Museum musings: Samuel McLeod

Photo courtesy of the Bill Smiley Archives. One of eleven children, Samuel McLeod was born to Donald Archibald McLeod and Isabella Nicholson McLeod on November 13, 1852 in Bradalbane, Prince Edward Island.

The name Samuel McLeod is arguably one of Prince Albert’s best known names. Prince Albert businesses vie annually for awards presented by the local Chamber of Commerce and named after McLeod. The Chamber of Commerce website references his pioneering spirit, civic leadership, entrepreneurial ability, and unfailing faith in Prince Albert aspects of which the successful businesses need to display before they deserve being named the winner of the Samuel McLeod Business Award.
And few Prince Albertans will be unaware that Samuel McLeod was responsible for building Keyhole Castle, one of Prince Albert’s National Historic Sites.
Yet, what more do locals know about McLeod? When I ask local residents if they can identify the trade in which this famous entrepreneur was trained, I seldom get anything more than a blank stare.
One of eleven children, McLeod was born to Donald Archibald McLeod and Isabella Nicholson McLeod on November 13th, 1852 in Bradalbane, Prince Edward Island. Although his siblings eventually scattered across North America, he appears to have been close to two of his brothers, both of whom eventually joined him in Prince Albert before relocating to the more southerly cities of Regina and Moose Jaw.
McLeod took his public school education on the Island, after which he completed a commercial course, which would appear to have impacted greatly on him in his later years. He then trained, at the age of sixteen, as a shoemaker, a business in which he worked for others before establishing his own business.
In 1881, the call of the west lured McLeod off the Island, and he settled in Winnipeg. Here he was employed for two years at Dodd & Company making, selling, and repairing shoes. During this time, McLeod it is likely that he established a close friendship with William Shannon, another shoemaker. The two men agreed to move further west, coming to the young community of Prince Albert. Here they established themselves in partnership, working together for about five years. The 1888 McPhillips’ Directory of Saskatchewan lists McLeod as being employed in the manufacture of “boots and shoes…formerly in the hands of Shannon & McLeod, as a firm, is now divided between those gentlemen as independent prosecutors of that trade.” McLeod is described in the same volume as “having recently established himself on the corner of River and King streets” before going on to say that McLeod is “a good business man and well known” and should therefore not fail to succeed.” River Street, of course, remains the same. King street is now known as 1st Avenue West.
The directory describes Shannon as having arrived in Prince Albert in company with Samuel McLeod in 1882 (other documentation suggests that it was more likely 1883), and that they had entered into, and carried on, business under the firm of Shannon and McLeod, “until last fall”. Yet the directory still lists Shannon & McLeod as being the firm in which William Shannon was a partner. Other documentation, such as Volume 2 of The Story of Saskatchewan and it’s People suggests that the partnership was not dissolved until 1888 when McLeod determined that he wished to work independently. This he did for another ten years. Not only did he move back into mercantile business, but he also ventured into lumber manufacturing. It is likely that at this time he joined with his brother Malcolm in opening a retail clothing store, but also placing Malcolm into the position of foreman at the Prince Albert Lumber Company, a business which he may have sold to Will Cowan and Company.
Malcolm appears to have been suited to the retail clothing business, although when he moved to Moose Jaw in 1907, he sold the store to Hamelin (also spelled Hamlyn) Brothers. Malcolm maintained an interest in both the Prince Albert and Moose Jaw stores which operated under the name of McLeod-Hamelin. The Manville family later bought the store and the business, and it continued operating as a clothing store after the Craig family purchased it and operated it as the CB Store.
Sam’s other brother who followed him to Prince Albert was Donald. In 1891, he bought the Royal Hotel, operating it until he moved to Moose Jaw in 1894 (where he owned and operated the Windsor Hotel). Donald later moved to Regina, where he bought the Windsor Hotel, operating it until it burned down. He continued living in Regina, investing heavily in real estate, and running an insurance business.
His brothers’ business ventures may well have determined Sam to sellout his local business ventures. This he did, in 1898. Information suggests that he managed to offload his store and lumber interests in one week. But McLeod could not settle into retirement and was soon engaged in insurance and financial activities, taking his son William into the business. He became president of the Commercial Trust Company, owned the Prince Albert Hotel for a period, as well as several business blocks and other properties. His last foray into building was the construction of the block now occupied by Royal Lepage Icon Realty in the 1100 block of Central Avenue.
Rumour has it that this building, the exterior of which is faced with bricks from the International Clay Company, contains materials which were looted from the La Colle Falls site. Although it is likely that some materials came from there, the rumour does not account for the fact that the Prince Albert City Council had determined that the City should sell off unused materials from the site in order to recover some of the costs lost by the failure of the project. Based upon the willingness of Samuel McLeod to personally underwrite the costs of opening Prince Albert schools in the years subsequent to the La Colle Falls project, I believe that any materials used in construction on his projects would have been purchased legitimately.
McLeod was married twice. The first time he married was in February 1874 to another Prince Edward Islander, Elizabeth Biggar, who was born on May 10th, 1857. Their three children, all sons, were born on Prince Edward Island. John was born about 1875. He later moved from Prince Albert to British Columbia. Frederick was born on April 5th, 1879. He remained in the Prince Albert area, where he farmed. William was born on September 4th, 1880 and, as previously noted, was taken into his father’s business.
After Elizabeth died in 1901, Samuel married Winnifred Biggar in Winnipeg in September, 1902. Winnifred had been born in 1882. The remains of both wives were eventually placed in a mausoleum which McLeod had constructed in Prince Albert’s South Hill cemetery in 1915. A fifteen square foot, nine foot high construction, it houses the remains of eight members of the family, including a grand-daughter (Winnifred Wilson), who died in 1989. The mausoleum was sealed at that time.
As well as being active in the local business world, McLeod participated in volunteer activities throughout his time in Prince Albert. He was a member of the Board of Trade, serving as its president in 1888 and vice-president in 1910. He was also an active member of the Presbyterian church, and of the International Order of Foresters and of the Rotary club. During the 1885 Resistance, McLeod was a member of the Prince Albert Volunteers.
An active Liberal, he served as a town councillor in 1894/95, as mayor in 1896 and as a city alderman in 1905, 1911/12, 1915, 1916, and 1917. He again served as mayor in 1919 and 1920.
McLeod was elected to the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories from 1898 to 1902, and appointed to the Half-breed Scrip Commission in 1900, serving alongside N.O. Cote. He also served as a provincial magistrate for twenty years.
Leading such a busy lifestyle, it was important that McLeod had some recreational activities which would allow him to relax. He was known to enjoy running, jumping, and baseball.
Not only was McLeod responsible for the construction of the Queen Anne Revival style Keyhole Castle (at a cost of $43,000), but he also built the house at 2006 – 1st Avenue East. This is where his son, William, resided.
Samuel McLeod died January 16th, 1929.