The natural environment of Southern Alberta
is largely prairie land that attracted settlers who came to farm
and ranch. A number of factors contributed to making it an
attractive destination for settlers. There was plenty of
tillable land; could be tilled; ready availability of water through several
river systems including the Milk and Oldman Rivers; and a moderate climate that included Chinook
winds bringing warm air over the mountains.
But there were also extensive resources of
coal underfoot, which were formed in the Cretaceous period
(about 70 million years ago) when that region was the western
shoreline of an inland sea that covered central North America.Thick seams of bituminous coal (1.2 to
1.8 metres) developed and these provided an important energy
resource that resulted in the foundation of the economy of the
City of Lethbridge as well as of neighbouring communities such
In his 1881 report, this had been noted by
Dr. George Mercer Dawson of
the Geological Survey of Canada. Elliott Torrance Galt, then
Assistant Indian Commissioner, had seen these coal exposures in
1879 at a place called Coalbanks. When the Canadian Pacific
Railway decided to build their transcontinental railway across
the southern plains, Elliott and his father,
Sir Alexander Galt,
a father of Confederation, decided that they wanted to be a part
of the economic development of the region.
The mining camp of Coalbanks quickly became the City of Lethbridge,
envisioned from its founding as a both an agricultural and
industrial centre. Irma Dogterom in Where Was it?: A Guide to
Early Lethbridge Buildings (Lethbridge, Albetra: Lethbridge
Historical Society, Occasional Paper No. 35, 2001) notes that by the end of
1885, Lethbridge had more than 60 buildings that included six stores,
five hotels with saloons, four billiard rooms, two barbershops and a
livery stable. By 1891, there were 255 residences, 48 business premises,
46 warehouses, 60 stables, four churches, two schools and two hospitals.
The City was graciously laid out in the European model with a large
public park surrounded by impressive buildings. The mine sites and
supporting railyards were state-of-the-art for their time.
Thus, Lethbridge became a crucible for the economic
development plans of the Government of Canada and a destination
for immigrants. The Aboriginal culture and way of life was
totally wiped out by the coming of the whiskey traders, which
resulted in the establishment of Fort Whoop-Up, the homesteaders
and entrepreneurs. Sawmills, collieries, railways, mines, farms
and irrigation systems changed the landscape. As A. A. den Otter
In just fifteen years, these bustling promoters, with the
generous support of the federal government, had transformed the
desolate treeless plains into prosperous irrigated farmlands
dotted with tree-lined towns. In that time technological man had
brought about greater changes than centuries of winds, rains,
fires, animals, or native people.
But it was not all economic boom. As so often happens, buoyant
economic times are followed by depressions. The building of the
transcontinental railway was followed by economic depression
nation-wide and even the prosperous and well-positioned Sir
Alexander Galt was near bankruptcy.
These cycles of prosperity and recession marked the development
of this southern Alberta city but its early prosperity can be
seen in the range of fine brick buildings, which include the
cottage hospital built by the Galts to serve the health
needs of their companies and the community. This building became
Sir Alexander Galt Museum in the 1980s.
For further information about the entrepreneurs and miners
alike, please visit the
Communities/Lethbridge section of the When Coal Was
Watch Julius Peta as he reminisces about his career in the mines
at Lethbridge, including the tragedies and benefits, in this
video produced by CFCN Television.
||Camillo Bridarolli: Oral
Mr. Camillo Bridarolli talks about the activities and
functions of the Italian Lodge in Lethbridge, and its
relationship with and to other Lodges.
Click here to listen!