Not just a 'rich person's paradise': Prince Albert National Park celebrates 90 years

At 90-years-old, Doreen Kerby has lived through the creation of Prince Albert National Park, spent time with well-known resident Grey Owl, and seen the site evolve from a secluded and quiet lake to a bustling tourist locale. Now, she will see it celebrate its 90th anniversary.

Doreen Kerby, 90, has grown up with the park and has seen it change through the years

Doreen Kerby, 90, is a seasonal resident at Prince Albert National Park, as well as a retired teacher and travel writer. She's spent decades visiting the park and will be in attendance at its 90th anniversary celebration on Friday. (Submitted by Jim Kerby)

At 90-years-old, Doreen Kerby has lived through the creation of Prince Albert National Park, spent time with well-known resident Grey Owl, and has seen the site evolve from a secluded and quiet lake to a bustling tourist locale.

"I hope it will always be a park for the average people. I hope it doesn't become a rich person's paradise," said Kerby, a long-time seasonal resident who will be among those celebrating the park's 90th birthday Friday.

Kerby's father had spent many years visiting Waskesiu long before it became Prince Albert National Park. It opened on Aug. 10 and 11, 1928.

An estimated crowd of about 3,000 people attended the opening for Prince Albert National Park, which took place on Aug. 10 and 11, 1928. (Parks Canada archive/Submitted by Chris Arnstead)

In those early days of the park, she and her family used to pitch their tent right down at the main beach and drink their water straight from the lake.

"When i was a child, it didn't look anything like it does today," she said.  

People used to stay in shack tents, which were set up and taken down each summer, and which consisted of a wooden floor and wall bolted together. At that time, there were few permanent buildings at the site, she recalled, a far cry from the Waskesiu of today. 

In their years visiting the park, the family also got to know Grey Owl, a well-known conservationist and writer who lived at the site.

Yousuf Karsh portrait of Grey Owl (Portrait Gallery of Canada)

"He and my father both fought in World War 1. My father thought he was just great," Kerby said, recalling that Grey Owl, originally born in Britain as Archibald Belaney, was an intellectual person, but was easy to talk to.

However, he also struggled with alcoholism, and kept the park wardens busy as they contended with his sometimes disruptive presence, she noted.

Following his death, she recalled her father's response: "It doesn't matter what you think of him as a man. It's his writing that's going to live on, long after him."

Doreen Kerby and her family can be seen in this visit to Prince Albert National Park, taken back in 1958. Kerby is 90-years-old, and still makes regular visits to the park, staying on as a seasonal resident. (Submitted by Jim Kerby)

Kerby has been visiting the park for many years since, through which time she's seen many changes at Waskesiu, including the development of a marina she described as "second to none," a mini golf course, and the expansion of bigger, more expensive cottages at the site.

While much has changed, she noted Parks Canada has protected the elements that make Prince Albert National Park the same park of her childhood.

"We still have the same trees, the same lake, the same river," she said. "Those things don't change."

The 90th anniversary celebration kicks off on Friday morning with a ribbon cutting and community coffee event at the Waskesiu Heritage Museum, with Heritage Day celebrations continuing through the weekend.