Exploring gargoyles and grotesques in Saskatoon
Well, it’s official – Saskatoon is grotesque!
The city that shines has some hidden secrets hiding in plain sight and they aren’t gargoyles – or are they?
City archivist Jeff O’Brien took us on a tour of one of Saskatoon’s more prominent downtown streets to uncover the concrete creatures.
When you are walking along 21st Street East, move your gaze from your phone to the buildings and you will spot some truly unique prairie art on the buildings.
The first stop was the Canada Building (101 21st St. E.), an eight-storey office block built in 1913. Immediately you will spot two gigantic bison heads above the entrance. These beauties are pure Canadiana but if you cross the street and look up to the top right and left corners of the building, you will find a couple of beavers munching on some trees!
Sadly, at some point in the building’s history someone tried to restore the beavers and painted over one of them with brown paint.
By definition these are merely grotesques and not gargoyles because they do not have a spout to convey water from a roof or away from the building.
The next stop was the Chubb building (227 21st St. E.), built in 1908 by brothers Hartley and Benjamin Chubb (the guys who helped found the Quaker Oats Company plant).
Some of the beauty of this building is hidden behind two rather mature trees but the real gems of this building is located almost in the heavens. Look up to the very top corners of the building and you will spot several cherubs holding up the roof of the building.
While these cherubs didn’t come directly from the Garden of Eden, it is believed they may have actually been purchased from a catalogue and not made specifically for the building. Cherubs of the Chubb Building, it has a good ring to it!
A short walk down the road gets you to the Odd Fellows Temple (416 21st St. E.), now if this building could talk!
The Temple was built in 1912 so that Saskatoon Lodge #29 and North Star Lodge #67 could merge and become one. It all came together just as the development boom was falling apart and many of the members were affected by the downturn of the economy in Saskatoon, so opening this building was a welcome diversion.
It is also one of the most ornate buildings on the strip, with several women’s faces looking down keeping a watchful eye, decorative columns and lots of beautiful floral panels but no gargoyles!
The Odd Fellows Temple building later became home to Saskatoon’s first public library, opening in the basement in the spring of 1913 with about 900 books in the collection. The library had separate reading rooms for ladies and for children. In 1923 the library moved to its own building.
At the end of the road you will be stopped in your tracks by the “Castle by the River,” the Bessborough Hotel (601 Spadina Cres. E.).
This beauty took four years to build from 1928 to 1932 and locals call it “The Bess” (pronounced Bez). The ten-storey hotel is literally covered in all sorts of mythical creatures and, yes, our one and only (albeit almost) gargoyle.
The front and sides of the building are covered in all sorts of beautiful details: a unicorn, a lion, a bumble bee, a griffon and a spider, but you have to go around to the back of the building to see the only gargoyle.
Unlike the hugely popular ‘90s cartoon series, this gargoyle doesn’t come to life to help fight crime or really work like an authentic water spitting gargoyle but it sure is pretty!
You can’t miss this monster as it pultrudes right out the building and looks rather ominous when you find him …um, her?
Gargoyles and grotesques can be found all over the city, especially on campus at the University of Saskatchewan.
So the next time you are walking through Saskatoon, take time to look up and check out the grotesque beauty hidden on some of city’s most iconic buildings.
Happy gargoyle hunting!
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