Museum Musings – North of Prince Albert

Photo from the Bill Smiley Archives. This aerial photo from 1959 shows Hazeldell, and gives a brief glimpse of Nordale in the upper corner.

During one of the Downtown Food Walking Tours a few years ago, Terra Lennox-Zepp and I were asked about the history of North Prince Albert – Hazeldell and Nordale. I had to admit that I knew very little about that history but inwardly determined that I would remedy that.

Recently I received a request from a Hague couple who had purchased a property in Hazeldell. They wanted to know both the history of their property and of the area. This renewed my determination and encouraged me to put together my limited knowledge of the area, knowledge that has been gathered in a piecemeal fashion during the years since that initial request.

That knowledge suggests to me that North Prince Albert evolved in three distinct steps. First, there was Hazeldell, a community nearest the river. This was followed by development in what we now call Nordale and the area in and surrounding the current Little Red River Park.

Unlike land on the south side of the North Saskatchewan River which is surveyed in river lots, land on the north side of the river has been surveyed in the more traditional manner, dividing the land into sections. It would appear that the early settlers, many of whom came from the Red River settlements where river lots were the survey of choice, chose the south side of the river to establish their farms, while leaving the north side of the river free from settlement because it was there where the trees and medicinal plants grew. The trees were, of course, needed for both firewood and for the logs from which their homes and barns were built. Plant life was used as the basis of the medicines which the First Nations and Metis people utilised for healing.

With the vast majority of the people settling on the south side of the river, there was limited need for travel to the north side of the river. An early ferry was established at the foot of what is now First Avenue West. This provided access to the north side during the late spring, summer, and early autumn. A second ferry was operational in the years 1912 and 1913, crossing between the north side and a location near 8th Avenue East. Some people, including the members of the Dakota Sioux who established their community in what is now the Little Red River Park, used canoes and boats to cross between the north and south side of the river. In the winter, of course, crossing was much easier as one could walk across the ice.

By the early part of 1910, the area of the city north of the river consisted of a few tents and shacks. There were three houses on Oxford Street, two houses under construction on Riverside Drive, and no dwellings at all on Cambridge Street. The area was inhabited mainly by lumberjacks, Metis, and First Nations families from communities north of the city.

Between 1911 and 1912, during the period of optimism encouraged by the La Colle Falls boom, land north of the city was surveyed and sub-divided. Land from two miles west of the railway bridge as far as the site of the current air port was laid out in sub-divisions. Some of these sub-divisions included areas reserved for industrial development in the anticipation that Prince Albert would grow equally on both sides of the river. It was during this era that North Prince Albert was referred to as “Little Chicago”.

I found it interesting that, in this two-year period, Prince Albert’s city council appears to have been uncertain as to development on the north side of the river. On December 30th, 1911, council passed Bylaw 38 petitioning the Lieutenant Governor in Council to enlarge the city limits by annexing property north of the river. This included land now encompassing the Little Red River Park, as well as the two numbered islands which lie in the river immediately south of the park. This bylaw was passed in order to ratify an agreement with the land owner, J.R. Stewart.

Then, on February 12th, 1912, the new council indicated that they did not agree with that bylaw. However, they did not consider that it was proper to revoke the agreement the previous council had entered into, and chose to allow the provincial government to deal with it based upon its merits.

Of the nine members of the previous council, six remained as members of the new council. Only the previous mayor (Andrew Holmes) and councillors Coster and LaCroix were no longer serving on council.

Some industries actually did begin operation in North Prince Albert during that period. This included a sandstone and brick factory owned and operated by Chief Justice Horace MaGuire and his son, headquartered in the Bank of Ottawa building and with a factory at 4th Avenue and 7th Street North. A business called the Great West Wood and Chemical Company also operated briefly in 1912. Oil drilling was carried out at a site a half mile north and a quarter mile east of the railway bridge, but it is apparent that nothing came of that project.

One business which did have a longer shelf life was a cold storage plant further to the west of North Prince Albert. Opened in 1912, it lasted until 1921. A newspaper story dated October 27th, 1913 was headlined “Work Begins on the Construction of New Abattoir on North Side”. The cold storage building, Prince Albert Produce, was managed by Frank Woodring. According to the newspaper story, a company known as Saskatchewan Abattoirs Ltd. planned to build their plant next to the cold storage unit and to begin taking in stock by November 15th. Unfortunately for farmers in the area, this abattoir was little more than a pipe-dream.

It was also in 1912 that William Gladstone and Mrs. Everest registered the plan of their land in what is today known as Nordale. It would appear that they were more concerned in land speculation, as they quickly sold the land. Gladstone is noted as residing at 1826 1 ½ Avenue West in 1914.

Also in 1912, the Danish architect Olaf Albrechtsen built the first house in Nordale. Known as Parkhill Bungalow, it was of an advanced design and constructed at a cost of $15,000. The house remains standing to this day. Albrechtsen, who came to Prince Albert in 1908 and remained here until he joined the armed forces in 1915, was the architect of many local buildings including the Orpheum Theatre, the Holy Family Hospital, the Windsor Hotel, and St. Augustine Roman Catholic church in Humboldt.

In a 1917 letter between the Northern Prince Albert Townsite Company and the City Council, development was also occurring in what is now known as Little Red River Park. There was one house east of the Little Red River, and a second house under construction. Due to the excellent sites on the high banks on the east side, it was anticipated that a large number of houses would be built within a year or two. The Northern Prince Albert Townsite Company had been established by the above-noted J.R. Stewart.

In the same year, the Public School board bought property in Hazeldell situated between the CNR right of way, 2nd Avenue West, and Riverside Drive. However, records indicate that it was not until 1923 when classes were held with Letetier Treen as the teacher. Although the building remained standing until at least 1938, it would appear that classes were held in it for just the one year.

By 1921, several additional houses had been built north of the river, and in 1923 the Scandinavian Silver Fox Company had been organised and its operations commenced with ten pairs of foxes. William R. McLeod was acting as president of the operation, which had approximately 300 shareholders. The company shipped breeding stock across Saskatchewan and to points as far away as Sweden, but by 1934 there was no longer any markets for pelts and the company discontinued operations. In 1935, the property’s caretaker, Fred Johnson, bought the remaining fifty foxes. He continued in business until 1948 when he sold the property and fox farming in North Prince Albert came to an end.
During the 1930s, North Prince Albert became an attractive site for low-income families. It was a good area in which to grow fruit crops such as raspberries and strawberries, and the zoning allowed for raising chickens and cows. Lots which had reverted to the City due to failure to pay taxes could be purchased inexpensively. City taxes remained low throughout this period and until after World War II. As there were no building restrictions, small, inferior dwellings were constructed, many of which were considered unfit for human habitation. It was not until the early 1940s when wages brought greater purchasing power that living standards improved in the area. This included the opening in 1940 of Riverside Grocery, owned and operated by Gertrude Hodgson.

By 1950, the community was changing, but not rapidly. More homeowners were working as employees of firms such as the box factory, the railways, Burns meat packing, and Waskesiu Mills. Some remained self-employed as carpenters, truckers, or as a lunch counter proprietor. Although this brought about a change in the nature of the dwellings they occupied, out of 111 homes, 42 were still classified as log shacks and 29 were seen to be frame shacks. Many of the homes were overcrowded. The average floor space of homes in the district was 430 square feet, while the minimum standards recommended by the Central Housing and Mortgage Corporation indicated that any family housing unit should have an area of at least 750 square feet. Of 42 homes viewed during a tour of the area in June 1951, only 20 had full basements while the rest had cement foundations. The end result of this survey, while showing promise of the community’s progress, resulted in the conclusion that North Prince Albert had a lack of adequate housing resulting in poor health and social problems.
In December 1954, the city began a drive to improve the housing standards in North Prince Albert. A headline in the December 4th Prince Albert Daily Herald reported that a campaign would be run to “alleviate housing conditions constituting fire and health hazards in North Prince Albert”. The story indicated “that about two dozen homes had been condemned by the health region as unfit for human habitation from the health standard point of view”.

The history of North Prince Albert is, in my estimation, fascinating. It can be tied to the disappointments arising from the failure of the La Colle Falls debacle, to its early history of providing homes for lower income individuals, and to the lack of attention paid to it by the power brokers and politicians who drove Prince Albert’s development in its early years. It really is remarkable how this area of the city has developed through the intervening years. The community spirit of its residents is exemplified in the attractiveness of their properties, and can be an example for all the neighbourhoods in the city.