Museum’s Coffee and Conversation a chance to look back at Christmas past

Fred Payton leads a discussion about what Prince Albert’s downtown looked like 60 years ago during the second Coffee and Conversation event at the Prince Albert Historical Museum.

What was the downtown like in Prince Albert in 1960?

That was the question on everyone’s lips as the Prince Albert Historical Society’s second Coffee and Conversation event returned Thursday afternoon at the Prince Albert Museum.

Fred Payton President of the Prince Albert Historical Society led Thursday’s Conversation. He said the idea came from another museum in nearby Melfort, which began holding similar events in 2013.

“We are part of the Northeast Saskatchewan Museums Association and so we are in close contact with the Historical Society in Melfort,” Payton explained. “Melfort has been running Coffee and Conversation session for a fair length of time now … and it just seemed to me that it was a good idea. There are certain things that I like to try to accomplish when we have this—obviously education. I mean that’s what this museum is all about and the Historical Society is all about.”

Payton said the goal is to help residents understand how Prince Albert came to be. That goes beyond the basics, like what attracted Indigenous people and early European settlers to the area. It includes more recent events from decades like the ’50s ’60s and ’70s.

Fred Payton discussed Christmas in Downtown Prince Albert at the Prince Albert Historical Society’s Coffee and Conversation on Thursday.

“We want to educate people about how we got to the place we are at now, so talking about different things, different people, different events that occurred in the past,” Payton explained. “Also, I like to get feedback from people and hear what they know because I don’t learn if people don’t tell me.”

Payton said he likes to share his local knowledge with others, by readily admits he doesn’t know everything. He said learning a few new things every conversation makes it more enjoyable.
“The fun of this whole experience is you share with people,” he said. “You tell them what you know, what you think, (and) they tell you what they remember, what they know, (and) what they think, and then I learn. Sometimes somebody will say ‘well, I think you are wrong there’ and I have to go back and do some more research and guess what? I find out that I didn’t know everything and that I was wrong and sometimes I find out no I was right.”

Because of renovations ongoing on the main floor of the Museum, Coffee and Conversation was held in the Tea Room upstairs. The attendance was sparse after days of bad weather, but the memories and conversation were vibrant. Payton said that quite a few people who wanted to come had to cancel due to the weather and changes in plans.

However, the cold outside never dampened his enthusiasm.

“For me, it is really important to share with other people and to find out what they know so that I can gain my knowledge and understanding of our community,” Payton said.

The event focused on Christmas in Downtown Prince Albert and the people in attendance shared their own memories of the downtown. Payton said things have changed so much in the last 60 years, and not just on Central Avenue. Second Avenue West and 15th Street West also look different compared to the 1960s.

For example, Prince Albert’s hot new store in 1960 was a Firestone Store.

“It was about two years old (by) Christmas 1960,” Payton said.

“The Firestone Store was at that time like a miniature Canadian Tire. We didn’t have Canadian Tire. I didn’t run into Canadian Tire until I went into Ontario probably two years before Firestone opened here.”

Payton then moved along 15th Street West to East to Central Avenue and discussed businesses with photos as a talking piece.

“The different construction that was along that street. I mean you look here well the Dairy Queen is there but the Dairy Queen wasn’t there in 1960. It was a vacant garage in 1960—Earl’s Garage—and next door was Gateway Motors. Then this was the parking lot for the Safeway store, so all of those buildings are gone now and people who are relatively new to the community don’t remember them.”

The downtown has evolved from being residential in many aspects to a business district.

“If you come along 15th Street in the unit block on the south side there were a lot of houses in there,” Payton explained. “There were a couple on the north side as well, including a house that a young Orland Kurtenbach lived in when he first moved to Prince Albert in the 1940s with his family. There is all of this kind of change that has gone on. What was a residential area at one time is now a business district. The change from the downtown being the shopping area.”

In 1960 there was one shopping area and now there are three shopping areas with the Mall on the West Hill, Cornerstone and the Gateway Mall and Downtown core.

“And the Gateway Mall and Downtown Core haven’t always worked in sync,” Payton said.

The Venice House on 15th Street was at one time a garage and Payton had photos of the evolution.

“I have got pictures here of Venice House as a garage, that was Central Service and I have a shot of Central Service now as Venice House all lit up for Christmas… That’s the change that has occurred in the last 60 years or so and I think that it’s really important for people to understand that we are not stagnant, we are changing. There are differences that are occurring now.”

Payton explained that the Downtown Business Association in 1960 would have one night for Christmas shopping before Christmas.

Another big change involved newspapers, which focused much more on the religious aspect of Christmas.

“You look back at the 1960 newspapers and you see all kinds of articles about churches and church activities, so you would have lots of information about what all of the different churches were doing for Christmas,” Payton said.

“It’s not of such interest to people now as it used to be.”

According to Payton, they plan to have another Coffee and Conversation in January with Connie Gerwing possibly on the Fur Trade. Due to Christmas and other things, a date has not been confirmed.