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As the CFL Returns, the Roughriders Spark Joy in Saskatchewan


The Saskatchewan Roughriders fans welcome their team back to action on August 6. It will be a joyous occasion that marks a sign of relief from the COVID-19 pandemic. (Vacay.ca file photo)

My wife, Sandy, and our 10-year-old, David, must have been in shock. Massive football players were charging out of a tunnel accompanied by pyrotechnics and the theme song, “Bring em out” as 30,000 fans went crazy. We could thank Grandma for the spectacle.

We decided to visit my parents in Saskatchewan. Growing up in the province, it is almost mandatory to be a Saskatchewan Roughriders fan. One of my earliest childhood memories was watching my mom hop up on our coffee table after the Riders scored a particularly impressive touchdown.

Upon arrival at my parents’ house in Moose Jaw, preparations immediately began for the Riders’ game. Jerseys were laid out, hats were arranged, the only thing thankfully missing were the watermelons, an accessory some fans like to put on their heads for gameday.

The next day, we loaded up the Ridermobile and took the 45-minute drive to Canada’s football mecca, Regina. The first stop was Confederation Park, located beside Mosaic Stadium. The park is the go-to spot for pre-game festivities. Fans enjoyed a plethora of activities, including face-painting and meeting the Riders’ mascot, Gainer the Gopher, while the Riders’ Drumline and Pep Band cranked out the tunes.

We still had time before the kickoff so we checked out the Riders’ store. According to a CBC story, Saskatchewan Roughrider merchandise polls third nationally in sports team sales just behind the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs. We saw a whole array of products ranging from the traditional jerseys to men’s and women’s underwear.

It was getting closer to gametime so we made our way into the stadium. Sandy, David, and I were lucky enough to have field-level passes. Footballs whizzed by, coaches barked instructions and players huffed through warm-up exercises. David high-fived many of the players and even played catch with one of the star receivers. Grandma beamed with pride from the stands as she was sure she had found her next generation Riders fan.

The crescendo of excitement occurred just before game time as the players were primed to burst out of the tunnel to the field. Fireworks exploded, music blared, and 30,000 fans roared. Sandy, David, and I were filled with adrenaline as we were metres away from the team. “O, Canada!” was sung and it was game on.

The Riders were playing their arch-nemesis, the Calgary Stampeders. Unfortunately, the game did not go the Riders way. They lost to Calgary 34-22. The Stamps quarterback, Bo Levi Mitchell, was too much to handle completing three touchdown passes. All was not lost, however, as David and Grandma still talk weekly about the latest Riders’ results and developments.

Saskatchewan Roughriders, Saskatchewn, CFL, Football, Canada

Ten-year-old David Johnson posing with defensive end Charleston Hughes. Hughes has since moved on to play with the Toronto Argonauts. (Photo courtesy by Stephen Johnson)

Beyond football, I wanted to share some of my own history with David. We took the two-hour drive from Moose Jaw to Saskatoon. Our first stop was the University of Saskatchewan residence where I lived from 1990-93. We found the director who kindly took us around the property. David could not believe I had spent three years living in a dorm room. We even found an old desk where I had scrawled my name. Thank goodness, the director did not charge me any retro damages.


The Remai Gallery has added a dramatic landmark to the Saskatoon skyline. (Photo courtesy of Tourism Saskatchewan)

After visiting the university, we took a stroll along the South Saskatchewan River. Saskatoon is a city that has always been defined by the river and valley. Thankfully, most of the area has been preserved with parks and multi-use pathways. Such stewardship is embodied at the recently developed River Landing. The area features a beautiful promenade with artwork and information panels about the history of Saskatoon. David and his grandparents made a beeline for the ice cream stand. It gave Sandy and I the rare chance to walk uninterrupted. We admired the architecture of the Remai Modern Art Gallery and Persephone Theatre.

Sandy and I took the time to tour of the Remai. The cutting-edge exhibitions included the most comprehensive collection of linocuts by Picasso in the world. While enjoying the Remai gift shop, which features products made locally and globally, I could not help but reflect on how much the city I had lived in 20 years earlier had grown up.

Later, we decided to go to my favourite coffee place in the country: The Broadway Roastery. It has become something of an institution in Saskatoon. The atmosphere is artsy, a fit for the bohemian Broadway neighbourhood. I like the ambiance but mainly go for the great coffee and delectable desserts.


The high level of salt in Little Manitou Lake makes it among the most buoyant places in the world and a place for healing, too. (Photo courtesy of Tourism Saskatchewan/Carey Shaw Photography)

The next day, we moved on to one of the most unique tourist attractions in Saskatchewan: the Manitou Springs Resort and Mineral Spa. Set on Little Manitou Lake, the area is often referred to as the Dead Sea of Canada because of the mineral properties of the water and its high level of salinity.

Once we arrived at the resort, we quickly put away our bags and headed to the pool. The water was a comfortable temperature but the amazing thing was the buoyancy. It was almost impossible to sink. David loved horsing around trying to dunk his grandparents. I opted for the more tranquil route just lazily floating around. The water is supposed to have medicinal value, including providing relief from arthritis. I will vouch for that. All of us felt relaxed and rejuvenated after our time in the pool.

We ended our experience with supper at the appropriately named Water’s Edge restaurant. We were treated to a scenic view of Little Manitou Lake. I chose the delicious rack of ribs while Sandy enjoyed the chicken cordon bleu. We slowly made our way back to Moose Jaw feeling zen-like from our day at the spa.

My mom and I would need all our energy for our next activity. We saw that Burton Cummings of The Guess Who was playing at the Regina Exhibition. David, Sandy, and Grandpa passed on the concert meaning it was going to be a mother-son activity. Stepping foot on the grounds of the Regina Ex brought back a lot of memories of my youth including taking my first ride on a merry-go round when I was 6, eating far too many hot dogs when I was 14 and seeing a jaw-droppingly good concert by Bo Didley when I was 21.

This time, I was only there for the music. Cummings started into “No Sugar Tonight” just as a blood-red sunset filled the prairie sky. It was obvious the singer had an easy affinity with the Saskatchewan crowd. The Guess Who got their start playing dive bars and hockey arenas all across the prairies. Besides proving his local cred, Cummings tore into hits like “Clap for the Wolfman” and his own, “Stand Tall”. Near the end of the setlist, ominous thunderclouds loomed on the horizon. Almost on cue, the skies opened up just as the pulsating guitar riff of “American Woman” started. I could not think of a more poetic and fitting way to spend my final day in Saskatchewan.


COVID-19 Guidelines: With COVID-19 numbers under far better control than they were months ago and vaccination rates rising daily, the Saskatchewan Roughriders are scheduled to resume play on August 6 vs. the B.C. Lions. For the most current information, it is best to visit the official website of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, www.riderville.com.

CFL Commentary: Sports reporter and lifelong Riders fan Rob Vanstone best summarizes what the return of CFL football means to the province. “I keep trying to imagine what the buzz will be like in the stadium,” commented Vanstone. “Will it be comparable to the opening kickoff of the 2013 Grey Cup? The first play of the season always feels momentous, but that will be especially true on August 6. By then, more than 600 days will have elapsed since the Roughriders had last played, so a ravenous appetite for football — and for something that is so clearly a testament to normalcy after all these months of COVID,COVID, COVID — has been building.”

Mosaic Stadium: www.riderville.com/mosaic-stadium

Tourism Regina: tourismregina.com

Tourism Saskatchewan: www.tourismsaskatchewan.com

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