The Baker Store and Kidd Elevator can be seen in this photo of River Street in Prince Albert in the 1880s

Recently noted in the obituaries of paNOW was the following: “The family of Dr. Frederick William Baker announces his death in Canmore, Alberta on May 11, 2022 at the age of 90.” When I noticed it, I wondered how many people would make the connection to the history of Prince Albert and area, dating back to the 1885 Resistance and beyond.
Dr. Frederick William Baker was the grandson of Frederick Charles Baker, an early merchant whose business included a store across the South Saskatchewan River from Batoche, as well as a second store on River Street West near where the Diefenbaker Bridge connects to 2nd Avenue West. Dr. Baker was born in Prince Albert, and did much of his elementary and high schooling in the city before graduating from Prince Albert Collegiate Institute and heading off to university in Saskatoon, where he attained a Bachelor of Arts before attending the University of Alberta, from which he graduated with a doctorate in medicine. Although he never again resided in Prince Albert, it was always his home, his Saskatchewan family roots extending from the early 1880s when his grandfather, Frederick Charles Baker, opened a store near the Metis community of Batoche .
Frederick Charles Baker was born in Belleville, Upper Canada (now Ontario) on February 14, 1858. Fred did his schooling in that community, and worked with his father in the family business, a carriage factory. On April 11, 1880, Fred received a diploma in Commercial Education from the Ontario Business College after successfully completed a course there. His diploma read, in part, that he had “a full and thorough Course of Study in the different Branches pertaining to a Commercial Education and that he has sustained his Examinations in all the Departments and Graduates with Honor.”
Late in the autumn of 1880, Fred left Belleville for Chicago, where he worked for a very short time, and then proceeded to Winnipeg where he lived and worked for two years. As a result of the land boom which was occurring in Winnipeg while Fred was there, he learned to buy and sell land. This knowledge was to stand him in good stead in future years.
But Winnipeg was not to be Fred Baker’s permanent home. He had met a fellow Ontarian there who had also gained some business knowledge and experience. Fred Baker and Harry Walters agreed to form a partnership with Harry, who was one year older than Fred, assuming the role of the senior partner.
It was on the west side of the South Saskatchewan River, across from Batoche, at the junction where the Carlton Trail branched off to Prince Albert, known as Fisher’s Crossing, where Walters and Baker established their first store. The pair were obviously successful businessmen, because by December of that year Fred Baker had moved on to Prince Albert to open a branch store in a building recently occupied by J.O. Davis and Company. By February of 1883, they were advertising themselves as Walters and Baker, General Merchants, Prince Albert, N.W.T. Their advertising subsequently would read Walters and Baker, General Merchants, Prince Albert – Batoche.
Three years after leaving home, Fred Baker was well established in “the West” and was financially independent.
Part of the reason that Walters and Baker were so successful stemmed from their ability to supply the needs of the federal government’s treaty obligations to the First Nations people. However, the community of Prince Albert and the surrounding area was receiving increasing numbers of immigrants, many of them who were turning to farming, and Walters and Baker became adept at supplying their needs in addition to the requirements of the First Nations and Metis who already populated the area of the Saskatchewan River basin. Both Walters and Baker made trips east for supplies, and to visit friends. Harry Walters continued to run the store at Batoche, and Fred Baker ran the Prince Albert store.
Even the events of the 1885 Resistance did not cause the set back which could have affected the business greatly. At the beginning of the conflict, their store at Batoche was raided by the supporters of Louis Riel, and Walters was taken prisoner, held first in the basement of the store, and then in the Batoche church. Three days after being moved to the church, Walters was released, and travelled to Prince Albert where he and Baker joined the Volunteers.
In the meantime, the Riel forces utilised the store as their headquarters. This led to heavy damage caused by the barrage fired at the building by the Canadian forces. As a result, after the Resistance was quelled, the store was closed and the partnership continued to do business from its Prince Albert branch only.
By 1889, possibly due to varying business ideas, Baker had bought out Harry Walters, becoming the sole owner of the business. He retained ownership until 1907 when he sold it to his friend, George Russell. It is widely believed that Fred was involved in so many other business and personal matters that he no longer felt capable of running the business at a level with which he was comfortable.
Also in 1889, on September 2nd, Fred Baker married Katherine Cunningham in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Katherine was the sister of Mary (Cunningham) McGuire, whose husband sat on the bench in Prince Albert. Although the marriage occurred in a Roman Catholic church, Baker had indicated that he intended to remain committed to his Presbyterian roots. Family history suggests that Mary’s husband, Judge Thomas H. McGuire, had intervened with the bishop of the Roman Catholic diocese to smooth the waters so that the marriage would be allowed.
Fred and Katherine eventually had six children, five of whom lived into their adult years.
By 1892, Baker had accumulated sufficient financial resources that he was able to begin using the real estate skills which he had learned during his two years in Winnipeg. This interest in real estate lasted for the remainder of his life, although after the La Colle Falls debacle, his own real estate portfolio was greatly reduced.
Fred had been elected as a manager of St. Paul’s Presbyterian church in February, 1885 and had, as previously noted, enlisted as a member of the Prince Albert Volunteers during the Resistance. Another community activity in which he participated was on a panel of judges for the poultry competition at the fourth annual exhibition of the Lorne Agricultural Society.
In 1891, Baker was elected to Town Council, a position he held for five years. In 1896, he ran for mayor, but was defeated by Samuel McLeod. Two years later, he was successful in winning the mayor’s chair, and continued to serve on Council until 1906.
Fred also continued to serve as a volunteer within the community. Prior to the family’s move to Vancouver in 1907, he was feted for his services to the board of the Victoria General Hospital for his involvement as a director and the board’s chief officer. The Board of Trade, on which he was serving as vice president, also noted his involvement.
Shortly after his arrival in Vancouver, it was noted in the Vancouver Province that two “millionaires”, recent arrivals from Prince Albert, had purchased a hotel on Cordova Street. The New Fountain Hotel had been bought from its previous owners by J.H. Sanderson and F.C. Baker. How long these two former Prince Albertans owned this hotel, and when and to whom they eventually sold it, is unknown.
Baker and his family stayed in Vancouver for a mere six months before returning to Prince Albert, and to the house which they had left behind. It is unknown why they returned, but it is interesting to note that their family home had never been put on the market before or after their move to the west coast.
Fred transferred his house and property to his wife in August 1914 which likely protected the family from the disaster which could have occurred given the money which he lost in the La Colle Falls debacle. Whether luck or astute business practice, this allowed the Baker family to remain living in Prince Albert for the remainder of both Katherine’s and Fred’s lives.
Katherine began suffering ill health that same year, and never really recovered. She died in July, 1927, and her body was interred in the old Roman Catholic cemetery.
Fred remarried in Calgary in December 1929. His second wife, Margaret Pettigrew, was a former resident of Belleville, Ontario, but she had resided in Calgary for several years before the marriage. She died May 1st, 1935 at the age of 74.
Fred remained resident in Prince Albert until his death, likely from stomach cancer, on August 27th, 1940. He was buried from St. Paul’s Presbyterian church, and interred next to his second wife in the oldest section of the South Hill cemetery.
The father of Frederick William Baker, Victor Harold Baker, was the fifth born (and fourth of the surviving adults) of the marriage between Frederick Charles Baker and Katherine Cunningham. He was educated in Prince Albert, and attended one year of law school at the University of Saskatchewan before returning to the city where he was employed at the Prince Albert Creamery. After moving to Victoria, Victor returned to Prince Albert in 1941, establishing a real estate business which was later purchased by R.J. “Bob” Casey. He died in Saskatoon on September 6th, 1974, buried from Sacred Heart Cathedral, and interred in the South Hill cemetery.
Victor had married Muriel Soole on August 29th, 1929, a teacher from Carman, Manitoba. Muriel had also taken some nurses’ training at Winnipeg General Hospital, but never practised as she married before graduating. Frederick William was the elder of two children born to them. He married Yvette Sylvestre of Willow Bunch in 1957, who predeceased him in 2015. The second child born to Victor and Muriel, a daughter named Catherine, was born in Prince Albert in 1933, and married Harold Tomiak in Edmonton in 1957. She was widowed in August, 1978, and died herself in Kelowna in December, 1989.