SASKATOON the Good life City

(It was planned for people)

JEANNINE LOCKE October 1 1969

SASKATOON the Good life City

(It was planned for people)

JEANNINE LOCKE October 1 1969

SASKATOON the Good life City


(It was planned for people)

SASKATOON, SASKATCHEWAN, shares with a place like Oshkosh or Moose Jaw the misfortune of a hauntingly unromantic name. The giddy rhythm and coarse resonance of Sask-a-toon, Sask-at-che-wan, make it an unsuitable subject for poetry or songs of inspiration and hard for an outsider to take seriously. The city's billing itself as Potash Capital of the World hasn't helped, either. Potash, for all its virtues as a fertilizer, does not lend enchantment. A big-city sophis ticate is likely to arrive, therefore, without great ex pectations of Saskatchewan's second-biggest urban cen tre (population: 130,000). Certainly he is unprepared for the civic pride and pioneering zeal of resident sophisticates.

At first it’s easy to mistake that pride for oldfashioned, midwestern boosterism. Saskatoon’s daily newspaper and its only television outlet, both of which tend to celebrate local progress in the style of a chamber-of-commerce brochure, reinforce the impression of being in Babbitt country. But despite their sales pitch, a visitor is not struck by anything remarkable. Admiring the South Saskatchewan River, which curves through the city and in early evening is a lovely reflection of spires, arched bridges and a turreted hotel, he is likely to be distracted by two extraordinary Saskatoon landmarks, looking at each other from opposite, downtown sections of riverbank. One is a preposterous monument to potash — a portion of plain, mine tubing that rises, unabashed,


from a 30-foot steel-and-concrete plinth — and the other is that turreted hotel, the Bessborough, which was opened in 1935, when railway hoteliers still had the marvelous notion that a traveler’s home away from home in Canada must be a medieval fortress or chateau.

Approached from the west. Saskatoon has all the trappings of an ordinary prairie city; but inside the city, there are intimations of an unusual community: onion domes of churches, a fine civic auditorium adjoining a central shopping mall and, on the high east bank of the river, the outlines of one of the handsomest university campuses in Canada.

But what the visitor may fail to appreciate is the beautiful thing about Saskatoon: it is a beautiful place for people to live in. In the broadest sense of the word, it is a civilized city, where the individual is not diminished or deprived of his sense of community, but is liberated, has his life enriched and his choices increased by urbanization.

He enjoys amenities that in other cities are reserved for the rich. A Saskatonian on an average income has the option of living in a highrise apartment or a house. And if his need is for low-rental, public housing, it is most likely to be integrated into a neighborhood, not institutionalized in a huge complex.

His family is within safe walking distance of schools, shops, a park and organized recreation. An old-age pensioner pays 75 cents to play golf all day on a municipal course accessible by public transport, which he rides for a dollar a year (during restricted hours). A Saskatoon child can have a lively encounter with his pioneer past at the Western Development Museum, where once a year those prairie dinosaurs, steam engines and threshing machines, are hauled outside and put to work again, and Doukhobor women, in wash-and-wear dresses, serve bread fresh from an open oven.

Saskatoon’s Mendel Art Gallery and Civic Conservatory is open 11 hours a day, six days a week (seven hours on Sundays and holidays), and is free. Annual attendance, since the gallery-conservatory held its first exhibition in 1964, has never dropped below 300,000, which is 23,000 more visitors than Toronto’s Art Gallery of Ontario attracts in a year. Tickets for touring and local entertainments at Saskatoon’s Centennial Auditorium usually start at $1.50. which may help to explain why its splendid, 2,000-seat theatre averages two-thirds occupancy and is frequently sold out.

Saskatoon is civilized because it was planned that way. Its citizens owe their favored circumstances to the fact that Saskatoon, during the period of its most rapid growth and change, was not delivered into the hands of land speculators and private developers to plunder as they saw fit. Saskatoon’s dynamism was supplied by its own civic leaders, whose priority was the welfare of people, and by the people themselves.

Sixteen years ago Saskatoon, seeing a big city in its future, began buying the land to grow on. The following year a town planner. William Graham, was imported — another farsighted move for a city of only 60,000 — and his plans were not merely adopted but enforced. Since then, Saskatoon has more than doubled its population and demonstrated that the future of urban man need not be as

The good lib A city with one thing on its mind: whats best for people

No tracks-so no wrong side of the tracks'

desperate as some eastern editorialists are wont to predict. The civilizing of Saskatoon began, like so many other prairie reform movements, because of bad luck in the 1930s. Until then, land in that area was assembled, in the usual, haphazard way, by private developers. But so many of them defaulted on taxes during 10 years of drought and depression that the municipality emerged from hard times a big landowner. So did other cities. But Saskatoon, instead of selling out as soon as business revived, hung on to its land bank. In 1953, when the city was prosperous enough to have growth problems, land acquisition became official policy. By the time Paul Hellyer’s federal Task Force on Housing and Urban Development arrived in Saskatoon last fall, the advantages of “an effective system of municipally assembled and serviced land” were clearly demonstrable.

Being both landowner and planning authority, the city government has been able, it told the Task Force, “to provide land for private developers at reasonable prices while planning the development pattern in a comprehensive sense and retaining, again on a planned basis, sufficient land on proper sites for public uses such as schools, libraries, parks and the like.” After accommodating a population that has grown to 130,000 and is expected to double every 12 years from now on, the city has enough land in reserve “to meet development needs for the next 20 years.” It has acquired Crown land along the South Saskatchewan River to ensure green space for greater Saskatoon — 50 years hence. Saskatoon, in short, has the franchise for its own future.

More impressive than the business efficiency of Saskatoon’s land assembly is the purpose behind - it. Sixteen years ago. Saskatoon set out to build, not just another patch of urban sprawl, but a community of style and grace and diversity. People, not just a few entrepreneurs, were to benefit from Saskatoon’s development. Instead of selling its land at a cut rate, thereby encouraging rampageous growth, the city would plow the profits back into the community.

Saskatoon has stayed with that planning philosophy during its evolution from a snug little market centre, catering to a prosperous area of mixed farming, into a booming industrial city, “the Potash Capital of the World.” Bigness seems inevitable. The Saskatoon area bestrides half the world’s reserves of potash, a recent discovery that has already attracted six mining companies and a flock of related industries to the city and surrounding district. It also has 'the commercial advantages of being at the hub of the whole prairie market area and hard by the Gardiner Dam, Saskatchewan’s prime source of hydro power and water for irrigation. It houses the main campus of the University of Saskatchewan, along with the new Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Arts and Sciences (the western equivalent of Toronto’s Ryerson), and has the hospitals to go with the university’s spreading health-sciences complex.

“Organization and co-ordination have become a way of life in Saskatoon,” the city told the Task Force. The formula may sound uninspired — but the end product comes close to an urban man’s Shangri-la. Traffic flows because Saskatoon’s four-lane freeway was built in advance of the city’s need for it. The air and face of Saskatoon are

clean because all those new industries, having been located by the city in well-planned industrial parks, are obliged to attempt to control their pollution. The university, with plenty of room for expansion, has been able to grow at the same pace as the city and maintain good relations with its neighbors. In Professor Edward A. McCourt’s observation: “Half the citizens of Saskatoon, it seems, are graduates of the university and most of the other half spend their spare time attending night classes, concerts and theatre on the university campus. They all consider themselves a part of the university community.” The newest suburbanite has the sense of place derived from good planning. Each new suburban development is designed to be safe from main traffic arteries and to have a focus — a school in the middle, adjacent to a park, recreation centre and cluster of shops — so that it will grow into a neighborhood, not your typical Canadian “slurb.”

For all that, plus bountiful recreation facilities and culture palaces that are owned by, and .accessible to, the whole community, Saskatonians pay relatively low city taxes. They work out at 20 percent less per capita than the cost of running the province’s premier city, Regina — a benighted place, Saskatonians sincerely believe.

Organization and co-ordination have also given Saskatoon a second chance to design its downtown core. While other cities have been talking about getting rid of their railway tracks as a start on redevelopment, Saskatoon has been doing it. On 30-odd acres that used to be a seediness of CNR tracks, sheds and warehouses, Saskatonians now browse through Midtown Plaza, a weather-controlled mall of shops, offices, a cinema and chic restaurants, all of which will be in business by 1970. The plaza is bound to be bright and lively at all hours, being influenced by Saskatoon’s seven-million-dollar auditorium-convention centre, which entertains next door. It’s a whole new heart of downtown.

How Saskatoon accomplished it — and got a four-lane freeway as a fringe benefit — is a story that would be incredible in any other urban setting. It all started in 1962 when a study of. traffic problems showed that the CN’s main line, slicing through the core of the city, was a root cause. The only solution, according to the experts who made the study, was to build a series of expensive overpasses and a high-level bridge. But Saskatoon's Mayor, Sidney Buckwold, had an alternative. Wouldn't it be a better investment in the long run to pay the CN to relocate outside the city? In that way, Buckwold argued. Saskatoon would not only eliminate its biggest traffic bottleneck and liberate prime land for redevelopment, but would also have to rid itself of the idea of a right and wrong side of the tracks. “With that railway barrier to separate us, physically and psychologically, we are really two cities,” said Buckwold, who knew both, being in business on the west side (the wrong side of the tracks, where Ukrainian and German immigrants settled long ago and stayed), and having his residence respectably to the east.

As it turned out, the city made a very good deal. For $2,600,000 — the subsidy paid to the CN for shifting its facilities to a new site west of Saskatoon — the city got back a downtown area amounting to half the size of its existing business district, plus the railway’s suburban yards and the chance to acquire the CN’s right of way, land at places 300 feet wide bordering the tracks that snaked around the city and into its core.

The yards became the site of a second industrial park and the CN tracks and right of way are now Saskatoon’s Circle Drive, a four-lane freeway. Buckwold admits that the city’s present volume of traffic does not justify a freeway. But by building when the land became available, the city was better able to plan its future development and

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also avoid the social upheaval that accompanies mass expropriation of property. “It may not appear to be the best economics.” Buckwold says about Saskatoon’s new freeway, “but it makes for beautiful planning

The prosperity of the early 1960s, as well as potash, brought money to Saskatoon, and it shows. Boutiques, specialty shops, restaurants and bars and huge student parking lots at the university and Institute of Applied Arts and Sciences all do brisk business. The bulk of the art gallery’s permanent collection was donated by a local industrialist, Fred S. Mendel, who also gave $175,000 as a start on construction of the gallery itself.

In Saskatoon, as elsewhere, prestige goes with money. But even more prestige is attached to conspicuous public service. The result is that City Hall has never lacked for business leaders, professional men and intellectuals from

The good lib you do-you can’t hide

the university community on its boards, committees and council. Mayor Buckwold is a McGill graduate in commerce, class of ’36, and the senior partner in a prosperous wholesale business, which has only occasionally seen him in the 17 years since he was first elected an alderman, at the age of 35. Although an effortless winner in civic elections, Buckwold has lost two federal campaigns (he ran as a Liberal) and has never lacked for critics on council and in the community.

Saskatonians are political animals and occasionally fierce. Among Liberals, Tories and those of the NDP persuasion there exists what Prime Minister Trudeau would call “creative tension.” In 1962 Saskatoon was in the front lines of Saskatchewan’s battle over medicare and it was the site of the July settlement, which ended effective resistance not only from local doctors but also from the whole Canadian medical profession. Most of the bitterness of that fight has subsided but one of the side effects of the Saskatchewan doctors’ strike, the Saskatoon Community Health Services Association, persists. An experiment in co-operative financing and organizing of health services, it was started by Dr. Samuel Wolfe, a local medical heretic, to demonstrate how, within the framework of a medical-care insurance plan, medical practice could be radically reorganized. He saw medicare as the instrument, not the end. of medicine’s industrial revolution. Dr. Wolfe has been succeeded by Dr. Melvin Langer, but Saskatoon’s community clinic — and the spirit of its revolution — go on.

Some 3,000 families, organized into a co-operative, own the clinic facilities and rent them, on a nonprofit basis, to 12 staff doctors, who provide a full range of general and specialist services. The doctors send all bills to Saskatchewan’s Medical Care Insurance Commission and are paid, each according to his training and experience, from their pooled earnings. Membership in the co-operative is not a prerequisite to use of its facilities and since 1962 some 26,000 Saskatonians have been patient-participants. The association, which has now formed a research foundation, is about to expand from premises in a dingy office building to a new $600,000 clinic, still owned by its membership.

Saskatoon women, in the tradition of pioneers, are hard and resourceful workers, who do not limit their field to culture, the preserve of the flower-hatted set in most cities. One of Saskatoon’s most attractive—and formidable — public figures is Judge Mary Carter of the city’s Family Court. A mother of six, Judge Carter is a believer in “finding out what’s bugging a kid before you haul him into court. As for locking kids up,” she says, “there’s no place for that in this province, which is a good thing. Here, it’s a last resort to send a juvenile to ‘training’ school.”

Judge Carter has left the Saskatoon Police Force in no doubt about her philosophy. Its Youth Section, headed by Sgt. John Malanowich, works in a way that she approves. When the police pick up a trio of juveniles, joy-riding late at night in a stolen car, the offenders are delivered, not to the station, but to their parents. That confrontation is the first of a series of police interviews in the child’s own home.

“The purpose of the Youth Section,” according to Police Chief James G. Kettles, “is to make contact with the

community so that our young people will develop respect for, not fear of, the police.” In Judge Carter’s view, “the police can be far more useful, dealing with some kids, than the nice, well-brought-up social workers in welfare departments.”

If the Just Society seems closer at hand in Saskatoon than in, say. Metropolitan Toronto, the explanation is not merely the difference in population densities. Saskatonians have shown that a rambunctiously growing city can be a great place for people. It takes planning, organization and co-ordination on the part of an enlightened city government. But it also requires an engaged citizenry with a pioneer approach to modern, urban problems.

The Pearsons — Bob and Betty, their 12-year-old son Bradley, and four-year-old adopted twins Brent and Bruce — are a pioneer Saskatoon family. Several years ago, when they moved into their new $23,000, four-bedroom house in Eastview, Saskatoon’s newest suburb, the development existed mainly on paper in the city’s planning department. Intended to be a mixture of low-rental, public housing, duplexes and medium-priced, single-family dwellings, it was expected to produce friction at the start. Instead, Eastview quickly developed a powerful community spirit, which in three years has transformed it from an unfocused collection of raw streets and crescents into a close and remarkably lively neighborhood.

The Eastview Community Association grew out of an effort by a group of parents to organize a kindergarten. That kindergarten, which now has an enrollment of more than 100, is still run, except for one full-time teacher, by Eastview volunteers. The neighborhood’s recreation program — hockey, soccer, baseball, community dances, a Halloween children’s party and an annual barbecue — is also the work of volunteers. Having developed a program of its own, Eastview is now eligible for a paddling pool and recreation centre, plus one supervisor, paid for by the city. It’s traditional in Saskatoon that recreation facilities have to be applied for by the people who will use and tend them.

The Pearsons are members of the United Church congregation working with neighborhood Roman Catholics to build one church for the use of both denominations. Bob Pearson reckons that he spends an average of two hours a day on community activities, after hours from his $9,000a-year job with Saskatchewan Telephones. His wife and most of his neighbors are similarly involved. “In Eastview,” says Betty Pearson, “you’re known by what you do. You can’t hide.”

Passivity is not socially acceptable in Saskatoon. Its people have always been remarkably ambitious, not only for themselves and their children, but also for their society. Prosperity has not withered either their pioneer spirit or western chip on the shoulder. Being an ex-Saskatonian, I can appreciate why. What was once said about Chicago, that it has elevated the chip on its shoulder to the dignity of an epaulette, is true of my home town. As early as 1906, Saskatoon had dreams of importance; its first boom was expected to produce in no time a city of 400,000. Even now, the Last Best West is an unfulfilled promise; the real power still resides in the east. The fact that easterners and even their coastal neighbors to the west have long regarded them as prairie rednecks has something to do with the eagerness of Saskatonians to find their own solutions to their own problems and prove that they belong in the national big league.

Saskatoon was chosen the site of Canada’s next winter games because it was willing to construct a mountain for ski events. That same willingness to pay the cost, both in money and creative energy, has gone into the building of Saskatoon.

The people who make it The good life cilv

Mayor Sidney Buckwold, at 52 a 17-year veteran in civic politics, says, “Saskatoon has a special kind of spirit. People are involved. The community is prepared to do things as a community. Part of it is the lingering influence of the Depression — we learned to do things for ourselves.”

Dr. Melvin Langer, as head of Saskatoon’s Community Health Services Association, administers a continuing medical revolution started by the association’s first director. Dr. Samuel Wolfe, as a result of the bitter Saskatchewan strike over medicare in 1962. The association, an experiment in co - operative financing and organizing of health services, has a membership of some 3,000 families, is about to open a new $600,000 clinic.

Bob MatOVich, 26, runs Saskatoon’s most swinging night spot, the Red Lion Inn, a discothèque and show place for name acts.

Fred S. Mendel, industrialist, put up $175,000. the province matched it and one of Canada's best-attended culture palaces — the Mendel Art Gallery and Civic Conservatory — was launched. The gallery is open 365 days a year, charges no admission, draws more visitors than does Toronto’s art gallery.

Judge Mary Carter, of Saskatoon's Family Court, is the mother of six, believes in “finding out what’s bugging a kid before you haul him into court. The more ‘correctional’ and ‘reform’ institutions, the greater is the tendency to fill them up.”

Professor Edward A. McCourt, of the University of Saskatchewan: “Half the citizens of Saskatoon, it seems, are graduates of the university and most of the other half spend their spare time attending night classes, concerts and theatre on campus.”

Sergeant John Malanowich, head of the Youth Section of the city police force, works in a way approved by Judge Mary Carter. When his men pick up juvenile offenders, they are delivered, not to the station, but to their parents — the first in a series of interviews in the juveniles’ own homes.

Roy Romanow, lawyer and NDP MLA is a critic of “the kind of civic pride that can cloud this city’s determination to be a better place for all its citizens.” He wants better housing and recreation facilities for Saskatoon’s ethnic community.

Colin and Linda Holliday-Scott operate

a prosperous shop that caters to the city's highstyle trade. They sell imported giftware, furniture, mod fashions for women. “There’s an incredible number of millionaires in this town,” says Colin. "They like guck but can be persuaded into nice things.”

Edward A. Sebestyen, a Star-Phoenix executive, is one of the driving forces behind the creation of a mountain for ski events at manmade Black Strap Lake, some 25 miles outside Saskatoon. The city will be the site of the next Canadian winter games, to be held in 1971.