It was the very first national park in Saskatchewan, predating Grasslands National Park by 60 years. Encompassing 3,874 square kilometres, it was officially opened on Aug. 10, 1928 by Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King himself. At the ceremony, King paid tribute to the work of T.C. Davis and Charles McDonald in creating the park. King himself was presented with a cottage by his Prince Albert constituents. During that very first season, only 5,646 people visited the park, mostly due to the poor roads leading to it from Prince Albert.
While the park opened that day, the history of the area goes back a long, long time.
The area has been occupied for thousands of years, dating back 11,000 years at the least based on stone tool technology that has been found in the area. It is believed that the first people moved into the area when the last glacier moved out of the area. The first people hunted bison and big game, following the herds throughout the area.
Within the park, the first verified site of human activity dates back to 7500 BP. Several projectiles were found in the park, which were smaller and had side notches that were not found in earlier projectiles. These projectiles were found at 11 different sites in the park.
Roughly 1,900 years ago, people began using pottery in the area of the park. The earliest ceramic complex was named Laurel, after the people who used the pottery. Living in the southern boreal forest, they are believed to be the first people in the area to harvest wild rice.
According to the oral history of the First Nations, the Rocky or Woods Cree settled in the vicinity of the area of the park in the 19thcentury, traveling through the area on a regular basis, fishing, hunting and gathering fruit and berries.
The Hudson’s Bay Company operated a post at Waskesiu Lake from 1886 to 1893, which was built to compete with a rival trading post that was built three years previous.
Timber harvesting began to take place in the park, with Prince Albert Lumber Company becoming one of the major harvesters of the timber. In 1913, the Sturgeon River Forest Reserve was established, comprising the future southern third of Prince Albert National Park. In 1919, severe fires caused the abandonment of logging operations, which ceased for good in 1921. Commercial fishing also went on at the time, peaking in the 1920s and ending officially in 1961.
In the 1930s, the park had several relief camps and Alternative Service Work Camps, which existed into the Second World War Period. During this time, many of the workers in those camps built the facilities and roads/trails that have been used for decades.
Of course, no history of Prince Albert National Park is complete without talking of Grey Owl, the naturalist who lived there in the 1930s and worked for the Dominion Park Service. Really a man of English descent named Archibald Stansfield Belaney, he helped to bring the world’s attention to the need for conservation. During his time in Prince Albert National Park, Grey Owl wrote three best-selling books. The success of the books and the films produced about him brought hundreds of people to Beaver Lodge in the park. The demand of his lecture touring took a toll on his health and he died at Beaver Lodge in 1938.