Set on the wide South Saskatchewan River at the heart of a vast wheat-growing area, SASKATOON is a commercial centre with a population of around 260,000 – making it Saskatchewan’s largest city. All the same it’s an easy-going place and a nice-enough stop on any prairie itinerary, even if most worthwhile sites, such as the Plains Indian Wanuskewin complex, are outside town, though Saskatoon’s downtown and adjacent riverside paths are easily explored on foot.
Ontario Methodists founded Saskatoon as a temperance colony in 1883 and named it after a local purple berry, but in spite of their enthusiasm the new settlement made an extremely slow start, partly because the semi-arid farming conditions were unfamiliar and partly because the 1885 Northwest Rebellion raised fears of aboriginal hostility. Although the railroad reached Saskatoon in 1890, there were still only 113 inhabitants at the start of the twentieth century. But the next decade saw a sudden influx of European and American settlers and, as the regional agricultural economy expanded, a group of entrepreneurs, nicknamed boomers, dominated and made Saskatoon the provincial economic hub. This success was underpinned by particularly sharp municipal loyalty: people who dared criticize any aspect of the city – from poor water quality to tyrannical labour practices – were dubbed knockers, and their opinions rubbished by the press. Even so the boomers established a pleasant, well-groomed city where solidarity overwhelmed differences in income and occupation, a feeling tangibly preserved today.