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In search of Saskatoons

In 20 years of working with emerging destinations, I’ve been involved in ecotourism, agtourism, nature tourism, cultural tourism, educational tourism and a few other tourisms.

In 20 years of working with emerging destinations, I’ve been involved in ecotourism, agtourism, nature tourism, cultural tourism, educational tourism and a few other tourisms.

I thought spa tourism was decadent, tea tourism warming and culinary tourism a great excuse to eat my way around a new place.

But on a sightseeing trip of Alberta’s back roads, it occurred to me that there could be a new form of travel — pie tourism!

Everyone has childhood memories of pie at special occasions, often warm from the oven, and hand-made by a loving relative.

One of my favourites is saskatoon.

When growing up in Saskatchewan, there were no commercial saskatoon operations and every berry had to be fetched from bushes growing along the road. I start to scratch just thinking about the bugs I battled for each cup of berries.

Saskatoon berries are native to the Canadian Prairies, Alaska, B.C., and parts of the northern U.S., but many people have never tasted them.

The bushes grow to almost five metres tall and while similar to blueberries, they have a distinct taste.

Lucky for me, saskatoon berries are getting easier to find. Pearson Berry Farm in the Red Deer valley was the first commercial saskatoon berry farm in the world, and in the last 20 years, commercial processing methods have expanded across the West.

What was once a rare and hard-earned treat has become a showpiece of many cafes promoting local food. You could spend a week touring Alberta’s small towns and back roads with nothing more significant in mind than finding the perfect piece of saskatoon pie.

I tested the idea by first visiting some native saskatoon habitat in Elk Island National Park. There I was able to see the berries in their summer splendour. I also watched some young berry aficionados get busted for picking in a national park!

Figuring my taste buds would fare better in a less regulated environment, I headed south to the Ellis Bird Farm near Lacombe. The tea house offers saskatoon cheesecake as well as saskatoon pie.

In the interest of research, I tried both, and loved the cheesecake’s heavy layer of berries over cream cheese and graham wafer crust. The drool on my keyboard would suggest it made a lasting impression!

After a night’s rest and a long walk around the campground to make room in my stomach for more pie, I turned the RV south on Hwy 41 to Acadia Valley.

I visited this small community while working on a tourism plan for the Canadian Badlands and remembered the local cafe offered traditional flapper pie, a tasty combination of custard and graham wafer crust.

The cafe was closed but the Prairie Elevator Museum was open. This attraction’s claim to fame is the chance to go inside a grain elevator, a vanishing landmark. The attached cafe is worth a stop for its other prairie feature, saskatoon pie. The people at the next table drove 30 km for the pie and I could see why. It was the best I’ve tasted — sorry Mom!

The pie comes from Empress, a small community known for its artists and now its pies! My mother pronounced the crust equal to her lofty standards and the saskatoons were plump and juicy.

My time for wandering was running out but I vowed to look for more saskatoon pies on future trips. After all, indulging all of our senses makes the best vacations!

Carol Patterson of Kalahari Management Inc. has been speaking and writing about nature tourism and emerging destinations for two decades. When she isn’t travelling for work, she is travelling for fun. More of Carol’s adventures can be found at