Neighbourhood Love: Broadway

To walk down Broadway Avenue is to wander into the bright heart of a community.  Sure, there are stores, theatres, bars and all manner of buildings, historical and modern.  But it’s the people that make Broadway what it is.  They’re window-shopping, grabbing a coffee, running to catch a movie or live theatre, or laughing and chatting on the patio of a pub.  The street is alive with spirit and ideas, with a backing track of live music wafting down the street.  It’s intoxicating.  It’s not only the soul of Nutana, but arguably, of Saskatoon.

I’m lucky enough to live in Nutana, and you can often glimpse me walking down to Broadway, by myself, or with my wife and son.  Sometimes we’re on a hard target mission — we need bread from Christie’s and brie from The Bulk Cheese Warehouse.  Or perhaps, we’re about to slip into Amigos or The Yard and Flagon for a bite and a pint of beer.  Often though, we head down there just to be a part of it all — to grab a coffee and take in the atmosphere.

I walk down the tree-lined streets, past the beautiful character homes, some more than a century old.  If I’m feeling whimsical, I imagine that I’m a time traveler.  It’s the 1920s or 30s, maybe the 60s, depending on my mood, and the ghosts of time speak to me.  What was the area like back then? Even if you’re on Broadway for more modern errands of our fast-paced world, it’s easy to let the history of it wash over you.

(Photo Courtesy of the Saskatoon Public Library Archives

The settlement of Nutana became a village in 1903 and Broadway Avenue was its commercial thoroughfare.  In fact, Broadway took its name because it was so wide that you could do a U-turn with a team of horses without having to circle around the block.  There were shops and businesses, as well as the city’s first elementary school, Victoria School (though, the original stone school is no longer there — you can see it on the grounds at the U of S.  L’Ecole Victoria, which stands there today, was built in the 1930s).

In 1906, Nutana joined with two other settlements, Riversdale and Saskatoon, to become the City of Saskatoon.  Broadway was supplanted by downtown as the major commercial street, however, it remained a main drag on the East side well into the 1950s, until 8th Street came into its own.  Broadway began to take a back seat to 8th Street, mostly because of the popularity of the automobile and the arrival of the concept of the shopping mall to Saskatoon.

Of course, Broadway was still a happening enough place in the 60s, where you could hit a venue like The Crypt Coffee House to catch a local band like Humphrey and the Dumptrucks.  A young Roberta Joan Anderson famously played in Broadway coffee shops and clubs, before she became the famous Joni Mitchell.

But over time, Broadway started to sink into decline, and by the mid-80s, things were dire.  The street was run down and people took their money and patronage elsewhere.  Even The Broadway Theatre, a beacon in the community now, had become a theatre of ill repute, our own Times Square-style adult theatre.

But in 1986, merchants in the area banded together and worked with the city to refurbish the street, largely creating the modern Broadway Avenue.  Now it maintains a balance between a vibrant business area and the eclectic neighbourhood where arts and music reign supreme.

Like I said, it’s the people.  I used to run errands in a small town with my grandfather when I was a kid, and it felt like he knew everyone.  He was always stopping to talk to people.  It’s hard not to walk down Broadway and run into people that you know.  My son is always tugging at my hand to hurry up while I stop to say hi to a friend.  I’m sure by the time he’s eight or so, he’ll think I know everyone in town too.

I can’t wait to watch him grow up surrounded by people who are thoughtful, community-minded, and eclectic.  I often hear people from the ‘burbs say something like, ‘Oh, you know, they’re one of those Broadway types,’ inferring a sort of kooky-loo-loo hippy or hipster personality.  Broadway is a place that feels like an oasis of art and ideas in a world that doesn’t always value such things.  I’m proud that my son will be crafted and molded by the people and atmosphere of Broadway until he’s one of them — the people that make Broadway what it is.


Craig Silliphant

Craig Silliphant is a writer, editor, critic, broadcaster, and creative director. He lives in Saskatoon with his wife and son. He enjoys all the meats of our cultural stew.

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