Anticipating hope, healing, & reconciliation in Saskatoon
"For Christ himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility." Ephesians 2:14
Saskatoon is fondly called “The City of Bridges” for the bridges traversing the iconic South Saskatchewan River that divides the city into two distinct communities: the Westside and the Eastside. The construction of the train bridge in the late 1800s spanned the divide between a strict Methodist temperance settlement on the Eastside and the “otherside of the tracks” community on the Westside, creating the city of Saskatoon. Although the additional bridges built since then have made it easy to travel across the city, significant divisions remain difficult to cross today.
An isolated and often overlooked metropolis in the prairie, Saskatoon is now one of Canada’s fastest growing cities. Rapid urbanization mostly affects the Westside, where local schools dramatically reflect the influx of First Nations families from Treaty 6 territory and refugees from around the world.
Westside residents face unique hardships. Every single First Nations family is acquainted with grief, and women are especially vulnerable. Nearly every First Nations person I meet has been personally traumatized by the disappearance of a sister, daughter, mother, cousin, or friend as the alarming numbers of missing and murdered aboriginal women rise across Canada. Incarceration rates are disproportionate; ninety percent of women in prison are First Nations despite comprising only eleven percent of the over-all city population.
There are also many struggles unique to the refugee experience, such as the challenges of language learning, unemployment, and the isolation and depression that sets in, especially during the dark, cold winters. Both of these populations suffer from systemic racism in a dominant white culture. Still there is so much hope rising from these hardships.
I found myself on that very bridge that first connected the Eastside and Westside as I passed through the city on a road trip. Something stirred in my soul as I looked out across the river and I remembered casually mentioning out loud to my dad that I could see myself living in Saskatoon one day. Lo and behold, I arrived in Saskatoon as an eager university student a few years later. Within my first week there, I was warned not to go to the Westside. If I did have to drive through, I was told to lock my doors. And if I had to get out of my car—heaven forbid—I shouldn’t leave any valuables in it!
When I heard the warnings to steer clear of this neighbourhood unless I was serving soup at a local charity, a gnawing restlessness sparked in me. In the University bubble on the Eastside, I became dissatisfied with only seeing a piece of the whole city. I began to connect with people on the Westside and quickly found myself warmed by hospitality and friendship.
One friend I met arrived in Saskatoon as a refugee with his mother and siblings when he was 16. Now a young adult, he juggles multiple jobs to give back to his cultural community. He teaches his elders English, and he teaches the children their traditional language. He has a passion for reconciliation and longs for his people not only to integrate into Canadian society, but also to meet and understand the indigenous people of the land. This piece is crucial for him because he sees solidarity in their shared experience of displacement from home. He longs for unity in their diversity. Hope-carriers like this friend make it clear that God is stirring up a movement of reconciliation in Saskatoon.
In Ephesians 2, Paul speaks to two groups of listeners deeply divided by animosity, antagonism, and disgust. He tells them, “For Christ himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household.”
This is my longing for Saskatoon, that the “City of Bridges” would trample down barriers of fear and distrust across ethnic and economic lines, and that residents would come together, distinct but united, their well-beings intertwined with one another and with Christ. It is with hope and anticipation that we launch a Servant Partners site in the Westside of Saskatoon, to partner with local leaders who long for healing of deep divides and to proclaim God’s message of real peace through Christ.