Museum Musings: Were you aware?

Prince Albert Historical Society photo.

by Fred Payton
Prince Albert Historical Society

Have you got your tickets yet for the Live History presentations? If not, call the Historical Museum (306-764-2992) or drop by to see if there are any left. There are three shows today (Thursday, August 26th) at 2:00, 5:00, and 7:00 p.m. at the John and Olive Diefenbaker Museum – National Historic Site, and three shows tomorrow, again at 2:00, 5:00, and 7:00 p.m. at the Historical Museum.

Both of the shows are interactive in nature, which means that you, as an audience member, will get to play a part in the presentation. The Interview, being performed today, will require you to be interviewed for a job at the historic home. Tomorrow’s performance will allow you to exercise your “little grey cells” as you try to ascertain what is behind the errors which are noticeable in the museum’s exhibits.

In order to be transparent, I should tell you that I was party to providing information used by the Live Theatre group, but honestly, I have no idea what kind of questions might be asked in The Interview. Regardless, I thought that I might provide the following information for you to use as “crib notes” should you participate in today’s performance.

One question likely to be asked is “Who is the founder of Prince Albert?” Traditionally, the answer is James Nisbet, but some of you might want to answer James Isbister. Isbister settled in what is now Prince Albert’s west flat area in 1862, four years prior to the arrival of James Nisbet. Members of the Isbister Settlement helped to encourage Nisbet to settle on the south bank of the North Saskatchewan River, at a location known to the Cree as Kistapinanihk (the meeting place). Lawrence Clarke, the Hudson’s Bay Factor at Fort Carlton, and George Flett, a former Hudson’s Bay Company employee who was assisting Nisbet as his guide, interpreter and negotiator, also played a part in the decision to establish the community which became Prince Albert. But it was Nisbet who gave the community its name, eventually subsuming the Isbister Settlement within its boundaries.

Having settled on an answer to that question, we might consider who the first European was to travel through this area. History books tell us that the Verendrye brothers paddled up the Saskatchewan River to the Forks (50 kilometres east of the city) in 1741. Whether they managed to wander this far west is unknown; nor do we know whether James Finley of the Hudson’s Bay Company managed to trek beyond the Forks when he came inland seeking trade on behalf of his Company. We do know, however, that Anthony Henday (sometimes spelled Hendry) went further up river beyond the present site of our community.

As the community of Prince Albert grew, it became obvious that some political structure needed to be established. In the latter half of 1886, the first town council was elected, and the first mayor was Thomas McKay. His tenure was short, however, as he had other irons in the fire which distracted him from the business of the town. He chose not to run in the mayoralty election the following year (at the time, council elections were held annually). James Macarthur was elected to succeed him.

The first woman to hold office on Prince Albert’s council was Ella Muzzy. She was elected in 1937, and served on committees such as Health and Relief. She also served on the Parks committee, and was responsible for the construction of Prince Albert’s first paddling pool for children.

The second woman was better known throughout the province, and across Canada. Marion Sherman was noted for her desire to provide better seniors’ facilities, improved library service, and more efficient and effective city planning. Her campaign to rid the community of its outdoor toilets, still prevalent when she was first elected to council in the 1940s, resulted in one of the city’s mayors referring to her as his “Privy Councillor”.

It is unfortunate, but true, that museums often overlook women and tend to focus on the men of the community. Given Sherman’s interest in libraries, it might be appropriate to identify Prince Albert’s first librarian, Annie Keyworth. Little is known about her. She came to Prince Albert with her family from Yorkshire, England, around 1892, and was described in a newspaper story of January 10th, 1928 which reported her funeral as the “city’s first and only librarian to date”. At that time the library was on the main floor of the Rebryna Block, then known as the Holmes Block.

Another story of note about a woman provides a different side of Minnie Jones than many Prince Albertans remember. Minnie Jones was the daughter of the previously mentioned James Isbister. After World War II, it took some time for automobile dealerships to receive an inventory of vehicles. When one local dealership managed to receive its first shipment of cars, Minnie Jones walked into the dealership asking about availability and cost. The senior salesmen, thinking that it would be a waste of their time to serve her, passed her on to the junior salesman. The youngster must have thought that all his Christmases and birthdays had come together as Jones bought six new vehicles for her taxi company.

When people think about Prince Albert, it is often called to mind that our constituency has elected three Prime Ministers, although only two have represented the constituency. Sir Wilfrid Laurier chose to run in the Saskatchewan electoral district in 1896. The major community in the district was Prince Albert. Laurier won the seat, but chose to represent a Quebec seat, which he had also won. Laurier was the first Liberal to win a seat in western Canada. Of note, Laurier had an illegitimate son who also ran for a seat in the House of Commons. They actually sat in the Commons at the same time.

William Lyon MacKenzie King and John George Diefenbaker also ran in the Prince Albert constituency, and both represented us in Ottawa. King was victorious in a 1926 by-election after Charles McDonald, a local pharmacist, resigned his seat in order to allow King (defeated in York-North in the general election of 1925) to run in what was considered to be a safe Liberal seat. Eventually, in 1935 King’s Liberals were returned to power and King appointed McDonald to the Senate. McDonald, who had retired by that time, was in poor health. He died of a heat attack before he could take up his seat in the Red Chamber. McDonald is the only Canadian to have been elected to the Commons and appointed to the Senate but failed to take his seat in either House.

Perhaps knowledge of some more recent history might be required. You may be asked to identify the man who used to receive pancakes through the mail. He was also active in raising money for the charitable causes supported by the Association of Canadian Travelers. But I expect that Jack Cennon was best known for his famous “it’s five minutes to eight!”

Finally, you might be asked who used to ring the Arts Centre bell to call people to afternoon tea. This man once received a letter of thanks from Stephen King for a book he wrote about how to prepare a manuscript for publication. An author of several books of poetry, Jack Hicks was Prince Albert’s poet laureate during the mayoralty of Dick Spencer.

I hope that you take the opportunity to attend the History Live presentations over the next couple of days. Proceeds from this fund-raiser will go towards the reconstruction of the Nisbet Church and the Block House. And if you think that you might have an historical play buried somewhere within you, why not attend the Mystery Building Theatre Workshop. A workshop will be held at 10:00 a.m. each of Thursday, August 26th, and Friday, August 27th, at the Historical Museum. The cost for the workshop, which includes admission to the Historical Museum, is $5.00.