The Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie may have been on to something when he famously referred to Saskatoon as the “Paris of the Prairies.” In 2010, Saskatoon emerged as a leading centre of culture and learning, ranking second overall in the Canadian Council on Learning’s Composite Learning Index, beating Ottawa and Calgary, and finishing well ahead of Toronto. Behind that ranking are some surprising revelations about Saskatoon, which topped the list as the most socially engaged, and is one of the most literate cities in Canada.
That Saskatoon scored well above the national average in volunteering and participation in clubs doesn’t surprise its mayor, Donald Atchison. “We just had the World Juniors here, and all the volunteers paid $50 to volunteer,” he says. “They stood outside in -43° C, directing traffic for the games. If you can imagine, people were paying to do the [players’] laundry. It shows a level of commitment.” That army of volunteers, which numbered about 2,400, helped generate $86 million for the local economy.
But, for the mayor, sports and culture go hand in hand. The Prairie city, where folk songstress Joni Mitchell spent her childhood, also scored well above average in exposure to the performing arts. Atchison chalks it up to the continued success of the arts community, highlighting the Persephone Theatre as being a particular success. The local company just closed its most successful season to date.
And while Saskatonians enjoy going out, they love staying in and logging on as well: Saskatoon was one of the most wired cities—95.4 per cent have access to the Internet.