Museum Musings: Unit Block 10th Street West

My wife recently shared with me an item which had popped up on her social media.  A local educator was reflecting on an incident from his Prince Albert childhood.  He had been asked by his uncle, the manager of the Saan Store, to “star” in a commercial.  As part of a promotional package the store had brought in what they deemed to be the world’s largest pair of blue jeans.  As the “star” of the commercial the young boy was required to climb down a ladder placed inside the jeans and come out the bottom of the leg.  This he accomplished, although not without some difficulty when he became trapped momentarily inside the jean leg.

According to the author of this story, the incident occurred sometime around 1969 or 1970.  That means that it occurred over fifty years ago.  There is no longer a Saan Store in Prince Albert.  Prior to leaving the city, it was located for a brief time in the South Hill Mall, but most of us will recall its location on 10th Street West, part way between the CKBI Building and the National Hotel.  So much has changed in the 50 years or so years since that commercial was shot, so why not join me as I pour myself a second cup of coffee and mentally take a walk along that block.  Those of you who lived here at that time will, I hope, experience some nostalgia, while others who are newer to the city can decide whether or not progress has been made.

Let’s start our journey at the corner of Central Avenue.  On the north side of the street stands the same building which was there in 1970.  Now the site of an outreach ministry, it was the CB Store in the year we are remembering.  The CB Store faced Central, but there was a door on the south side which led to the upper floors where there were apartments.  Most of the people living there at that time were single and senior citizens.  Also, on that side of the building was one of the downtown’s major bus stops for the city’s transit system.

Across 10th Street, on the south side, there is a noticeable change.  Now the site of the Prince Albert campus of the University of Saskatchewan (previously the Forestry Centre), in 1970 Rowe’s Rexall Drug Store #2 faced Central Avenue.  It was located in what had once been the Imperial Bank of Canada building until that bank’s amalgamation in the 1960s with the Canadian Bank of Commerce.  At the time of amalgamation, the Bank of Commerce moved in with the Imperial Bank while the Commerce Bank was demolished and a new Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce was constructed on the corner of Central Avenue and 12th Street East.

Snug up to the west end of the drug store, on the east side of Avenue A, is Bradbury’s Hardware, managed by George Lee on behalf of Jack Bradbury’s widow, Caryleen (better known to me as Holly).  Originally owned and managed by Jack’s father, Kerwood Bradbury, the store had been in that location since the early 1940s.

Crossing Avenue A to the west, we arrive at the Masonic Temple. A dry goods store, The Remnant Shop, and other businesses (including Prince Albert Photo Service and Ace Television and Radio Repair) had separate addresses within the building.  In addition to the various Masonic lodges, it was home to two law firms (Fraser Evasiuk and Sanderson, and William Tennant) as well as a real estate company owned by Charles McIntosh.  Even with all these tenants, there was still room for five or more apartments on the upper floors.  I can still recall as a member of the junior Masonic order, DeMolay, being warned that when climbing the outside stairs on the south of the building it was wise to watch out for falling objects.  Apparently there was an elderly lady on the uppermost floor who would toss her garbage out of the window in order to save having to walk down all those stairs and climb them again.  Whether this was true I do not know.  I never saw any falling garbage.

Across the street, an alley separates the CB Store from the CKBI Building, which was originally the Agnew Hardware store.  The Agnew Block became the Baker Block in 1929, and that name remained until 1955 when the radio station relocated there.  In addition to housing Central Broadcasting’s radio operations, and later its television studios, the Prince Albert local of the International Brotherhood of Pulp Sulphite & Paper Mill Workers had their office in the building, and 25 individual apartments or suites were home to various people, including Ted Paine.  Those who follow the Historical Society’s social media will have seen pictures of Ted skiing down the old ski jump.  Living in the building also helped ensure that Ted was always the first to contribute to the Salvation Army’s Christmas Appeal every year.  He often made his contribution in July, just to ensure he was able to continue this long-standing tradition.

Where now there are vacant lots, in 1970 the CKBI Building had several neighbours, including the Kent Block, which housed the aforementioned Saan Store (Eugene Phaneuf, manager), Prince Albert Mimeographing, and the Prince Albert Business College (the latter two both owned and operated by Nancy Kent).  Other businesses on the north side of the street included John’s Shoe Repair Shop (john Welykij), Modern Market grocery store (Robert Karasiuk, manager), the Club Café, and the Television and Radio Repair Shop (John Nicholson, manager).  

Perhaps not the most salubrious eatery in town, the Club Café used to be the restaurant of choice for Jack Cennon after he announced that it was “five minutes to eight”.  As we take our walk in our minds, in 1970 the building is vacant.  Jack Cennon is now crossing that alley between the CKBI Building and the businesses on Central Avenue and joining Denny Wong at the Wings Café while the sports, news, and weather are reported to CKBI’s listening audience.

On the south side of 10th Street, west of the Masonic Building, there were additional businesses.  These include Hicks Automotive (Elmer Hicks, manager) and next to it Sonic Supplies (Marshall Allbright, manager).  Now Flaminio Ceilings and Wall Systems, there were fifteen apartments above Sonic Supplies. McGavin Toastmaster Limited (Wally Sopp, manager) was the last building on the south side of the block facing 10th Street.  Built in the early 1920s, it was originally Taylor Consolidated Bread Company and later became Canadian Bakeries Ltd before being bought out by McGavin Toastmaster.  Unfortunately, the building is no longer standing, although its demolition has allowed for some old advertising, painted on the wall of the Flaminio building, to be visible.

The only building still existent west of the CKBI Building on the north side of the street is the current home of Checker and Family Taxi.  In 1970, it was the home of Blue Cab, as it had been since 1964. Across the alley from the cab firm and on the corner of 10th Street and 1st Avenue West, the National Hotel still stands.  

Peter A. Abrametz now owns the last building on the south side of the block (which faces 1st Avenue West).  Now housing his law office on the main floor, it originally housed the Royal Bank of Canada.  In 1970, it was an apartment block called the Empire Apartments.

So, what became of the Saan Store? A fire in December 1989 destroyed its space in the Kent Block, resulting in the need for the business to move to the South Hill Mall before leaving Prince Albert for good. Nationally, the Saan Stores chain went out of business in 2008.

Fred Payton

Prince Albert Historical Society