New Year’s through the years in Prince Albert

Matt Gardner
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Looking through the history of New Year’s celebrations in Prince Albert, it becomes clear that the sense of community binding residents together is never more evident than during the holiday season.

The Daily Herald archives detail successive New Years in which residents joined together to dance, sing songs, play sports and express hope for the future. The role of religion during the holiday was particularly strong in the city’s early years, as indicated by annual New Year’s Eve rallies held by local Sunday schools.

Of course, the holiday also had its darker side, which was usually brought out by alcohol consumption. Some residents were arrested for being drunk and disorderly, while others were involved in traffic accidents.

Through it all, no matter the obstacles of the day, the city maintained a distinct sense of optimism, as the following samples illustrate.

New Year’s 90 years ago

Prince Albert observed New Year’s Day “in old-fashioned style” through winter sport at the beginning of 1923.

Residents had been counting on the mild weather of the last two weeks to continue so as to spend the day enjoying outdoor activities, but temperatures plunged just before January.

Plenty defied the cold, but it wasn’t comfortable.

“It was in connection with the official opening of the Kiwanis toboggan slide in particular that the unhappy change in the weather was felt the most,” the Herald reported. “Though patronized to a very great extent throughout the day the wind facing the sportsmen as they went down was so keen as to detract in a large measure from the pleasure of the sport, except for those who were more than ordinarily well protected with clothing for the occasion.”

Local Sunday schools held their second annual New Year’s rally at St. Alban’s Cathedral, which the paper hailed as a great success.

The Herald noted that “old time New Year’s revelries that were at one time considered by many inseparable from the occasion were, as for some years past conspicuously absent.” Small groups attempted to conjure up memories of Chicago, New York, London or Paris with the help of the two per cent beer available, but such parties were the exception.

According to the paper, “the big event of New Year’s night was the community dance by the Rotary club in the armoury.”

New Year’s 80 years ago

Four hundred children attended the New Year’s Day rally in St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church in 1933. Visiting professor A.S. Orton of St. Andrew’s College in Saskatoon gave an address in which he argued that the benefits of a Christian life outweighed any other, telling the children that “he who lives for himself alone, finds not pleasure but misery and brings untold misery to others.”

Others had less appreciation for the virtues of Christian temperance. The Herald reported that “Peter Kwasniak, of Prince Albert, charged with being drunk and disorderly, was the only disturber of an otherwise peaceful and crimeless holiday here during New Year celebrations.” Kwasniak pleaded guilty and was fined $5 and costs.

Walking a fine line were the Prince Albert Elks, who the paper reported “gave the New Year 1933 a jolly, ‘Hello Bill,’ on Saturday night when they entertained members and their wives at an informal function in the lodge rooms of the Ottawa building.” Guests enjoyed dancing throughout the evening.

New Year’s 70 years ago

A quiet New Year’s wedding between Edith Claire and Jack Wilson was the exception in the Herald’s gung-ho first edition of 1943, which was dominated by war coverage. Two editorials both struck an optimistic tone on that front.

“Huns Being Worn Down For the Kill” read the self-explanatory headline of one, which discussed the improving situation for the Soviet military on the Eastern Front. The other looked at Canada’s role in the war and laid out some bold predictions.

“This will be the year,” the Herald confidently declared, “when Canada is to reach the peak production of munitions of war. It will, no doubt, be the year in which our soldiers have the first taste of extensive operations for which they have been preparing since 1939.”

Anticipating that new sacrifices would be required in the coming year, the editorial suggested a New Year’s resolution: “Let us feel the pride, which is fully justified, in the effort that we have been able to make, with our fellow Canadians, toward the winning of victory.”

New Year’s 60 years ago

Cold War paranoia aside, the post-war years seemed to offer a more traditionally festive holiday.

At the outset of 1953, the paper included photographs of Prince Albert Elk’s Lodge members singing Auld Lang Syne, as well as the Prince Albert Collegiate Band serenading 3,000 citizens at a New Year’s Day event that also included figure skating, highland dancing and a Prince Albert-Humboldt hockey game.

Referencing an apparently antiquated tradition, the Herald reported that the end of leap year 1952 had dashed the hopes of marriage for many of the city’s single girls. Prince Albert’s eligible bachelors, on the other hand, could look forward to four more years of being “safe to live with what they like to call their freedom.”

New Year’s celebrations proved relatively costly this year. While traffic offenses cost $75 in fines, a whopping 17 holiday vehicle accidents injured two people and caused $976 in damages.

New Year’s 50 years ago

Two Prince Albert women were injured in a car accident on New Year’s Day 1963 after colliding with another vehicle at the intersection of Fourth Avenue and 15th Street West.

Fortunately, the incident was a relative aberration this season.

“Prince Albert appears to have begun 1963 quite well accident-wise, with only 13 reported over the New Year’s weekend, compared to 20 over Christmas,” the Herald reported.

New Year’s 40 years ago

The dawn of 1973 saw a “relatively quiet” holiday according to local law enforcement, with fewer accidents in the city and about a third less complaints to police than the Christmas weekend.

The chief of police attributed the change to greater co-operation from city residents, suggesting the lower level of accidents and impaired driving charges indicated people were heeding warnings about the dangers of drinking and driving.

Being New Year’s, there was still some trouble. One youth was arrested for breaking and entering into Peggy’s House of Beauty and stealing cosmetics, rings and cash.

“There were 11 people … who welcomed the new year from the cells in the basement of the police station,” the Herald wrote. “Most had been arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct offenses.”

The paper noted that four cars had been reported stolen during the weekend, with only one recovered.

One case of motor vehicle theft imported from Saskatoon stood out: “Police were … involved in a high speed chase through the city that ended with the arrest of a man who will face charges of car theft in Saskatoon.”

On the economic front, Prince Albert looked assuredly toward the new year. 1972 had seen a general upswing thanks to the construction of a new shopping centre and other facilities, and industrial development officer Louis Roy believed the boom would linger on with higher demand for beef and pork, continued record exports for grain and oil seeds, and an optimistic outlook for forest products.

“With the predicted upswing in the economies of the United States, Japan and Western Europe, it is expected the mining industry will benefit,” the Herald reported.

Organizations: College in Saskatoon, Prince Albert, Daily Herald The Herald Presbyterian Church House of Beauty

Geographic location: New Years, Alban, Chicago New York London Paris Canada St. Paul Andrew Ottawa Saskatoon Fourth Avenue United States Japan Western Europe

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