PAssages – May 1947 – Lund’s Wildlife exhibit opens on River Street

by Joan Champ

Sometimes I miss seeing the long white building stretched out along the riverbank on River Street – the words “LUND WILD LIFE EXHIBIT” painted on the side facing the river. Not because it was attractive, because it wasn’t, but because it was such an iconic fixture in Prince Albert. It was there for 50 years.

I only went inside once, with my sister. It was filled with mounted animal specimens, most of them native to Saskatchewan. Everything from a moose, to a bison, to bears, to all kinds of deer, to a shrew. For some reason, that tiny shew impressed my sister and me the most. All the stuffed creatures were placed in dioramas, surrounded by trees and ferns and moss to give them a “natural” setting.

Lund’s Wildlife Exhibit was a private museum assembled by taxidermist and collector Frank F. Lund. Born in Sackville, Nova Scotia, Lund came to Prince Albert in 1910. Over the years, he practiced taxidermy at 839 4th Street East, trapping and hunting to build his collection. “For the buffalo,” his daughter-in-law later recounted, “he went to Wainwright, Alberta, to select the nicest one, and it took him five days to choose it.” Lund said his goal with taxidermy was not to make money; rather, he wanted to promote Canada’s pride in its wildlife.

In the 1920s and ‘30s, mounted animal displays were all the rage. Lund showed his massive exhibits at fairs in Prince Albert, Saskatoon and Regina, and for sevral years at the Calgary Stampede. He turned down offers to sell his exhibits to several American attractions. He wanted to keep them for Canadians.

From 1936 to 1938, Lund’s wildlife exhibit was on display at Waskesiu under the auspices of the national park. Then, in April of 1938, the park announced that it no longer wanted Lund’s exhibit at Waskesiu. Lund’s exhibit was given one final run in the national park.

On June 30, 1938, the Prince Albert Daily Herald described Lund’s show, “A Hunter’s Paradise,” seen by hundreds of Waskesiu visitors that summer. “The striking results of the attack of a timber wolf on its hamstrung prey is visibly portrayed in one set-up. A black timber wolf, as it stands and calls to the pack, is another addition,” the paper stated. “One curiosity that catches any observer’s eye is the white red squirrel. Mr. Lund is proud to own the albino red squirrel, for it is the first one he as ever seen or heard of.”

Evicted from the national park, Lund’s exhibit was put into storage in Prince Albert for several years. Unfortunately, Frank Lund passed away in 1941 before a permanent home was found for his life’s work.

In 1947, Franks’ son Gordon arranged with the Government of Saskatchewan and the City of Prince Albert to house Lund’s Wildlife Exhibit in a World War II building that the City moved across the river from the airport. The 24-foot by 240-foot structure was placed in the park on the north side of River Street, west of the present-day museum.

Hon. J. H. Sturdy, Minister of Reconstruction and Rehabilitation, acknowledging complaints that the WWII airport building would be an eyesore on the riverbank, said that he intended to ensure that it would not be “unsightly.” The building was repainted white and green, and an attractive entrance was built. The City was to maintain the professionally landscaped grounds, supply light and water to the building, and not to collect taxes on it. Lund’s Wildlife Exhibit opened in May 1947, charging 25 cents admission for adults and 10 cents for children, with no charge for school tours.

After Gordon Lund passed away in 1966, his widow, Mary, their children Marny and Frank, and Gordon’s siblings, Norman and Ada, worked together to keep Lund’s Wildlife Exhibit in operation. It remained a unique presence on Prince Albert’s riverbank from 1947 until 1996, when, after 49 years, it had to close. The old WWII building had deteriorated to the point that it could no longer protect the furry exhibits. The roof leaked and the floors were rotting. In addition, the Lund family admitted that the number of visitors had declined steadily over the past few years. Mounted animal displays had fallen out of favour.

In 1996, the River Street building was demolished and Mary Lund moved the wildlife exhibits to Seaworld Mall in Nanaimo, BC. Shortly afterwards, she had them all moved into storage, saying the arrangements with the mall were unsatisfactory. Four truckloads of Lund exhibits eventually made their way back to storage in Prince Albert thanks to Mayor Greg Dionne. They enjoyed a brief revival at Gateway Mall where they were put on display in September 2016.

Thanks to the Bill Smiley Archives for its assistance in the preparation of this column.