Image source: Saskatchewan Roughriders
In the Canadian Football League (CFL), it's the smallest city in the league that has the most passionate fan base. The Saskatchewan Roughriders play their home games in Regina, a city of 250,000 sitting right in the heart of Canada in Saskatchewan, a province with just over one million people spread out over an area nearly the size of Texas.
Despite the numbers, the Riders have a devoted following that has allowed them to win four Grey Cups (the championship trophy for the CFL), most recently in 2013, while competing against much larger cities such as Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.
On any given home game day, over 30,000 people show up in green for an event that's not just a football game, but an event where the people of Saskatchewan celebrate what makes them unique.
The passion the fans have for their team, and the appreciation the team has for the fans, is unmatched by anything weve seen anywhere else. A Riders home game should be on every sports fans travel bucket list. Here's how to build a great weekend around the game.
Check into the Hotel Saskatchewan, which opened in 1927 as one of the grand hotels the Canadian Pacific Railway built across the country. It's where the likes of Queen Elizabeth II and Paul McCartney stay when they come to town, so it should be good enough for you. It also hosts many of the opposing CFL teams when they visit.
Walk down Victoria Avenue a couple of blocks for dinner and drinks at Crave kitchen + wine bar. Crave is part of a restaurant movement in Regina in recent years where chefs are moving back home to the city to cook with local ingredients. Crave specializes in charcuterie for appetizers, but save room for prosciutto-wrapped beef cheeks that will melt in your mouth.
While on our visit we overheard CFL players talking amongst themselves saying that the game-day brunch at the Hotel Saskatchewan is the best in the league, and we could see why given the tremendous selection: omelets made fresh by the head chef combined with the historic setting and views from the hotel make it near perfect.
After breakfast, walk out of the hotel and go one block through beautiful downtown Victoria Park to arrive at the Regina Farmer's Market where you can find everything from locally made perogies to sheep cheese to whiskey, as well as local produce such as fresh cherries and associated products from Over the Hill Orchards.
A pre-game gathering spot for Riders fans is Bushwakker Brewpub, located in a converted warehouse and featuring award-winning beers on tap that are brewed in the basement. Game days include a specially created burger named after the opposing team that Saskatchewan will play that night, and fans are invited to order and devour the opponent.
You'll want to get to the game at Mosaic Stadium at least two hours in advance for a couple of reasons. First, you'll need to stop by the Riders Store so you can buy appropriate green sportswear to support the team and fit in with the always passionate fan base. You will watch people clad entirely in green pack the store just to buy anything else green or with the team's "S" logo on it.
Getting there early is also a chance to interact with the locals at Fan Fest. The stadium does not allow individual tailgating, which means instead of gathering in small groups, everyone gathers together in a field adjacent to the stadium. It's a great place to grab a beer and a bite and soak up the green atmosphere.
Go to the game. See the sea of green. Have fun. Have a Molson Pilsner beer. Cheer the Team. Be Amazed.
Walk a block out of the hotel to Fresh and Sweet to grab coffee and pastries and then head out to Wascana Centre, a huge park just outside of the downtown area built around Wascana Lake. Enjoy walking around or use it as a jumping off point to check out the Legislative Assembly building or the Saskatchewan Science Centre, both of which sit next to the park.
Head out to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Heritage Centre to learn about the history and duties of the famed "Mounties" who wear the red jackets (you can even try one on) and signature hats. This is also where every officer for the entire country gets his or her training. Book a tram tour and check the schedule to try and catch Sargent Majors Parade.
Back in town, hit La Bodega and head up to their "tree house," a deck that sits among the treetops. Order a pitcher of the house-made sangria and small plates and enjoy the laid-back atmosphere that will tempt you to never want to leave.
Seeing a Saskatchewan Roughriders home game is an amazing sports experience that's unlike anything else. What's even better is that you can build a great weekend around it in the town of Regina.
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What's on your sports travel bucket list?