Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Saskatoon - Meewasin Valley Trail

"Meewasin" is the Cree word for "beautiful". 

With the help of the Province of Saskatchewan, the City of Saskatoon and the University of Saskatchewan, the Meewasin trail strives to conserve the natural and heritage resources of the South Saskatchewan River valley. The trail itself covers over 50 km of the west and east banks of the wide river's paved or hard packed surfaces. A portion of its southern end incorporates the vehicle-free Trans Canada Trail.

Michelle and I joined the Meewasin towards its northwestern end. We'd cycled north out of downtown for a couple of kilometres for the express purpose of enjoying a continental breakfast at Christie's Mayfair Bakery. Everyone at our hotel (including the chef) raved about the Saskatoon berry tarts ($1.50); and the selection of Italian-style coffees, paninis (named after soccer players) and artisan breads didn't hurt either. Like Calories on Broadway Avenue, little Christie's had been written about in the National Post, no less. We packed a couple of spelt-and-spinach pies and hit the road.

In retrospect, I think we probably started on the Meewasin at its most plain section ~ just south of the Circle Drive Bridge. The path was paved and curvy, but passed through cut-grass domestic parkland. The real excitement (for me) started once we reached the northernmost point on the west bank, turned around, and rolled onto the Circle Drive Bridge to cross the river and head south on its eastern bank.

The Circle Drive Bridge is a twinned bridge built in 1983. According to the "City of Bridges" brochure issued by the City of Saskatoon,it was "originally four lanes wide with an opening down the centre where two more lanes might be added in the future," but in 2006 the City chose instead to convert the outer lanes to traffic lanes and build a sort of suspended walk/bike pathway down the centre. It was just completed this year, and it was totally radical! It was clear that the walkway didn't weigh a lot and therefore didn't need a lot of structure to hold it in place and provide a completely safe and separated river crossing for self-propelled people.

Heading south from there, we cycled through waist-high grasslands, past a river-wide weir that attracts huge populations of white pelicans in spring and summer, and a 1908 CP railway bridge that actually allowed peds and bikes to cross the bridge alongside trains. To ease access onto this equally radical bridge, the City built a four-storey stairway that had a kind-of metal channel next to the stairs to help roll a bicycle up or down the flights of stairs. I couldn't imagine Vancouver ever considering such a thing with all our North Shore trick riders.

By the time we passed a University of Saskatchewan sculpture park, and the University bridge, we were ready for a hot drink, and rolled into the University's Fine Art Cafe for a $4.00 coffee-and-Kahlua, and local artwork.

We passed underneath the Broadway, Victoria and Senator Sidney L. Buckwold bridges and ~ after a little zigging and zagging ~ rolled into the Metis-themed Gabriel Dumont Park section of the trail. There is a Trans Canada Trail pavilion there, as well as flush toilets.

The trail south got wilder and wilder after that until we were passing old guys clutching brown paper bags, so we did a turnaround at the southernmost bridge, the 1908 CN bridge. We zigged and zagged northwards back to the Buckwold bridge and crossed it back over to the west bank.

It looks like the Meesawin has captured some coin to develop this section of the riverbank (codename: Meewasin Riverfront, Phases 1 and 2) to include a landscaped promenade, water park, and pavilion for 2009. As you continue northwards on the trail, you come closer to the downtown core and its heritage landscaped parks generally dedicated to vets and heroes.

Once past downtown's University bridge, we skipped off to an adjoining tail behind the Mendel Art Gallery and closer to the water. It was a quiet little boardwalked area through riverside reeds, interrupted only briefly by a herd of joggers, made flighty by the sudden appearance of two folding bicycles.

The Meewasin loop completed, Michelle and I couldn't help but pedal back to the Broadway area for a Swiss cheese and garlic fondue at the new Upstairs Fondue cafe (8th and Broadway). We had some time to kill before our Winnipeg-bound train would arrive, so we even caught a screening of Switzerland's Vitus at the community-owned, non-profit Broadway Theatre.

Chad was once again pulling the late shift at the Senator when we returned to pack up our stuff. We joked amicably, as normal people do at 11pm in the evening, and handed him a copy of Momentum magazine to help him pass another long graveyard shift in the old place.

Saskatoon had exceed our expectations and ~ tired but happy ~ Michelle and I cabbed back out to the VIA Rail station to see what Winnipeg held in store for us.