Ever since reading about Timbuktu in Dr Seuss’ ‘Hop on Pop’ as a kid, I’ve concocted all sorts of wild visions of what places are like based on the sound of their names. The more unusual, the more magical the skyline I envisioned. Of course, it rarely works out that way — Tahlequah isn’t all that different from Fort Smith — but it did help fill hours in the back of a station wagon on family road trips. I’d ignore the ‘Annie’ soundtrack my sister played and disect the road atlas, pouncing on places like Okefenokee, Truth or Consequences and Chevy Chase and wonder what they really looked like.
One place I found towards the back of the atlas always resonated with me most: Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Just saying it aloud sounded like a toy train wobbling across a cobblestone bridge, guarded by bunnies. Nothing else really compares. It even won my recent poll for most ‘tunefully suggestive’ city name:
Some songwriters have noticed its rhythmic nomenclature over the years, including songs like Sonny James’ fun ‘A Little Bit South of Saskatoon,’ Johnny Cash’s ‘The Girl in Saskatoon,’ and the Guess Who’s ‘Running Back to Saskatoon’ — which Pearl Jam tried to do as well.
But did locals ever chip in on the lyrics, I wondered? I mean, in travel we say that locals make for great experiences, but can locals make great lyrics?
So when I was there recently (to create a video for Lonely Planet/Canada Tourism), I carved away a precious day to find out. I met with a pierced t-shirt maker, a curling vet, a indie rocker, a high-end bass-guitar maker and Canada’s ‘Craziest Mayor’ — to ask how they summed up the ‘Saskatoon sensation.’ I took their answers for lyrics, then made up a song. (It’s debuted at the end of the video.)
Pearl Jam, if you cover it, go ahead. I won’t sue.
By the way, a note on how Saskatoon got its name. In the 1880s, John Lake, of the Temperance Colonization Society of Toronto, founded Saskatoon because his notoriously by-the-book home town back east was just too sinful. (Alcohol and prostitution would soon follow though, and Lake himself would be found guilty of corruption.)
Regardless, on a sunny day in 1883, Lake named the new settlement for the local juicy berries he so enjoyed to snack on. Good choice, but a wrong one. Apparently saskatoon berries weren’t in season at the name’s chosen hour, and chokecherries were. Should the name really be Chokecherry, Saskatchewan?
It’s not a bad name. But I’m not sure it deserves a song.