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With a population of 230,000, Saskatoon ranks as the largest city in central Canada’s sparsely populated Saskatchewan province. The city’s name comes from the Cree tribe’s word for the violet-colored berries that grow in the region. Cree, Dakota and other First Nations peoples make up about 9 percent of Saskatoon’s population. Located on the South Saskatchewan River, Saskatoon serves as a distribution hub for surrounding farms and other agricultural businesses. The uranium and potash mining industries also contribute significantly to the local economy.

Downtown’s most prominent landmark is the castle-like Delta Bessborough Hotel, opened in 1935 to serve the burgeoning number of businessmen visiting Saskatoon by railroad. Fully renovated in 2003, the hotel retains many of its historic features, including ornate ballrooms with soaring ceilings and elegant arched windows. Weddings and special events are often held in the riverfront garden behind the hotel. Known by locals as “The Bess,” the hotel is also home to one of Saskatoon’s top restaurants, Samurai, which has been serving excellent Japanese food for more than 30 years.

Most of the other top restaurants in Saskatoon are clustered around the intersection of 21st Street E and 2nd Avenue S, a few blocks west of The Bess. North of the hotel, set along the river, the Mendel Art Gallery and Civic Conservatory is a must-see when visiting Saskatoon. The gallery exhibits more than 5,800 pieces of art by local and international artists. The permanent collection is built around a Mendel family donation of paintings by European and Canadian artists, including works by Jean-Paul Lemieux and David Milne. The adjacent conservatory presents a new selection of flowering plants every month in a tranquil setting.

Across the river, University of Saskatchewan occupies a sprawling 754-hectare campus. With more than 5,000 staff and faculty members, the university is one of the largest employers in Saskatoon. Illustrating the school’s heavy emphasis on agriculture, the campus is dotted with experimental gardens, greenhouses and livestock pens. The historic Greystone Theatre on campus presents both classic and original plays in the oldest auditorium in Saskatchewan. The general public is welcome at the campus observatory for stargazing every Saturday night and at the 4,600-seat Griffiths Stadium, which hosts Huskie football games and track and field events.

The campus area also provides one of many access points in Saskatoon to the Meewasin Trail. The 60-kilometre trail runs along both sides of the river and connects to several parks, interpretive centres, museums and canoe launching sites. Along the southern stretch of the trail, Diefenbaker Park is a popular spot for picnics and festivals. History buffs will enjoy strolling through the park’s pioneer cemetery, where the city’s first settlers, a group of devoted temperance advocates, were laid to rest. A few blocks southwest of the park, the Western Development Museum delves deeper into the region’s history, with elaborate displays including an antique farm equipment exhibit and the 1910 Boomtown Street, which features full-sized mockups of a general store and blacksmith shop.