Museum Musings: Prince Albert Street Names

A 1911 street and avenues map of Prince Albert.

by Fred Payton

The term “rabbit hole” is often used at the Historical Museum, especially in the Bill Smiley Archives.  Many is the time I have visited the Archives to research a specific topic and have come home full of some new knowledge of Prince Albert history, but without any new information on the topic about which I had initially planned to research.

I had had every intention of researching Prince Albert street names when I stumbled across the information on neighbourhood names which became the topic of my previous column.  And my idea to write about those individuals for whom existent streets are named (like Agnew, Branion, Cuelenaere, and Davis), will just have to wait.  Because once again, I have fallen down the “rabbit hole”.

Before addressing the topic of street names, I had to contend with a question to which I have been unable to find an answer.  Early local histories clearly identify two distinct and separate communities in what we now call Prince Albert.  There is Prince Albert, and there is also East Prince Albert.  Prince Albert was clearly the settlement formed around the mission established by James Nisbet near the corner of the present-day Central Avenue and River Street.  East Prince Albert was just as clearly the settlement on the Hudson’s Bay Company land, also known as Goschen.  A 1912 map of Prince Albert clearly shows the two communities as one, with streets having been re-named to align to match up with each other.  Yet a 1913 Hudson’s Bay Company map continues to show the original names of the streets in Goschen (or East Prince Albert).  When did the two settlements become incorporated as one?  It is presumed that this had occurred by 1904, when Prince Albert was incorporated as a city, but so far extensive efforts by the archives staff have been unable to determine a specific date on which that amalgamation occurred. 

In his book commemorating the 100th anniversary of the arrival of James Nisbet, Gary Abrams refers to Goschen as being the settlement of the “elite”.  A first attempt to incorporate Prince Albert as a town, occurred in 1883, but failed when the people of Goschen were excluded from all discussions.  A further attempt in December of that year proposed the town boundaries extend from River Lot 68 (the present 12th Avenue West) to the western edge of Colville Street (now 12th Avenue East).  Once again incorporation failed, this time apparently over the “bugbear” of taxation.

Regardless, at some point incorporation occurred, and the necessary alignment of streets occurred.  Since the Saskatchewan River had a bend in it prior to passing through Goschen, 1st Street in that settlement was further north than 1st Street in the Prince Albert settlement.  This meant that when amalgamation of the two communities occurred it was necessary for what had been 1st Street in the Nisbet settlement to become 11th Street, and 3rd Street became 13th Street in order for the streets to be named appropriately.  Thus, the property which Laurence Clarke sold to the Faithful Companions of Jesus on 3rd Street in the Prince Albert settlement ended up becoming St. Patrick’s Orphanage on 13th Street West in the amalgamated settlement.

The settlement of Goschen (named after a governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company) was somehow translated by the town bureaucrats to Goshen (as in the Bible).  It has remained spelled in that manner ever since, even though efforts have been made to have it corrected.

Streets in Goschen, now avenues, began with Albert Street, running from the river along a line similar to the present 7th Avenue East.  One can presume that Albert Street was named after Victoria’s consort.  The other streets leading from the river were named in order Stafford, McTavish, Clarke, Grahame, Colville, Brydges, Bissett, McFarlane, and Hardisty.  They were all named after senior Hudson’s Bay Company staff of the day, and correlate now with avenues numbering from 8th Avenue East to 16th Avenue East (roughly the north/south portion of McIntosh Drive).

Eden Colville was the governor of the Company from 1880 – 1889.  Stafford Northcote was governor from 1869 – 1874, and was also the man after whom the river boat was named.  Charles Brydges was the Company’s Land Commissioner from 1879 – 1889, and was responsible for attempting to get an agreement to build a joint northern railway to the Hudson’s Bay Company property in East Prince Albert.

Other streets were named after James Grahame, the Company’s Chief Commissioner (1874 – 1884), James Bissett, the Chief Factor in Montreal (1872 – 1880), Roderick McFarlane, the Cumberland District’s Chief Factor (1889 – 1893), and Richard Hardisty, Edmonton’s Chief Factor (1871 – 1883 and 1885 – 1888).  McTavish Street would appear to have been named after one or more of the MacTavish family members who were senior members of the Company working primarily in what is now the Province of Manitoba.

In the Nisbet settlement, street names similarly reflected the heritage of the founders.  Lorne Street (now 5th Street East) obviously came from the Marquess of Lorne, Governor General of Canada from 1878 to 1883.  His wife, Louise, was celebrated in the name of the next street south, (6th Street East).  Nesbit Street (8th Street East) and Selkirk Street (10th Street) reflected the Red River origins of the founding party.  Main Street, also referred to as 3rd Street, is now 13th Street (and continues to be a major east/west thoroughfare).  Saskatchewan Avenue, also known as Broadway, was the location of the Broadway Hotel (15th Street).

Wellington Avenue (6th Avenue East) formed the easternmost boundary between Prince Albert and Goschen.  McDonald Avenue (5th Avenue East), McKay Avenue (1st Avenue East), and Sinclair Avenue (4th Avenue West) reflected the Scottish origins of many of the early settlers.  If you lived at the corner of what would be the present day 16th Street and 1st Avenue East, which preceded the arrival of the railway and the current rail yards, you would have lived on the corner of McKay Street and McKay Avenue.

Central Avenue was known as Church Street.  To the west of it was King Street (1st Avenue West) and Government Avenue (2nd Avenue West).  Other street names included Sarah Street (7th Street East), Parkman (17th Street), Spencer Street (18th Street), and Barker Street (20th Street).

If you are interested in learning more about the history of Prince Albert’s street names, current or original, consider stopping by the Historical Museum on the corner of River Street and Church Street (River and Central).  We are open from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday through Friday until the Victoria Day weekend.  Ring the bell at the east door to gain entrance.

On Family Day and the week days thereafter (February 15th to February 19th) we will have special programming each afternoon from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., so called ahead to ensure that we will be able to accommodate you within the Public Health guidelines.

On Monday we will have a session on family trees.  Tuesday will allow for a “behind the scenes” tour.  Wednesday there will be a session on hand weaving a coaster, and on Thursday you will be able to “ask the curator”.  The Friday session will be on notebook making.  On all five afternoons you will have an opportunity to tour the Historical Museum and find out what opportunities exist for involvement there as a volunteer.

We look forward to seeing you!