Museum Musings: 100 Block 21st Street West

Photo from the Bill Smiley Archives. The view facing north from the original Prince Albert water tower.

Several years ago, the Bill Smiley Archives received a set of photographs from an archive in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The majority of the pictures in the set were taken from the original Prince Albert water tower, which used to stand just east of Second Avenue West between 22nd and 23rd Streets. The photos had been taken by, or for, members of the Bowler family and showed the development of Prince Albert’s west hill around 1912. From the number of properties which the Bowler family owned locally, it would appear that they were anxious to share some of the wealth which was expected to occur as a result of the construction of the La Colle Falls dam.

It is unlikely that the Bowler family made much profit from their investment in Prince Albert real estate, but their photographs have certainly provided a wealth of information for the volunteers working out of the Bill Smiley Archives.

In the past four months, I have received two requests for information about the homes on the 100 block of 21st Street West.  Using the Bowler photos, as well as other archival material, I have been able to provide as accurate a response as possible to these requests.  Having lived in the neighbourhood for much of my life has also been helpful.

My current residence was the first house built on the block.  The property title lists the house as having been built in 1908, and the Henderson’s Directory lists Andrew Laidlaw, a butcher, as residing in the lone house on the south side of the street.  The earliest address for the Laidlaw residence was 145 – 21st Street West.  This street address remained the same until the mid-1950s when the City was required to renumber it in order to provide house numbers for newer houses which had been constructed as in-fill.  Since that time, the house has had its current address of 159 – 21st Street West.

In the picture provided, you can see our house, but somewhat less spacious than it currently is.  Around 1913 or 1914, the house was purchased by the Canadian Bank of Commerce to serve as the home of their bank manager.  The Henderson’s Directory from 1914 lists the resident as Ernest Fox, the bank’s manager.  It is apparent that the bank wanted a more spacious home for their manager.  A photo taken by William James in 1919, shows the Fox family, including their vehicle and their pet dog, in front of the house. Aside from the front porch and the siding, it looks virtually identical to how it looks today.

Just to the west of the Laidlaw house can be seen out-buildings belonging to 2116 – Second Avenue West, the house in which I lived for the first eight years of my life.  It is likely that 2116 also was built around 1908.  It was occupied by William Fraser, a brick layer.  Whether he worked for Horace Ittner, whose brick factory was west of First Avenue West between 29th and 31st Streets, is unclear.  However, given the proximity to that factory, it is very likely that the house was built with Ittner brick.  When Second Avenue West was widened in the 1970s, 2116 was sacrificed, as was its northerly neighbour.

That house was originally built for the John Stewart family.  Stewart was a druggist and his daughter, Bluebell Stewart, was a published poet who later lived and died in Montreal.  When John Stewart bought the George Will house on the northeast corner of Sixth Avenue and 20th Street West, he sold the house on the corner of Second Avenue and 21st Street to the George Braithwaite family.  Max Braithwaite, one of George’s sons, was also a writer.  The book “Never Sleep Three in a Bed” was primarily based on the family’s time living in that house.

Immediately to the east of the house in which I reside are two houses which were originally the mirror image of each other.  Silas Milligan of the Farmers’ Milling Company, and his family, are the first occupants listed as residing in the house immediately to the right of our house.  Initially listed as 127 – 21st Street West, the house was home to a family including Ella, Clinton, Bertha, Elgin, and Dalton.  Clinton worked as a clerk for Morton-Bartling & Company, a banking firm.  Silas was listed as a grain manager, although by 1914 he was listed as an Indian Agent.  Whether this was a job change which did not last, or an error in the Henderson’s Directory, is not clear.  We do know that Silas was unemployed throughout the early 1920s before once again becoming a grain manager and buyer, and later a timekeeper for the engineering and contracting firm of Hett & Sibbald.  Bertha, who was listed as a student in 1913, was later listed as being a school teacher.

I found it of interest that the second owner of the house was William M. McBeath, likely a descendant of Morrison McBeath who was one of the early farmers in the Colleston district.  Morrison arrived in 1883.  William McBeath worked as an engineer for the Prince Albert Breweries, eventually attaining the position of chief engineer.  Another resident when William owned the house was Morrison McBeath, very likely the grandson of the early settler.

The mirror image of this house had the street address of 125 – 21st Street West.  George Erwin, a blacksmith, was listed as the owner.  Also initially residing in the house were Cleave Erwin of Erwin & Brennan, and Russel Erwin. Russel was a clerk with William H. Rowe, a druggist.  Cleave was a jeweller.  By 1919, George was working as a salesman for Cleave in the jewelry shop.

These two houses continued as mirror images until Francois Lamothe, a dentist, made the initial architectural changes to Erwin house in order to incorporate his dental practice there.  Doctors Susan and Gary Kolar, dentists, are currently residing in the house  with Dr. Gary Kolar still practising dentistry there.

Across the street and slightly to the east of these houses is a home which was known at the time as 120 -21st Street West. Built some time before 1909, Mrs. Anna Lacroix, the widow of Nelson Lacroix, moved into it after her husband’s death.  By 1914, Henry Cook, a farmer was residing there.  Cook later became a clerk at the Post Office.

The next row of houses begins on the left with a three-storey brick house, another of the homes in which I have lived.  When the photo was taken, Archdeacon Dewdney of the Anglican Diocese of Saskatchewan was living there.  Dewdney’s daughter married Arnold LePage Agnew, a long-time member of the Prince Albert Historical Society.  The Agnews were the parents of a local lawyer, Tom Agnew.  Prior to the Dewdneys living in the house, it was the home of Horace Ittner, while he was building his house on the northwest corner of 20th Street and Third Avenue West.  Both houses were built of brick from the Ittner brick factory, as was the brick wall which still surrounds the house on Third Avenue.

Beside the Dewdney home is a two-storey house in which Edward Shannon, manager of the Canadian Bank of Commerce, resided.  It is believed that this house was built late in 1910 or early in 1911.  By 1914, Shannon had left the bank and had become the manager of the Victoria (B.C.) and Prince Albert Syndicate, a land development company.  The fact that he and his family remained in the house when he left the bank resulted in the bank buying and upgrading the house in which I currently reside.

To the east of the Shannon house is the home of Andrew Nelson, a carpenter who worked for the Thomas Baker Company.  Currently owned and operated by the YWCA, a former secretary of the Historical Society, Maurice Yelland and his wife Daeleen operated it previously as a bed and breakfast.

On the corner of the block is a house which no longer stands.  This two-storey house was the home of David Adam, a barrister and partner of the man who lived kitty-corner to Adam’s home.  His partner was James McKay, King’s Counsel and Member of Parliament.  McKay’s brother, Thomas, was the first mayor of Prince Albert.  Adam and McKay once owned the Automotive Building on the northeast corner of First Avenue West and 11th Street.  At that time, it was known as the McKay-Adam Building and an early version of the Prince Albert Club was located in their building.

On the opposite side of the street from the Shannon and Nelson homes, on the corner of 1 ½ Avenue, is the house built by Alfred Wilkinson in 1913.  Wilkinson owned an insurance, loans, and real estate business in the Agnew Block (the former CKBI Building) on 10th Street West. One or more members of the Wilkinson family lived in the house on the north side of 20th Street until the mid-1950s.

With personal knowledge, the assistance of the Henderson’s Directories, and the pictures provided by the Bowler family, it is possible to determine the approximate date of construction of many of the older homes on the West Hill.  That is why at the Bill Smiley Archives we are always appreciative of offers of photos from the past. It is most helpful if dates can be provided, as well as locations and names of people in the photographs.

If families wish to retain the photographs, it is possible to scan them, allowing us that access in the future. 

One final note.  The Historical Society is looking for suitcases, any size, any colour, any age.  So, if you are doing spring cleaning and wanting to rid your house of such items, please contact our Programme and Outreach Officer at  Jeri might be able to use your old suitcase for our Travelling Museum Project.  The suitcases will be used to contain artefacts for programming in schools and seniors’ residences.  You can also call Jeri at 306-764-2992 Tuesday through Friday between 8:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.