When you graduate high school in Saskatoon, you make a big decision: leave this hick town, or sink deeper into a cold, comfortable rut.
When it came to my high school clique of nerdy drama kids, most of them left for Ontario — the Promised Land. Some of them seem different when they come back. It’s as if living in a big city erased the personality a prairie upbringing gave them. My friend at McGill calls these people “Montreal snobs” — former Saskatonians who, after partying and studying in Montreal, develop a sense of superiority to the people of Saskatoon. Variants include the Vancouver snob and the Toronto snob.
One day last summer, this McGill friend and I were biking around town when I confessed, “I love this little hick town.” But being a Montreal snob himself, he mocked, “Why is everyone here so proud of Saskatoon?”
Well there are a million reasons. And no, The Sheepdogs are not one of them.
For starters, no place deals with temperature change like we do. Living in our prairie landscape is comparable to menopause — a colorful mix of hot flashes and icy chills. Saskatoon even boasts a wider temperature range than Siberia!
And during that “fucking cold” part of winter, Saskatonians can’t help but feel a reverence toward nature. I remember after the Blizzard of ’07, roads like Preston Ave. had massive walls of snow at the sides. You couldn’t even see traffic behind these snowbanks!
Stuff like that makes it pretty hard for us to ignore the natural world. But in a big city, all you see is the human artifice. In a world of skyscrapers and traffic jams, a person can pretend nature doesn’t even exist.
And oh how I treasure our local dialect. I s’pose folks down in suddern U.S. use ’er just uh same. Perhaps it’s a hick thing. We all know the smaller a S’katchewan town you hail from, the more apparent your drawl is. In fact, our people are famous for prolonging vowels — or simply screwing them up, as in “a glass of melk.”
But my favourite part of local speech is use of the suffix “er.” Just giv’er on the gas. I better head’er home. It’s a good’er alright.
In a lot ways Saskatoon is the world’s biggest small town. Walk through Sutherland and you’d swear you were in some remote village. Central Avenue is just like the main street of a small town — with a railroad that runs through it, and plenty of dilapidated bars. It’s trashy but one can drink at every licensed place on Central in one night.
Ughh, never again.
Being an outdoorsy person, I’ve always adored the riverbank paths running from one edge of town to the other. I doubt there’s another town this big that lets you stumble into such untamed nature without leaving city limits. In Saskatoon, you can be in the synchrotron one second, and grasslands the next. One minute you’re stuck in downtown traffic, the next you’re driving 80 past a field of cows.
Actually, that smell of cow shit in the summer air isn’t our best selling feature.
But for all its hickish appearance, Saskatoon breeds a lot of success. I dare say we put out more world-class talent per capita than anywhere else. With 231,900 people, we’ve raised countless greats — the NHLers, the musicians, the writers.
Some people say our success stems from the “prairie work ethic” but I speculate it’s more a result of being stuck in such a remote, frozen wasteland. In our winter, parts of life shut down. So you have a lot of time to get drunk and watch TV — a worthy pursuit — or go shoot pucks at a net, or make music in a basement.
With so many wide-open spaces and old-time places, I can’t help but feel a deep affinity for good ol’ Saskatoon. But I worry you kids will abandon your roots — much like the Montreal snobs who left us. I fear Saskatoon will become another gear in the homogenous cultural machine of modernity.
To be honest, the new world is already ruining local culture.
There’s nothing true to Saskatoon in Wired 96.3 or trendy nightclubs or suburbs or “fresh” urban lingo. All this shit is just handed down to us from a few rich businessmen living in warmer places, deciding what culture should be.
It’s just ridiculous to speak in pseudo-ebonics when we basically live in a glorified farm town. It’s utterly stupid to pretend “da club life” has anything to do with Saskatoon. When I stroll through the bucolic calm of prairie fields, I wonder why the hell we try modernizing ourselves and this town.
I wish we could all just eat our humble Saskatoon berry pie and admit, “Yep, I live in a hick town, but g’all darnit, she’s ah finest hick town out there!”
Graphic: Brianna Whitmore/The Sheaf