Museum Musings: Reunion dinner

Photo from the Bill Smiley Archives. Old Timers Reunion was held at the Royal Hotel, which stood on the corner of 2nd Avenue West and 12th Street, about where the Gateway Mall parking lot is now located.

I know of several families who have held reunions this summer, as well as a number of organisations and community groups. The summer time is a great time for such events. People take their holidays in the summer, and the weather is usually cooperative (at least as far as travel is concerned).

I recently came across a story about a reunion which occurred in the early spring of 1893. The people who gathered together did not have all that far to travel, as the reunion was a gathering of those settlers who had made their home in the Prince Albert area in, or before, 1879. I gather that the furthest any of the celebrants travelled to attend the gathering was from the Hoey district.

In a discussion with a group of the “old-timers”, it had been Chester Thompson, a brick manufacturer, who had suggested that the “seventy-niners” of Prince Albert and area should hold a reunion of their numbers, when around a “festive board” they could recall the past and review the memories of by-gone days. His idea was considered a good one, and action occurred to bring it to fruition. J. Lestock Reid, the surveyor, was appointed chairman of the organising committee, and J.D. Hanafin, the deputy sheriff, was given the role of secretary, supported by a small committee of other men.

So it was that on the evening of Wednesday, April 5th, 1893, the Old Timers Reunion was held at the Royal Hotel (which stood on the corner of 2nd Avenue West and 12th Street, about where the Gateway Mall parking lot is now located).

Donald D. McLeod had come to Prince Albert in 1891 with a dollar and a half in his pocket. He had worked around town, doing odd jobs, until he had accumulated enough money to rent the building known as the Royal Hotel, a little hostelry when he acquired it. With his business acumen, and a personality which led him to be well liked by the travelling public, he soon had built up a brisk business and was able to enlarge it. In company with a man named Courtney, he is said by John Hawkes to have brewed the first beer ever made in Saskatchewan.

So it was that, under the management of Donald McLeod, the cheerful dining room of the Royal Hotel was the scene of brilliancy when the doors were opened to admit the guests. Numerous long tables were said to groan with the load of tempting viands to tempt the palate of the “old-timers”. At one end of the dining room hung a streamer, bearing the message “Boy, Who are you got freight for? Some for Mr. Captain Moore, a little for Mr. Bettes, and some boxes for J.M. ‘James’ Campbell, T.N. Campbell Ashdown and Agnew, Stobarts and Charlie Mair, and a few other peoples.”

Among the tempting, and traditional, food was Moose Tail soup, followed by Green Lake trout, with roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, roast musk ox with red berry sauce, buffalo hump a la NWT, mountain sheep with current jelly, and venison with mushrooms. There was also boiled red deer tongue, beaver tails, and moose nose, baked prairie chicken, ptarmigan, and partridge. All of this was accompanied by potatoes, corn, tomatoes, peas, and beans, as well as pemmican and Bannock. For dessert, there was a choice of (or some of each) apple pie, plum tart, assorted cakes, ice cream, grapes, apples, oranges, raisins, and nuts. It could all be washed down with Ginger Flip, Pain Killer punch, tea, and/or coffee.

The Gateway Mall Parking Lot on the corner of Second Avenue West and 12th Street sits where the old Royal Hotel once stood. Google Street View Photo.

The chair for the evening was occupied by J. Lestock Reid, with the vice-chair being shared by the two MLAs, Mr. Thomas McKay and J.F. Bettes. Sitting around the tables were the following old-timers: J.R.

MacPhail (hardware and tine merchant), T.J. Agnew (hardware merchant), William Miller Sr. (farmer), James Sanderson (lumberman), T.H. Brooks (laundry owner), Richard Gwynne (supplier of wines and liquors), George Northgraves (warden of the Territorial Gaol), T.E. Baker (purveyor of lumber and coal), William Spencer (farmer), Robert Thompson (painter), Dr. H. Reid (medical doctor), Adam McBeath (farmer), T.N. Campbell (stationer), Harry E. Ross (sheriff), J.D. Hamilton, William Drain (farm equipment), George Sutherland (farmer), Alex McBeath (farmer), J.W. Hurd (merchant), and Chester Thompson ( brick manufacturer). Others in attendance, as guests, were: Captain Norman (NWMP), Richard H. Mair (Immigration agent), W.R. Gunn (barrister), and C.R. Stovel (secretary of the Board of Trade).

Including amongst the reminiscences, there were numerous toasts, beginning as was the tradition of the day with a toast to the Queen, in which J. Lestock Reid noted her virtues and wisdom. This was followed by a toast to the Governor-General and the Lieutenant-Governor, to which a response was given by Thomas McKay.

Other toasts included one to “the health of the ladies” in which Thomas McKay mentioned that he was concerned that there were so many bachelors in attendance. He had, he noted, walked 400 miles on snowshoes in order to get married, and he felt that the bachelors of the day were showing weakness in not following suit.

In his response to the toast to the “traders of ‘79”, Thomas Agnew suggested that any further reunion banquets should include the wives. George Sutherland, in responding to a further toast to “the ladies” echoed Mr. McKay’s suggestion. Others, including J.D. Hanafin and T.E. Baker, voiced their support of the suggestion, especially in response to the toast to “our next reunion”.

Many of the toasts were of a solemn or patriotic variety, such as the toast to “home and country”, “the farmers of ‘79”, and “our fellow countrymen”. W.R. Gunn’s toast to “absent friends” recalled many of the early settlers who had “passed into the Great Beyond, including Mr. Nisbet, the Reverend John McKay, Bishop McLean, Father Andre, Dr. Porter, Lawrence Clarke, Mr. Duck, Colonel Sproat, and Chief Factor Belanger.

The mention of Colonel Sproat caused J. Lestock Reid to remember him as a noble, generous, and public- spirited citizen of Prince Albert whose death had left a gap impossible to fill.

But not all toasts, or the responses to them, were of that nature. When responding to the toast to “transport service of ‘79”, James Sanderson responded by talking about his early experiences with ox carts and shagginappi, and suggested that he knew well how effective the mode of transport was in those days as he had walked behind a cart the entire distance from Fort Garry to Prince Albert. And Chester Thompson regaled those in attendance with a story about how he had, one might at a dance, changed the clothing of about a half dozen babies so that their mothers had to spend the next morning trying to locate their own child.

In all, there were at least fifteen toasts to which had to be made and responses provided, and with all the reminiscences, and the musical numbers presented (including a rousing rendition of For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow sung in acknowledgement of an absent D.H. MacDowall), the evening lasted over six hours, ending around 3:00 a.m. the following morning.

It appears to have been a very successful reunion.

If you are participating in a reunion this summer, may it be just as successful!