Saskatoon’s River Landing has played a key role in the city’s history while the shape and function of the site have changed radically. Before settlement, the riverbanks of the South Saskatchewan were a rest stop for wildlife as well as bison hunting parties following the herds on their yearly migration.
After settlement, early settlers could watch the buildings of the Saskatoon Temperance colony being erected on the other side of the river. A tent city sprang up south of 19th Street when the Barr Colonists rested here before dispersing across the province. Immigration Hall was the first federal building in Saskatoon. Railroads replaced wagon trails. A railroad bridge was built.
False-fronted wood buildings sprang up, housing livery stables, auto retail stores, bicycle shops and boarding houses. James Clinkskill built a grand house at the base of the new traffic bridge. The new power plant brought the promise of technology and modern convenience. Saskatoon experienced a great boom and than an equally dramatic bust.
Chinese immigrants opened shops. River Landing became Chinatown, complete with grocers, services and the Chinese Nationalist League. The city elite looked for ways to reclaim the South Downtown. The city purchased the land bit by bit, and eventually approved the construction of Saskatoon’s Technical College, soon followed by the Saskatoon Arena.
The buildings on the site, from the mid-to late-20th century, changed hands several times, and many were demolished. Clinkskill’s house remains as a buried foundation. Remnants of Saskatoon’s Technical College, renamed the Gathercole building, have been saved and await reuse in upcoming developments. Immigration Hall is nothing but a shadow in an old photograph, and all this is left of the A.L. Cole generating station is the decommissioned pump house, which still holds a commanding view of the river. The old railyards are gone-the Senator Sid Buckwold Bridge and Midtown Plaza have taken their place.
The redevelopment of the area also has a long and interesting history.
In 1978, a report by renowned architect Raymond Moriyama presented a plan that provided a balance of conservation and development for the South Saskatchewan River as it travels through both Saskatoon and the Rural Municipality of Corman Park. The plan included a “South Downtown Concept” which promoted the development of the riverbank from the Broadway Bridge to Victoria Park as well as the Gathercole site, which was owned and occupied by the Saskatoon Public School Board.
In response to the Moriyama Plan, the City of Saskatoon assembled land adjacent to the Gathercole site in 1980 known today as Block 146 (bound by 20th Street to the north, 19th Street to the south, 2nd Avenue to the east, and 3rd Avenue to the west). In the early 1980’s, three further studies were completed that identified design issues for the riverbank. Although there was significant interest at various levels of government on proceeding with development on both Block 146 and the Gathercole site, nothing had happened by 1987.
That year, 75 national development firms were invited to submit Expressions of Interest (EOI) for the redevelopment of both Block 146 and the City lands lying immediately south of 19th Street. In 1988, the City obtained detailed proposals from three firms. Due to ongoing debate on zoning guidelines and the fact that the Public School Board issued its own request for proposals for the Gathercole property, the detailed proposal process was abandoned.
In 1989, a Mayor’s Task Force was established, with representatives from the City, Provincial Department of Education, Saskatchewan Property Management Corporation (SPMC), Saskatchewan Economic Development Corporation (SEDCO), and the Meewasin Valley Authority. The Task Force was commissioned to develop a formal structure and strategy for the redevelopment of South Downtown. This report was tabled in 1990.
Throughout the 90s, various proposals and development plans were brought forward through private developers in partnership with the provincial government. In 1997, the City and Princeton Developments executed an agreement that eventually led to Princeton owning Block 146. Subsequently, the City acquired the School Board site and, for the first time since the Moriymama report - the City was in control of the riverbank lands.
In December of 2002, the City issued a call for Expressions of Interest for the redevelopment of the Gathercole building and area. In May of 2003, five bona fide submissions were evaluated and presented to City Council. Council decided to pursue the development through the establishment of a Community Development Corporation (CDC) that would require the participation of the Provincial and Federal governments. When the senior levels of governments declined to participate, the City engaged consultants to review the viability of the Gathercole building and its effect on the development of the area. Two independent consultants concluded that the Gathercole building should be demolished and the area developed as a “clean site”.
In 2004, City Council retained CitySpaces Consulting Ltd. to undertake a comprehensive redevelopment and land use plan for not only the Gathercole lands, but to include another undeveloped parcel of riverfront land once occupied by A.L. Cole power plant. Council was determined that the entire site be redeveloped as one, continuous project. After extensive review and public consultation, the South Downtown Concept Plan was approved by City Council in June 2004 and by the Meewasin Valley Authority in October of 2004. The Concept Plan is now the cornerstone and framework for development for River Landing.
This evolution is far from over. Saskatoon is a young city with many changes still to come. The new River Landing development is an opportunity to recognize all that came before and to shape the contribution of the site to the city in the future.