential areas, plus early planning launched on several proposed business parks and the Blairmore Suburban Development Area, also known as the “West Sector”, a large recently annexed area on the city’s west side which is expected to include seven residential communities, a business park, and a “suburban centre” in the coming years. (Construction of the suburban centre, which will include public and separate high schools, is scheduled to begin in 2006.)
One of the city’s best-known landmarks is the Delta Bessborough Hotel. You’ll hear local Saskatonians calling it The Bessborough, or, more colloquially, “The Bess” (phonetically, “the Bez”.) The hotel was built in the 1930s during the Great Depression and was designed to resemble a Bavarian castle. Its original purpose was to be a railway hotel, built by the CNR, a federal crown corporation, as a make-work project.
The hotel has passed out of the ownership of the CNR and has survived several changes in ownership, as well as the suggestion that it be demolished in order to restore the riverbank. The Bessborough and the Mendel Art Gallery are currently the only two major structures located on the river side of Spadina Crescent.
Over the years, the Bessborough has become Saskatoon’s most iconic symbol and most recognizable skyline feature; one of the most frequently-circulated photographs depicting Saskatoon is of the hotel framed in one of the arches of the Broadway Bridge.
The city is currently redeveloping the south downtown region of River Landing. This redevelopment will result in the development of a Hotel/Spa to the downtown core, a huge, new theater complex with twelve theatres with stadium-style seating owned by Cineplex Entertainment, parkland and a year round home for the Saskatoon Farmers Market.
Today the city is Saskatchewan’s largest, with a population of more than 200,000 and growing.