Words and photos by Andrew Penner
Just past noon, after pedalling one of the prettiest parts of the Meewasin Trail in downtown Saskatoon, I stop at an overlook, hop off my bike, and peer over the railing. I get lucky. An American White Pelican, one of the largest birds in North America, is standing in the water just a few meters away from me, waiting to snag a fish swimming over the weir. It’s a pretty scene and in just a few minutes I fill half a memory card in my camera. Of course, like everyone who has visited this city (or calls it home!) and has strolled, pedalled, or paddled along this river, making memories is what the Meewasin Trail is all about.
Photo: An American White Pelican by the weir along the Meewasin Trail in Saskatoon.
Just ask Andrea Lafond. As the recently appointed Chief Executive Officer of the Meewasin Valley Authority – the governing body that oversees all of the planning, development, and conservation along this key corridor in the “City of Bridges” – Lafond, pardon the pun, is certainly “fond” of this gorgeous river valley. And, as a born and raised “Saskatooner,” her love for and connection to the river and the Meewasin Trail runs deep.
“As a young girl I walked these trails endlessly with my father,” says Lafond, as we stroll along the beautiful banks of the South Saskatchewan River near Gabriel Dumont Park. “And now I’m bringing my kids down here and they’re learning how to ride their bikes along the trail. The Meewasin Trail is really a recreational lifeline for the city of Saskatoon. This river valley, these trails, it’s a legacy. To have a key section of it designated as part of The Great Trail makes perfect sense.”
Photo: CEO of the Meewasin Valley Authority Andrea Lafond
Earlier in the day, I met Lafond at the State & Main restaurant in the popular River Landing development for a delicious lunch, before getting back on the Trail. As we continue our leisurely stroll along the river, her passion for the Meewasin becomes even more evident. While we soak in the pristine views – kayakers on the river, the beautiful and historic Delta Bessborough Hotel punching into the sky above the cottonwoods, the stone bridges spanning the water – Lafond makes a slow, sweeping motion with her arm. “For the people who grew up here, this is Saskatoon. This is why we love to live here. And, depending on your interests and what you like to do, you’re going to find it along the river. There is something for everyone.”
During my time in downtown Saskatoon, I rented a city cruiser bike at Escape Sports near the Farmer’s Market. Although my short day here included memorable stops at many key locations on the Meewasin Trail, there was so much I just couldn’t see. For example, the Wanuskewin Heritage Park, site of the longest-running archaeological dig in Canada, couldn’t be incorporated. (Interestingly, before entering her role as the CEO of the Meewasin Valley Authority, Lafond served as the comptroller of this important heritage site.)
Photo: Walking along the paved, tree-lined Meewasin Trail in downtown Saskatoon
Numerous conservation areas, the University of Saskatchewan, the Capilano Lookout, and Kiwanis Park were just a few other sites I would have like to explored more. Next time!
However, there were so many highlights: riding along the paved, tree-lined trail, over the top of the historic train bridge, and darting just off the trail to visit the Saskatoon Farmer’s Market, the Good Earth Coffee Shop at River Landing, and exploring some of preserved natural beauty of the gravel sections on the south side of the river. And, of course, there were the pelicans!
Not surprisingly, I left Saskatoon with a much greater appreciation for the Meewassin Trail – thanks to my first-hand experience, as well as my visit with Lafond. Having experienced many beautiful sections of The Great Trail in nearly every province, I can say, without question, that the Meewasin Trail is one of my favourites. The variety, the beauty, and the sheer number of sites to see is dizzying. And there probably isn’t a “Saskatooner” alive who would disagree.
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