|FTLComm - Saskatoon - Monday, November 5, 2001|
If a city had a language with which it spoke to the world, that language would be the structures, the buildings, the streets, bridges, parks and houses that make up that place and display itself to those who look upon it.
With this in mind, let us have just a short conversation with Saskatoon.
The city is in a remarkably interesting setting with the Saskatchewan River snaking through the midst of it, with a host of bridges linking the community together. Founded by some very straight laced folks called the "Barr Colony" it began with a hope to be a "better" place than others, free of booze and other indecencies, a "good" place. This staid and traditional Victorian looking building seems to speak of the early city's roots and aspirations. A right and proper place.
Below we peer down a street with buildings that would have been built in the 1920 (left) or the 50s (right) or the 60s (CIBC building) or the 70s (CN building centre). A city on the move, vertically and toward a financially positive goal.
It is remarkable and definitely saddening to understand that this trend of promise and evolution has come into this new century on a decidedly negative note. It must be appalling and hard to understand for those who will have grown up and lived all their lives in this city to see it now as it really is. The city of Saskatoon proud of its beauty, proud of its educational tradition in its University, proud of its good planning with a freeway network, suburbs and proud people is a disaster area.
In the face of buildings like these that tell of a glorious and important past Saskatoon is a city where if not now, very soon half of its population is permanently unemployed. A place where the crime rate rivals any gun totting American ghetto city, with Regina, shares the worst level of crime of all Canadian cities not just this year but for several years running. Saskatoon is a place where child prostitution is common place, arson, break-ins and muggings are so common that they rarely even get in the news. A place which has gained the reputation nation wide for its death squads.
Dead bodies found frozen on its outskirts and two of its policeman convicted of wrongful confinement only because they botched their attempt to kill an aboriginal man leaving him only a few hundred feet away from other frozen bodies of others who where left their. It matters not that the R.C.M.P. conducted a massive investigation into these deaths and came up with absolutely nothing. All that really matters is the perception by the public that this is a city where being aboriginal and drunk is a capital offense.
The massive influx of unemployed aboriginal people into Saskatchewan's two larger cities is not the fault of the cities themselves but rather the economic and social climate that has grown up in a province where the population base, the tax paying base is rapidly diminishing and things are going to hell in a hand basket.
The United Church above with its mirrored theme of the University architecture in the Norman castle style or the American looking Baptist structure, tell us that this place had and still has, people who want things to be good and are impotent to do anything about their plight.
It must be so frustrating and heart sickening to see the place you are proud of and love become a poverty stricken ghetto neighbourhooded place where only luck has prevented race riots in the streets. Were the aboriginal people of Saskatoon not predominantly adaptable and pleasant Cree, the few burning cars and garbage cans would be replaced with smoldering burnt out neighbourhoods and looted malls.
These pictures do not speak of the desperation and hopelessness of what will soon be the majority of this community's people, that story will have to wait for another day but the serious conditions that exist, suggest that the story may not wait at all. As it grows colder and welfare checks fail to meet the basic life demands of those dependent upon them, this is a recipe for unspeakable horror. Young women and children sell their bodies for what they can get, not because they want to, but because survival means that they have to do what they have to do.
The beauty that is Saskatoon is a reflection of its aspirations and of its past, the present is yet to be written in structures.
Timothy W. Shire