The world is being attentive to Saskatoon — now we have to embrace what makes the town distinctive

I’ve been thinking about the Saskatchewan of my youth lately.

Like many Saskatchewans, I grew up in a rural part of the province on a farm next to a small town. At that time, the focus of many young people was outside of our province – places where friends and family had moved and where there were many opportunities.

Our province felt like what was by default called home, and this was reflected in the way people outside of Saskatchewan treated us. There were cracked noses, which for the quaint and simple prairie people were usually accompanied by the proverbial pounding of the head. Many of us moved away for some time and came back reluctantly; we were a generation of apologetic Saskatchewans.

Fast forward two decades and how that perspective is changing.

Saskatchewan (and Saskatoon in particular) is now an inter-provincial and international travel destination.

Publications like the New York Times and Vanity Fair put our city in the spotlight.

A proposed UNESCO World Heritage Site, Wanuskewin Heritage Park is an incredible reminder of the millennia of people who lived before the colonization of the West in the 19th century through its showcase of the indigenous cultures of the Northern Plains.

The Flaming Lips perform in Saskatoon at the Saskatchewan Jazz Fest. (Karin Yeske / CBC)

Our food and beverage scene is constantly exceeding its weight in terms of quality and creativity and as this summer draws to a close we have legendary gigs like the Flaming Lips and the Kamasi Washington (Saskatchewan Jazz Festival), international tournaments for budding Olympic tournaments Sports (FIBA 3×3 basketball) and a world class Picasso installation in a world class art gallery (Remai Art Gallery).

All of this before the chance to mention our dynamic technology companies and plant processing facilities that have received international attention, investment and recognition.

If this isn’t a turning point in Saskatchewan, at least it feels like our “swagger moment”.

This shift in perception has often led me to wonder: Why are people paying attention to us now? Is what we do really unique?

Part of the answer to these questions has as much to do with how our society is organized in a broader sense as it does with what we produce here. We are a hyper-connected society that yearns for authentic connection.

Yes, the types of experiences and products we produce – whether in a glass, on a table or in a smartphone app – are approaching size on a global scale, but I think our most attractive product is how we do it in business deal with each other and community.

We remain a province with roots in the Great Depression and are constantly reminded by harsh, unforgiving winters that we need each other to survive. At best, this is reflected in a communal spirit that includes all peoples and creates something that goes beyond the sum of our parts.

How you can embrace our “swagger moment”

This boastful moment is ours. Over the years we have often referred to “wide open spaces” and a “land of living skies” that rightly pays homage to Saskatchewan’s natural beauty and attracts visitors.

But now people are coming to the territory of Treaty 6 and the homeland of the Mé tis to see us, to experience how we live and to learn from our dealings with one another.

School children explore the tipi village in the Wanuskewin Heritage Park. (Don Somers / CBC)

This creates a great opportunity to deliver an experience that pushes the boundaries of excellence and authentically represents who we are as a province.

You can see that in our craft alcohol sector, which I know best – where our participants are recognized nationally and internationally for their award-winning products while adding value to our prize in the world’s bread basket and serving our great craft beer, spirits and wine to local people Producer.

This is a true world class farm-to-table standard.

There is also an enormous responsibility to making these experiences as easy as possible for visitors by providing the necessary services, infrastructure, and regulations to enable our best to shine in smart, forward-thinking, and accessible ways.

When opportunities flourish, the rules that necessarily follow must be sensible, industry informed, and designed to encourage, not inhibit, further economic growth, so enterprising members of our community can find ways to fill the cracks and existing ones and highlight upcoming attractions.

Photo of downtown Saskatoon with the Delta Bessborough Hotel. (Trevor Bothorel / CBC)

The global ridesharing initiative on our doorstep is a great example of such a potential business.

It also underscores the need to be a “good neighbor” among all Saskatchewans. That makes us unique and should be accepted.

Individually, we’ve always been entrepreneurial people – to live on the prairies you always had to be creative, smart, and risk tolerant, but we really do our best when we work together.

Let’s use our collaborative spirit to maintain the momentum behind this newfound proud and uncompromising attitude of Saskatchewan.

This column is part of the CBC Opinion section. For more information on this section, see this publisher’s blog and our FAQ.

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