Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, with a population of about 220,000, has been the largest city in the province since it passed Regina, the provincial capital, in the mid-1980s. Saskatoon is one of Canada’s most northerly large cities, located near the center of Saskatchewan, approximately 160 miles north of Regina and 260 miles north of the U.S. border. The closest nearby larger cities are Edmonton and Calgary, Alberta, which are approximately 5 and 7 hours away, respectively.
Saskatoon’s economy is heavily driven by the area’s richness in natural reserves: potash, oil, and agriculture. And, according to its Wikitravel article, Saskatoon is known as the ‘Paris of the Prairies’ due to its many bridges, Art Nouveau architecture, and cultural sophistication. Paris it is definitely not, but Saskatoon does exhibit a somewhat surprising amount of cultural sophistication, many restaurants, eclectic shops and museums one would not expect in a city hovering a couple hundred miles above eastern Montana and similarly distant from other large cities in Canada.
Saskatoon’s retail economy is mostly centered along three major strips in town: Circle Drive on the north side, 22nd Street West, and 8th Avenue East. All 6 of Saskatoon’s enclosed malls are located on or relatively close to these areas, and the largest mall in Saskatoon, Midtown Plaza, is smack dab in the middle of downtown.
Midtown Plaza opened in 1969-1970, centered around the former site of Sasktoon’s main rail station, which was relocated to the west side during a major downtown redevelopment effort. The redevelopment also included a major performing arts center (or, centre, if we’re trying to be native), TCU Place, and a large office tower, The Tower at Midtown, as well as a new downtown freeway, and another bridge. Paris, watch out.
When it first opened, Midtown Plaza was only about half its current size, consisting of a single level mall with 60 stores and services, anchored by Simpson-Sears and Eatons, with a Dominion supermarket as well as a Famous Players movie theatre.
Throughout the remaining decades, Midtown Plaza has expanded and changed in many ways. First, the Simpsons-Sears lost the Simpsons and became simply Sears. In the mid-1980s, Dominion closed all their Saskatchewan operations and the former supermarket space became a food court by the late-1980s. Then, in the early 1990s, the inline retail space at Midtown Plaza nearly doubled in size as a second level was added. In the late 1990s, the entire Eaton’s chain folded and The Bay moved from down the street to occupy the space. The movie theatre closed in the late 1990s as well, and its space was eventually taken over by a renovated, expanded food court in 2007.
Scotia Centre, located across the street from Midtown Plaza, is a much smaller enclosed mall which winds through the lobby of the Bank of Nova Scotia building. It opened in the late 1980s on the site of the former Capitol movie theatre, and features several shops as well as a small food court.
We visited Midtown Plaza and Scotia Centre in July 2009 and took the pictures featured here. Leave some of your thoughts or experiences in the comments.