Prince Albert, population 34,291, is the third largest city in Saskatchewan. It is located on the south shore of the North Saskatchewan River near the geographical centre of the province, 141 km north of Saskatoon. Referred to as the “Gateway to the North,” Prince Albert is situated where the agricultural prairie of the south and the forest belt of the north meet. The site first gained recognition as a meeting place (kistahpinanihk) for First Nations people. In 1862, a group of English Métis and First Nations established the Isbister Settlement there. In 1866 the Reverend James Nisbet was invited to establish his Presbyterian mission next to the Isbister Settlement. Nisbet named his new settlement in honour of the Prince Consort to England’s Queen Victoria; Prince Albert grew rapidly until the Canadian Pacific Railway assumed a more southerly route. Prince Albert’s municipal history began in 1885, with the election of the Honourable Thomas McKay as mayor; it was also the year that the community was incorporated as a town. One year later, in 1886, Prince Albert became the Saskatchewan headquarters of the North-West Mounted Police. The first train arrived in October 1890, and thus the town was opened to the newly emerging society of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Some notable figures who lived in Prince Albert at the time include author Lucy Maud Montgomery as well as a young Boris Karloff, honing his skills with Prince Albert’s Harry St. Clair Players before becoming one of the most somber characters in Hollywood history.
Prince Albert officially became a city on October 8, 1904, and by 1910 the new city was booming. In addition to having access to the wealth of the forest and agricultural industries, Prince Albert was a hub of steamboat and railway activity and a centre for commerce. By then the population had grown by over 65% and elaborate homes were built, many of which still stand today. Samuel Mcleod, who served as mayor both in 1886 and in 1919, built Keyhole Castle; this home, encompassing the individualism popular in early 1900s architecture and featuring keyhole-shaped windows and scrolled gables, has been named as a Canadian Historic Site—as has the original town hall, built in 1893. In the early 20th century, Prince Albert constructed the La Colle Falls Dam in the hopes that inexpensive power would attract industry, but this dream was never realized, and the city was driven to the brink of bankruptcy: on July 29, 1913, construction was halted and the site abandoned. The dam can still be seen as it was left, at the 293-foot stage of development.
Since 1945, Prince Albert’s economy has been revived by resource development and the growth of tourism. With the development of the pulp mill in 1968, forestry became the second most important industry after agriculture. Numerous gold and uranium discoveries in the 1970s and 1980s increased employment and stimulated the economy of northern Saskatchewan. Throughout the 1990s the city has seen tourism emerge as its third largest industry. Today it continues to expand, spurred on by growth in the commercial and industrial sectors and by diamond exploration in the area. Archibald Stansfield Belaney, the famous author and environmentalist known as Grey Owl, made his home in what is now the Prince Albert National Park. Three prime ministers have represented Prince Albert in the House of Commons: Sir Wilfrid Laurier, William Lyon Mackenzie King and John Diefenbaker.