Early Precontact Period
Spanning between 12,000 and 7,500 years ago, this period represents the first archaeological evidence for human occupation in North America. Hunting technology was based upon spears, with the first known peoples to occupy Saskatchewan belonging to the Clovis culture. At first hunting Ice Age megafauna, as these species became extinct subsistence shifted to animal species seen today, such as modern bison.
Middle Precontact Period
This period is defined by the adoption of the atlatl, or throwing stick. Used between 7,500 and 2,000 years ago, these weapons allowed hunters to throw darts tipped with stone points farther, with greater accuracy, and more force than spears, although spear technology was used until the time of European contact in North America. Living during a period of climatic fluctuations that saw southern grasslands encroach north with warming temperatures, peoples of this time developed the mass bison kill hunting methods (jumps and pounds) seen for over 5,500 years in Western Canada.
Late Precontact Period
The Late Precontact Period is defined by two major technological developments. First, it sees the end of atlatl technology with the Besant point and the beginnings of bow and arrow technology with the Avonlea arrowhead 1,800 years ago. The second major change is seen in the introduction of pottery from the Minnesota/Eastern Woodlands region 2,000 years ago. Using local resources that reflected the cultural groups of the region, vessels were made for cooking and food storage. These lifeways continued until the arrival of Europeans approximately 250 years ago.
European Contact and the Fur Trade
With the expansion of the Fur Trade from Hudson’s Bay and the Great Lakes region, it was inevitable that the Prince Albert region would see the establishment of a trading post. This occurred in 1776 with a group of Montreal traders, who founded Sturgeon Fort west of the city.
Standing until 1780, when it was burned while unoccupied in retaliation for mistreatment that took place in previous years, it was the launching point for trader Peter Pond into the interior of Alberta in 1778, where he acquired very high quality of furs. Based on this success, the group consolidated and founded the North West Company, which would be the main rival of the Hudson’s Bay Company until the two consolidated in 1821.
The first recorded permanent settler to the area is John Isbister, who came to the area in 1862. Previously working for the Hudson’s Bay Company, with his last position as postmaster at Fort Carlton, his first home was recorded as being near the site of the Historical Museum you are currently in! Later he moved to River Lot 62 near the current penitentiary. Although moving from the area in 1866, the region was known as Isbister’s Settlement until the arrival of James Nisbet that same year.
1866 to 1900
In 1866, Rev. James Nisbet let a group of missionaries from the Presbyterian Church to the area to work with the indigenous people of the area. Settling in the area of Isbister Settlement, he named the mission site Prince Albert and built a church to serve his congregation. He was followed in 1875 by Bishop McLean of the Anglican Church who built St. Mary’s Church, which still stands west of the penitentiary, as well as Emmanuel College to educate missionaries. In 1882 a Roman Catholic mission was opened by Fr. Andre.
Many early residents were English Metis farmers or freighters for the Hudson’s Bay Company and came from the Red River area in Manitoba. In 1881 a Dominion Land Office was opened in the hope of spurring more settlement to the area. By 1882 there was a newspaper, The Prince Albert Times, and the HBC had made the town its headquarters for the district. In 1884 a lumber mill began operation and the Lorne Agricultural Society was founded.
The year 1885 was a significant one for the Prince Albert area. The Northwest Resistance fought by the French Métis in the Batoche area from March to June of that year spilled into Prince Albert. Settlers in the surrounding area came into the town for protection, and militia troops and NWMP were stationed in the area for several months. Following the conflict, Prince Albert was incorporated into a town of 600 people in October, with civic elections taking place in November that saw Thomas McKay become the first mayor.
1900 to 1918
Booms and Busts
The 20th century began well for Prince Albert. Lumber sales rose, wheat prices were up and land sales increased. In 1904 the city was incorporated with a population of 4,500. After incorporation the city saw a slower rate of growth, although by 1910 the population was around 9,000 people. This cycle continued until the biggest boom the area has seen from 1910 to 1913. During this time period construction began on the La Colle Falls dam project, which was expected to provide electricity for the city and surrounding area, and usher in a period of large-scale industrial development. By early 1914 questions about the viability of the project and a lack of money shut it down with drastic consequences for the city for many years to come.
Many positive developments occurred in these years. The year 1909 was significant, with the construction of the first bridge across the North Saskatchewan River and Prince Albert Collegiate (now PACI), as well as with the opening of the federal penitentiary. Within the city, water and sewage treatment systems were installed and a fire hall on Central Avenue was completed in 1912. With the optimism fuelled by the construction of the La Colle Falls dam, wild land speculation began in 1911, and plans were drawn up for a much bigger city.
This expansion came to a sudden and almost disastrous end with the beginning of the First World War. With money no longer available to be loaned for projects in small, outlying corners of the British Empire when a war was being fought in Europe, the boom period in Prince Albert rapidly evaporated. Hundreds of men were left unemployed, and many joined army units based out of the city. These conditions continued until the last years of the war, when the need for locally based resources increased. The start of construction of the Burns Meatpacking plant was one of the few positives in 1918. Mostly, however, this period was one of collapse and debt for the young city, ending with the impact of the global influenza epidemic, killed more individuals than the global conflict that had just ended.
1919 to 1939
The interwar years were characterized by difficult economic times, from the end of the war to the mid 1920’s and again in the 1930’s. There was an epidemic of influenza after the war as well which killed many in the area. Prohibition ended in 1924. The immediate post-war years were also a time of labour unrest in the whole country and it did not leave Prince Albert untouched.
This area was represented in the Canadian parliament by the Prime Minister, Mackenzie King, who helped open Prince Albert National Park in 1928. In 1929 the provincial Sanitarium to treat tuberculosis patients opened here.
By 1929 the drought of the “Dirty 30s” had begun to affect the southern croplands of the province. In addition, in October of that year the New York Stock Exchange collapsed, causing the financial ruin of many. These seemingly distant events had an effect on Prince Albert over the next 10years. This part of the province escaped the worst of the dry years and benefitted from people moving north from the dry farmlands of the southern part of the province. In spite of this, grain prices were poor everywhere, and unemployment grew. Local make work projects were initiated to offer some relief to the unemployed, such as a rock-filled dam near the airport. In spite of these difficult economic conditions, new industry did come to the Prince Albert area, with Northern Wood Preservers and the Canada Creosoting Company opened plants south and east of the fairgrounds. By 1931 the population of Prince Albert had risen to 9,905.
1939 to 1966
The end of the drought years of the 1930s also saw the beginning of World War II. During this period the city continued to struggle, although the need for food, lumber and other vital resources needed for fighting the war improved prices. As part of the war effort, Prince Albert was one center of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, where many pilots were trained here in safety on Tiger Moth biplanes before being sent overseas to various theatres of operation.
After the war ended, a period of optimism and hope began. The city became the unofficial capitol of the north, which was being made more accessible due to new roads and improved air travel. Natural gas lines came to the area in 1955 and the new traffic bridge, now called the Diefenbaker Bridge, was opened in 1960. Further development was seen with the opening of the Prince Albert Vocational High School in 1963.
In 1951 the population had increased to 17,149. In 1957 Prince Albert again became a centre of national politics with John Diefenbaker, a Prince Albert lawyer and politician, being elected as Prime Minister of Canada. The area was also the focus of national media in 1958, with the visit of Princess Margaret, sister to the current queen, to the area.
In 1961, the provincial government brought in a medicare plan, which was opposed by many physicians, resulting in their going on strike. In opposition to this trend, Dr. Orville Hjertaas, a local supporter of medicare, started the Community Clinic in support of public health care.
With the pulp mill scheduled to be opened in 1966, and with the Burns plant and Molson’s Brewery serving as two of the biggest employers in the city, the future of Prince Albert began to seem more brighter and optimistic, with many troubles from the past now behind it.
1966 to Present
Gateway to the North
With its first century behind it, Prince Albert began to change from an agricultural and lumbering center to a service center for northern and rural areas of the province. In 1966 the city paid off the debt from the La Colle Falls project. This finally gave Council the funds needed to invest in street paving, building a sewage treatment plant, and other infrastructure needs. Other major projects followed suit during this period, including the Prince Albert Pulp Mill, the new Victoria Hospital, Pinegrove Women’s Jail, the Communiplex (now the Art Hauser Center), and the McIntosh Building which housed government offices.
As Prince Albert saw growth in many industries during this period, other well-known businesses and institutions closed during this time. The North Park Center, which began its career as a tuberculosis sanitorium, and later served as a facility for the mentally challenged, was shut as public perceptions surrounding the treatment of mental illness and the elderly changed. The Burns meat plant and Molson brewery were also shut down as companies opted to centralize their production facilities. By 2005, the pulp and paper mill had closed as well.
Since the 1970s Shopping malls, ranging from those built in the 1970s to the newer Cornerstone center, have always drawn many people to the city, in addition to smaller service industries that cater to local and northern residents. Central Avenue, the main shopping area for much of Prince Albert’s history, began to see a decline in usage as shopping and banking patterns shifted towards larger malls and chain stores. In recent years, however, this trend has begun to reverse as the downtown area is undergoing a process of renewal that has seen the return of small businesses, independent restaurants, and cultural institutions. By 2011, the population of Prince Albert had increased to 35, 129, and is continuing to grow today.
The Prince Albert Historical Society wishes to thank the following for their assistance in mounting this display or lending artifacts:
Prince Albert Historical Society Staff
City of Prince Albert
Dr. David Meyer
Saskatchewan Archaeological Society