Commentary by Jeff Burgar
I just returned from my birthplace of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
The city is as beautiful as I remember, although not keeping up with its brand as “City of Bridges.” Maybe change to something like “City of Parks.” There are very many parks. Everywhere. Small and big. Old and new. In fact, it seems like there is some kind of park or sit-down location every two or three blocks, this in a city of 250,000. It’s something all our northern communities could copy easily.
We took the north route, which as it happens, is also the Northern Woods and Water Route. “Circle Routes” or “Loops” as NWWR promoter Dale Harrison likes to call them, are nice drives for tourists. The route from Falher to High Prairie, through Slave Lake, then to Athabasca, Cold Lake, Meadow Lake could easily be part of a big loop. It’s a very nice drive. Along the way, there and back, we toured many small and large towns. Athabasca. Lac La Biche. Meadow Lake. North Battleford. “New York is Big But This is Biggar!” Unity, the town of “OpportUnity!” and more.
One thing we noticed was many towns with newspapers in Saskatchewan shut down for a few weeks in the summer. Another was flower baskets and planters (huge!) and the number of walking trails – all in remarkably good shape. Plus, many of the towns have small businesses in houses close to the town center. Lots of homes used for offices or stores. And wide streets!
All too often, most of our government officials, elected or otherwise, don’t take time to get off the beaten track. If there is a meeting in Calgary, it’s the divided highways all the way. Nobody stops at Lacombe, or Didsbury, or Innisfail. Rocky Mountain House? Stony Plain? Sherwood Park? Hardly a glimpse, unless one has relatives there. The flip-side of this of course is, how do you get people from those towns, and the big cities right beside them, to come to our northern towns?
I can’t think of any reason at all for me to visit Stettler, or Olds, or Wainwright, unless I had business there or relatives or friends. I’m sure they do promotions, but frankly, they don’t do much good. I drop in just for seeing what’s up in other towns, not because something made me want to go there.
On the other hand, the Northern Woods and Water Route, as written about in these pages a few weeks ago, is a wonderful idea. The route is 2,500 kilometres of nice country. Much of the route is through the Boreal Forest, which means it isn’t that dried out, parched earth found starting at Red Deer and south all the way to Texas.
Okay. So there isn’t much to see at Unity, Saskatchewan or even Biggar. which really isn’t on the route anyway. But there’s much that can be accomplished by our northern towns all along the NWW route, working together to promote this route. It’s a good, very good idea that needs much more attention than we’ve been giving it over the past 20 years.