Prince Albert National Park celebrates 90th anniversary

Special guest Betty Anderson cuts the ribbon at the Prince Albert National Park's celebration for its 90th anniversary on Aug. 10, 2018. She attended the park's opening ceremony on Aug. 10, 1928, when she was two years old. (Bianca Bharti/Daily Herald)

Milestone particularly special for Doreen Kerby

Bianca Bharti, Daily Herald

On August 10, 1928 — 90 years ago — Prime Minister Mackenzie King officially opened up Prince Albert National Park (PANP). Over 3,000 people attended the opening ceremony and shifted around to catch a glimpse of the late prime minister taking a dip in Waskesiu Lake. Some men even joined him for a swim.

Today, about 240,000 people visit the park every year, indulging in the various activities and natural sites it has to offer. It hosts Canada’s only free-roaming herd of plains bison and the only protected white pelican colony.

According to Parks Canada’s external relations manager Carla Flaman, the national park became known as Saskatchewan’s playground, a place where residents could make memories all year long.

On Friday, Parks Canada and the Waskesiu Heritage Museum celebrated PANP’s 90th anniversary in front of a group of about 20 people and special guests, just a few metres away from the lake.

Betty Anderson was present when PANP had its opening ceremony. She got to cut the ribbon Friday, 90 years later.

Dorell Taylor, who put together a three-volume series about Waskesiu and people’s personal memories and included photos that capture the park’s history, also attended, as did a relative of Grey Owl’s wife Anahareo.

For Doreen Kerby, who was born just two months before the park officially opened nine decades ago, PANP holds a special place in her heart.

“There’s no better place to be,” she said. “It’s peaceful, it’s friendly (and) you’re in touch with nature. It’s just a haven.”

Kerby recalled the countless memories she made with her friends and family on her annual trips to PANP and Waskesiu.

A trip she’ll never forget is meeting the famous Grey Owl when she was five years old. After taking a boat to the north end of Kingsmere Lake, she hiked three kilometres with her family to get to his cabin. “My dad said, ‘if you’re going to go on this trip you better act like an adult and you have to walk all the way.’ At the end my dad was carrying me on his shoulders,” she laughed.

Once at Grey Owl’s cabin, she remembers fixating on two big boxes of macintosh apples he kept for his beavers.

“We were tired after the long trek and he was feeding the apples to the beavers. They would pick the apple up in their paws and stand on their hind legs and they would just twirl that apple around and take all the flesh off the apple in about 30 seconds.”

This was during the Great Depression, where coming across fresh fruit was a rarity. “We never got to have an apple, the beavers got all they wanted,” she laughed. “I was a little upset because I wasn’t getting an apple.”

Grey Owl and her father became good friends. Every year the family went camping at the park, Kerby’s dad would get together with the Englishman, drink and talk about war stories. It was their idea of a good time, she said.

He wasn’t the only notable figure the family got to know. For a few summers, Kerby was John Diefenbaker’s cottage neighbour. Though they didn’t spend as much time together as they did with Grey Owl, she recalls the late prime minister always being friendly.

“I remember one day we were at church, in the community hall, and my son had ten cents to put in the collection for Sunday school. He dropped it on the floor during the sermon and you could hear this coin rolling across the floor. Next thing I knew, John Diefenbaker was tapping my son on the shoulder and gave him his dime back.”

Doreen Kerby, 90, poses in front of Waskesiu Lake on Aug. 10, 2018. It was the 90th anniversary of Prince Albert National Park, where she’s been going to camp ever since she could remember. (Courtesy Jim Kerby)

Going camping at Waskesiu used to require plenty of planning. Her parents used to spend several days determining how many loaves of bread, how many pounds of butter and how many pounds of canned chicken they’d need for the trip. Everything had to be counted because there were no stores around to buy food or supplies if you needed them. Kerby reminisced about the drives up with her family and barely encountering any cars on the remote, grassy trails leading into the parks.

What she cherished most was the time spent with her family. Her father was a doctor and that meant long days away from the family.

“It was always nice to have our dad to ourselves,” she said. “It was nice for the four of us to be together and enjoy the quiet and serenity here at Waskesiu.”

She still comes up every year, spending time with her kids and grandkids at the cottage her family purchased in 1963 for $12,000.

Her favourite activities include hiking, going out on the lake with the kids and she expressed particular love for golfing, saying PANP has one of the most beautiful golf courses in all of Canada.

“We can come back year after year and the park remains the same. You don’t get that at a lot of resorts…. I feel very privileged to have all this at my fingertips.”