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Peeking Through The Keyhole

For the week of Monday September 11, 2006

On September 17, 1853, Samuel McLeod, prominent businessman, politician, and first owner of Keyhole Castle, was born on Prince Edward Island.

Samuel McLeod
Samuel McLeod
© Glenbow Archives / NA-433-24
At age 16, Samuel McLeod was trained to be a shoemaker, and worked for several companies in Prince Edward Island. At 20, McLeod started his own shoemaking business, which he ran successfully until 1881, when he decided to move to Winnipeg. There he worked for another shoemaking company, Dodd & Company Boots and Shoes for two years, before moving even further West to the growing community of Prince Albert, located in what would become the province of Saskatchewan.

Keyhole Castle
Keyhole Castle
© Parks Canada
Once in Prince Albert, McLeod established a successful shoe manufacturing company. He also made several ventures in the lumber industry. However, his investments did not bring him any profit. He and his son William started an insurance and real estate business, and this venture proved to be an enormous success. He also showed an interest in politics, both local and territorial. In 1886 and again in 1919, McLeod was elected as Mayor of Prince Albert, and was elected to the Legislative Assembly of the North West Territory (which is present-day Alberta, Saskatchewan, Northwest Territories and Nunavut) in 1898. He was also a member of the Prince Albert City Council and a Provincial Magistrate.

Keyhole shaped dormer windows
Keyhole-shaped dormer windows
© Parks Canada
In 1913, McLeod hired an American architect to build what was considered in its time to be “one of the most wonderful homes in Canada.” The citizens of Prince Albert watched as McLeod’s new home was built at 1925 First Avenue East. The residence was built in the Queen Anne Revival style, characterized by the odd use of towers, dormer windows and steep roofs, and though rare, was typical of the age in which the home was built. The most important architectural detail was the use of keyhole-shaped dormer windows on the top floor. These windows eventually led the locals to name McLeod’s new domain Keyhole Castle. McLeod imported many of the building materials, such as Cuban roof tiles and Italian marble. The home was also equipped with some of the most recent technology, including a central vacuum system and a telephone intercom. The total cost of the home in 1913 was $42 000, which would be somewhere around $800 000 today! Imagine how “wonderful” this home would have been!

Keyhole Castle National Historic Site was designated in 1975 for its impressive and rare form of architecture.

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