“I don’t know what to do. We don’t really get out much,” said Hannah, in her disarming British accent.
Hannah had arrived from the U.K. without much of an idea of what she actually wanted to do in Saskatoon. Tellingly, I sort of felt sorry for her.
Having had an on-again, off-again love affair with the city, which had become bloated at the seams due to a robust economy, I typically shied people away from Saskatoon with the warning that the seasonal ennui was a total killer. This wasn’t completely true, but I didn’t like the idea of being an ambassador to a town that was half-cocked with one of the dirtiest winters I could remember.
But Saskatoon is never as bad as people make it out to seem. Having moved back after spending nearly two years in Montreal, I was actually enjoying being back.
Still, I couldn’t help but take a few jabs at my hometown.
“Want to go see where some people died?” I offered.
Of course she did.
* * * * *
Queen Elizabeth Power Station
Just beyond the residential areas on the south end of the city, along the west side of the river bank, was where the infamous ‘starlight tour’ occurred – an alleged dumping ground for drunk Indians via certain members of the Saskatoon police. Several bodies were found out there, including those of Lawrence Wegner, a half-blooded Cree Indian, and Neil Stonechild, a Cree teenager.
While the area has become cemented with Saskatoon’s sordid history, it is likely that these sorts of practices aren’t exclusive to our city. Police relations with the First Nations community are strained no matter where you are in Canada.
Hannah seems relatively unperturbed – despite being one of the bleakest spots in Saskatoon – depressing really – there isn’t actually much to see. Unless you are excited about the prospects of the city building a new traffic bridge in the area, the Queen Elizabeth power station or a cruddy-looking river.
Ironically, just across the river is the Dakota Whitecap First Nation – I strain my eyes looking for the cathedral-like casino.
A couple of kilometres back in the city in the Holiday Park neighbourhood is the site of the old sanatorium. Built in 1925, the sanatorium housed patients suffering from the throes of tuberculosis-induced madness. The building was demolished in 1989.
I have vague memories of riding my bike here as a precocious pre-teen. One hazy recollection involved a derelict outdoor theatre covered in crude white power-themed graffiti, where you could find people afflicted by different types of everyday madness: old boozehounds drank there in the afternoon while teenagers attempted to burn it down at night.
Never mind that there was a creepy, abandoned hospital nearby. The Holiday Park ‘hood freaked me the fuck out.
Another memory brings me to a friend’s house, where we were hanging out and watching TV. Her 8-year-old brother came home in tears and his underwear. He had been mugged by a gang. Apparently when they realized he was just some kid, without a job and therefore without a wallet to take, they just took his clothes.
Cruelty will likely remain a disturbingly untreated mental illness.
Hannah and I take a quick jog through the park, which has lots of paths that lead to a nearby golf course – the outdoor theatre was likely burnt to the ground back when I was still a teenager. Nothing to see here except a heritage building called the Bowerman Residence, which is now a private home.
Despite the site being listed in several blogs detailing Saskatoon’s ‘haunted places’, I realize my greatest fear is actually roving gangs of bullies.
On our way out of town I insist we try and find the headquarters for Saskatoon’s Hells Angels. Located a scant block away from Mel’s Diner on 11th Street West, the compound is ominous enough. But hunkered in near a baseball diamond and a janky trailer park it hardly looks dangerous. In fact, it almost looks sort of, well, fancy. Even so, after snapping a quick photo, we scurry off to the outskirts of Saskatoon.
Leisureland is located south of the Queen Elizabeth power station death trap and was probably once in view of the roof of the sanatorium. The trailer park, also called Maple Grove, is shrouded with conjecture, rumours and hearsay.
In the 1960s the area was an actual amusement park with a ferris wheel, trampolines, miniature golf, a playground and a train. Once the amusement park was shut down the ferris wheel was left to rust and the area became some weird backwoods trailer park.
Here is where shit gets weird.
Several friends have sworn that they were chased out of Leisureland by ‘freaky people’. My first girlfriend told me stories about how her and her friends would drop mushrooms and drive out to check it out. Apparently they would run afoul of some dude who guarded the community with a shotgun.
Rumours will also tell you that when the sanatorium was decommissioned some of the remaining patients were shipped off to live in the trailer park.
Other stories state the area was something of a halfway house for pederasts in an attempt to wean them back into society.
These are, of course, rumours. The truth is likely to remain vague and hazy, unless someone actually goes door-to-door in the Leisureland trailer park asking some very uncomfortable questions. Driving through the streets, which smelled ominously of wood-burning stoves, I realized there was no way I was going to leave the vehicle.
There were few remnants of the abandoned amusement park – although the old playground was creepy enough. The place definitely had a wigged-out sort of vibe. But, of course, nothing bad happened. No shotgun chases. No ex-carny perverts. Not even any stray dogs foaming at the mouth.
Tellingly, even Saskatoon’s most sordid spots are kind of fucking boring.