It has been quite the year. Early on the morning of March 31, 2016, I headed to the airport in Halifax with two suitcases of clothes and belongings. About nine hours later, I landed in Saskatoon, took a cab downtown and walked into a temporary apartment a few days before starting my new job. Those early weeks were a jumble of emotions, especially until my wife joined me almost two months later. I have laughed a lot, learned a lot, and shed a few tears during a year of establishing my life on the prairies.
Looking back, it has been a treat to experience Saskatchewan’s uniqueness. In no order, here are some of my favourite “Saskatchewan firsts” in the year I’ve called Saskatoon home. Not surprisingly, a lot of these are going to be weather related.
1. First Riders game – To make me feel right at home, the green guys lost by falling apart late in the game, just like every team I’ve cheered for. This trip down to Regina to take in a game will be an annual tradition for us.
2. First Environment Canada “fog warning” – Never saw one of these in Halifax, even on days I could barely see my hand at the end of my arm. This is what “serious” fog looks like in Saskatoon. Pretty much a normal Tuesday back on the east coast.
3. First October snow storm – I had never lived through a snow storm in the first week of October in all my years of living in Nova Scotia. Going to have to get used to putting the winter tires on the car a lot earlier out here.
4. First time I watched a storm come for hours – I thought I was staring out at a horror movie scene when this late May storm approached. You could see it coming from hundreds of kilometres away.
5. First time I realized I had traded the ocean for the sky – Watching sunsets (and storms!) from our balcony became a summer evening event. Where a walk along the harbour in Halifax used to be tonic for my soul, watching the nightly sunset or march of a thunderstorm took its place in Saskatoon.
6. First perogies – Somehow this delicacy had eluded me my entire life up to my second day in Saskatoon. Now, I marvel that my grocery store dedicates an entire freezer section to perogies and that you can’t attend a buffet here without a helping of these pillows of deliciousness. My first taste was accompanied by a canine friend in a bar who seemed to know how good these were.
7. First lacrosse game – Something like a mashup between a rock concert, a UFC fight and hockey, my first lacrosse experience left me perplexed at what constituted a penalty in a sport where everything looks like a penalty. Good times.
8. First hoar frost – Saskatoon for half the year can look a little barren. A touch of moisture and a dramatic temperature drop on this early morning turned the city into a frozen beauty.
9. First time seeing the Northern Lights – I had been waiting for this experience for the first nine months of my life in Saskatoon. On a very cold January evening, the lights made an appearance over the city. It was simply magical.
10. First Saskatchewan mascot encounter – I wanted this to be with Gainer the Gopher, mascot of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, but that will have to wait until this summer’s football season. On a perfect Friday night in September, my wife and I took in our first university football game here with me meeting Howler, the Huskies’ mascot.
11. First prairie road trip – Leaving after work on a Friday afternoon, my wife and I hit the road to Regina for a weekend there. The fields were glowing and the skies were spectacular on the two plus hour drive. I had a couple more road trips over the summer – Moose Jaw, Estevan and Edmonton – and a lot more planned for this year.
12. First time playing beach volleyball – It seems odd to me that it took a move from the Atlantic coast to the prairies for me to discover beach volleyball. Signing up for a summer league here helped me make new friends and gave me a mid-week excuse to get out of the house. It also helped that the league was based at a bar so even when our team got killed (which was every week), there was at least cold beer to soothe the losses.
13. First time ever experiencing -30C – I never got a day this cold the couple of winters I lived in Ottawa and the temperature never dreamed of getting this low back in Halifax. On this December 17th morning, I actually bundled up to go outside for a walk to see what this felt like. The first thing I noticed? It hurt to breathe. This was the first and last time I went outside frivolously at this kind of temperature. Interesting prairie fact: an extreme cold warning is issued when wind chills are expected to drop to -40C. Apparently, wind chills even a few degrees warmer aren’t considered extreme.
14. First favourite Saskatoon craft beer – If you know me, you’ll know this was an important milestone in feeling at home. On day three of living here, I visited 9 Mile Legacy Brewing and tried their Ella Pale Ale. Delicious and love at first taste.
15. First heartbreak away from Nova Scotia – Six days after arriving back in Saskatoon with my wife after our epic cross-Canada road trip in May, we had to say goodbye to our dog Chewy. Heart broken doesn’t begin to describe what I felt. I wish we could have had years and years more with him… I think he would have liked Saskatoon, at least in the summer. This is a picture of the last laugh he gave us on what was his last day – he held a treat in his mouth making it look like he was smoking a cigar.
16. First time feeling settled in Saskatchewan – It was a Friday night in June, and as I walked home from downtown after a work event, I stopped on the Broadway Bridge and marvelled at how beautiful this part of Saskatoon is. Up until this point, everything had been chaotic – new job, a move, my wife starting her new job, us getting our new apartment set up, our dog dying. As I stood on the bridge, it was peaceful, and I felt that first little bit of comfort. Sure, there was lots more settling in and getting comfortable ahead, but on this night, I had my first glimmer of normalcy.