Late in the evening of Feb. 21, Saskatoon suffered a loss of innocence as 8th Street mainstay Bonanza Steakhouse was irreparably damaged by fire. As the dust settles, people continue to mourn, but it’s important to celebrate Bonanza’s life rather than simply lament its passing.
While recent years have seen a great upswing in locally owned Saskatoon restaurants, Bonanza served as an elder statesman. Along with other 8th Street stalwarts like the 44-year-old Cave and the 38-year-old Granary, Bonanza was an example of an establishment that could stand the test of time.
It stood for 45 years in the same location. To put that into perspective, if it were a person, Bonanza could conceivably have been parent to a university-aged student. The restaurant game is a fickle one, as anyone in the industry can tell you, so Bonanza deserves credit for its endurance and continued success all the way into 2017.
Like many — most? — lifelong Saskatonians, I ate there plenty as a young up-and-comer, and while I couldn’t recall the last time I had been there, I was still taken aback to hear the bad news. It was kind of like when you learn someone has passed and are left with a sense of regret that you hadn’t recently been in touch or you took their continued presence for granted.
Had I known its days were numbered, I might have liked to pay my last tributes to Bonanza, as it were. Upon hearing the news, I also found myself wondering if I should visit some of those aforementioned other restaurants and celebrate their longevity with them while there’s still time.
The building represents more than just a restaurant to me. Bonanza was, and remains, a cultural institution, a landmark and a distinct piece of our city. Along with the remaining segment of the out-of-commission Victoria Bridge, the fire-kissed exterior of the restaurant currently serves as a faint remnant of the not-so-distant past — a bittersweet reminder that the city I was born and raised in no longer exists.
I’ve lived here since 1994 and I still have a terrible time with the names of the streets I’ve travelled my whole life. Consequently, Bonanza — with its iconic, beaming red storefront, mostly still intact — has still continued to serve its lifelong utility of substituting for “Arlington Avenue” in the weeks since the fire.
Often, I see articles floating around about how by some year or another, Facebook will be riddled with more dead users than living ones. I was reminded of this phenomenon when I visited Bonanza’s website — bonanzasaskatoon.com — which at the time of print is still online and has yet to address the unpleasant news.
If you visit the site, you’ll be greeted by a pretty fucking cool looking sunglasses-wearing bull named Bo — whose last name I’m left to assume is Nanza. Bo encourages you to check out their great hours and learn a little more about the place. Needless to say, I would hate to be the one tasked with breaking the news to Bo.
As reported by CBC Saskatoon, longtime owner Gary Baba intends to rebuild, and I think that’s great. Obviously, Bonanza can’t and won’t be around forever, but ultimately I think the burden of deciding when to call it quits rests on Baba’s shoulders and this tragedy shouldn’t be viewed as a nail in its coffin.
If I could leave you with something to chew on — since you obviously won’t be eating the all-you-can-eat shrimp at Bonanza anytime soon — I would encourage you to stop and take a moment to think about its presence and role in this city and maybe even in your life. Whether you admit it or not, if you’re from Saskatoon, Bonanza is in your blood.
Jeremy Britz / Photo Editor