Tours helping newcomers Discover Saskatoon

By: Paul Spasoff December, 2012

Museums. Art galleries. Historic sites. These three places are common sites on many cultural tours. In Saskatoon, leisure centres, government offices and food stores are the sites to discover instead.

Since the fall of 2010, the City of Saskatoon has been hosting Discover Saskatoon – a tour that uncovers the unique sites and history of Saskatoon. With funding from the federal and provincial governments, the tours are held twice a year in collaboration with Saskatoon’s Newcomer Information Centre and the University of Saskatchewan for newcomers to Saskatoon.

“The primary intent of the tour is to get people familiar with the leisure centres,” says Smita Garg, coordinator, Immigration Community Resources, City of Saskatoon. “People coming to Saskatoon may not be familiar with the concept of a leisure centre. A municipal government providing recreation and leisure services is a new concept to many people because it doesn’t happen in all countries.”

Five tours have taken place since they first began, with approximately 40 people participating each time. A sixth is planned for early 2013. While the concept has stayed the same, the route and activities change each time.

“I work closely with the leisure centre staff to have an interactive session,” says Garg. “That way they also get a taste of an activity that is organized at the leisure centre.

“It’s awesome to see people participate in these activities. Sometimes you will see two or three women in hijabs and they are doing aerobics. We’ll see a professional engineer that’s come and all of a sudden he’s doing Zumba. It’s such a great sight.”

A staff member from Leisure Services accompanies Garg on the tours to answer any questions, such as the cost of the programs and how to register for them. Given that the participants come from varied backgrounds, it is important to point out the rules and expectations of the facilities.

With the close proximity of some leisure centres to public libraries, tour organizers also have an opportunity to highlight these facilities. Although the city services are the focus of the tour, they are not the only attractions.

Garg also takes time during the tours to point out the main agencies serving immigrant families in Saskatoon, as well as important provincial and federal government offices. Shopping malls and ethnic food stores are other popular points of interest on the tours.

“Most importantly in the tour we try to incorporate a little bit of history,” Garg says. “We need to make people aware of some of our history to create a sense of pride in the city they’ve come to.”

The Discover Saskatoon tours were born out of an immigration initiative by the City of Saskatoon about six or seven years ago. In addition to creating Garg’s position, it also called for the creation of an immigration action plan with a mandate to make Saskatoon a welcoming community for newcomers. From this work eventually evolved the idea of the leisure centre tours. They were based on a model in British Columbia and adapted to meet the needs of Saskatoon. To supplement the tour, a newcomers guide has also been developed.

With the influx of international students at the University of Saskatchewan, the September tour is particularly popular on campus.

“We started thinking about how we can get these international students to begin to feel that this is home,” Garg explains. “The feedback has been tremendous because what it does is empower the students.”

The Discover Saskatoon tours are supported by SaskCulture’s Municipal Cultural Planning and Engagement grant and by the City of Saskatoon.