SASKATOON – Mr. Hockey is still putting people in the seats in Saskatoon. The hockey legend, Gordie Howe, moved to Saskatoon when he was nine days old and over a stellar National Hockey League and World Hockey Association career helped put the city on the map.
Howe was inducted into the NHL Hall of Fame in 1972. Over 26 seasons in the NHL and six more in the WHA he won the Stanley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings four times, won six Hart Trophies as the league’s most valuable player and six Art Ross Trophies as the leading scorer.
A bronze statue of Howe, wearing a Red Wings jersey, sits outside SaskTel Centre on the edge of the city.
There’s also Gordie Howe Park and Gordie Howe Kinsmen Arena.
His cachet isn’t lost on Tourism Saskatoon media specialist Chad Reynolds.
“It’s obviously a source of pride for us. We’re a Prairie Canadian town and we love hockey, so the fact we can boast Gordie Howe is from here is a pretty big deal for us,” Reynolds said.
“But it goes in waves, I find. When there’s some kind of commemorative hockey year or something to do with Gordie Howe we’re all excited, but there are times when it sort of dips and it’s not mentioned as much.”
Other prominent individuals who once called Saskatoon home include former prime minister John Diefenbaker, singer Joni Mitchell, author Farley Mowat, “Life of Pi” author Yann Martel, billionaire businessman Jim Pattison and The Sheepdogs, a rock and roll band formed in the city in 2006.
“Those who are a little older are a lot more excited about Gordie Howe being from here than the newer generation for sure, which is fair,” Reynolds said with a chuckle.
Saskatoon, with a population of just over 300,000, had 2.8 million visitors on same-day and overnight trips in 2012, which brought in about a half-billion dollars in economic benefits.
Reynolds said the city’s location does provide a bit of a challenge from a tourism perspective.
“One thing we’re trying to fight is the fact we’re a small flat Prairie city, which is geographically what we’re in the centre of — but it’s a university town and there’s a lot of culture and a lot of things happening here that people are shocked by when they come and visit,” he said.
“If you’re just sending a friend to the city I would say our food and drink scene, for how small a city we are, is ridiculous. There’s a lot more than you’d expect in Saskatoon.”