Lethbridge, Alberta, CanadaEdit This Page
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Location and Structure
The City of Lethbridge is located at 49.7° north latitude and 112.833° west longitude and covers an area of 127.19 square kilometres (49.11 square miles). Lethbridge is the largest city in southern Alberta, Canada. It is also the fourth-largest city in Alberta by population (after Calgary, Edmonton and Red Deer), and the third-largest city by area (after Calgary and Edmonton). Alberta's southernmost city, Lethbridge lies 205 kilometres (127.4 miles) southeast of Calgary and 90 kilometres (55.9 miles) north of the United States border. It is roughly mid-way between the borders with Saskatchewan on the east and British Columbia on the west.
Lethbridge is composed of two sections linked by a bridge known as Whoop-Up Drive. On the east side of the river is the older section, divided into south Lethbridge and north Lethbridge by the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) railroad. On the west side of the river is the newer section, west Lethbridge.
Saloons, hotels, and general stores were the beginnings of many buildings still standing in downtown Lethbridge. Fire Hall No.1, the Post Office (with a functioning clock tower), Chinatown, the Galt Hospital (now the museum) and the CPR Train Station are all architectural reminders of the city's past.
High Level Bridge
Lethbridge straddles the Old Man River, and its most magnificent characteristic is its coulees — a network of large rolling hills that were formed by glacial spill water over ten thousand years ago. Crossing the coulees and the river is the world's largest High Level Bridge. This landmark is the longest and highest railway trestle bridge in the world, spanning 1.6 kilometres (1 mile) and reaching a height of 97 metres (320 feet). Built between 1906 and 1908, the bridge cost 1.3 million dollars.
Lethbridge is the commercial, financial, transportation and industrial centre of southern Alberta. It had its beginnings with the notorious whiskey trade, followed by the development of drift mining for coal in the late 19th century, and agriculture in the early 20th century. The city has expanded with the development of the agricultural service sector from a small coal mining town to a growing city of just over 87,000 residents. Half of the workforce is employed in the health, education, retail and hospitality sectors, and the top five employers are government-based. Cultural and recreational venues in the city include performing art theatres, a symphony orchestra, museums, art galleries, sports centres, a Japanese Garden, Henderson Lake Park and Indian Battle Park. Lethbridge is home to the WHL Hurricanes.
The agriculture industry is an important aspect of Lethbridge's economy. It evolved as the result of assistance provided to the Galts by the Canadian government for construction of the narrow gauge railway. The assistance took the form of land grants totaling 607,000 hectares (1.5 million acres) south of Lethbridge. The land was to be sold by the Galts to pay for their railway.
The land given to the Galts is semi-arid, and the challenge was to make it attractive to settlers. Irrigation was the obvious answer. Elliott Galt and his brother-in-law Charles A. Magrath organized the Canadian North West Irrigation Company (CNWICo.) to carry forward their plan of irrigating the lands of southern Alberta. Magrath and Galt also turned to the leading experts on irrigation in North America – the Mormon farmers of Utah.
Mormon leader Charles Ora Card first came to southern Alberta in 1886, and in 1887 purchased land from the North Western Coal & Navigation Company (NWC&NCo) near the St. Mary and Waterton Rivers. Settlers from Utah followed. Elliott Galt and the Mormon Church concluded an agreement in 1898 that saw church members build the main canal from the St. Mary’s River to Lethbridge, with branches to Stirling and Magrath. In return for these 152.9 kilometres (95 miles) of canals, the CNWICo. paid the workers half in land scrip and half in cash. Charles Ora Card ploughed the first furrow for the project on 26 August 1898, and on 4 September 1900 the main canal reached Lethbridge.
There have been five milestones in the development of irrigation in southern Alberta. First, many small projects involving no more than a few acres each were built in the years 1877 to 1895. Next came the large company projects engineered by the Galt companies, CPR and others during the period 1898 to 1915. Third, user owned and operated irrigation schemes such as the Taber and Lethbridge Northern Irrigation Districts came into existence after passage of the Irrigation Districts Act in 1915. The end of World War II in 1945 brought more large projects such as the St. Mary River Development project. The final milestone was the development of pivot irrigation systems that allowed irrigation of rougher land than could be irrigated before.
The history of dryland agriculture has been the struggle to find methods to combat southern Alberta’s semi-arid climate and incessant winds. Four principles have evolved: break the velocity of the wind by farming in strips; keep the soil covered by dead or living vegetation; keep bare soil lumpy or ridged; and, stop active erosion by whatever emergency means are available. The Agriculture Canada Research Station at Lethbridge had much to do with the development of these principles. The Station is the largest regional agriculture research facility in Canada.
Agriculture has become the mainstay of the regional economy. In 1996 there were 11,216 farms in southern Alberta with a capital value of 11.3 billion dollars. Over 130 businesses processed food or feed for markets here and around the world.
Designed in the early 1960s by renowned Japanese landscape artist Dr. Tadashi Kubo, the Garden stands as a monument to the Japanese Canadians who endured the government enforced relocation of British Columbia’s Japanese Canadians in 1942 from the west coast to the Lethbridge area, where they were made to work as farm labourers. The 1.6 hectare (4 acre) Garden opened on July 3, 1966, with the grand opening held on July 14, 1967. In attendance were Prince and Princess Takamatsu, the brother and sister-in-law of Japan’s Emperor Hirohito. A meandering path joins five traditional Japanese Garden styles, combining trees, shrubs, rocks, waterfalls, ponds and bridges to create vistas of unparalleled beauty. The sound of a thrumming waterfall invites the visitor deep into the Garden. The Pavilion, patterned after 16th century architecture, houses a number of art and cultural exhibits throughout the season. Tours of the Garden are available, lead by hostesses dressed in traditional yukatas. Standing as a symbol for amends now made, the Garden's name means Japanese and Canadian friendship.
Lethbridge has three cemeteries. The oldest, St. Patrick's Cemetery, is no longer in use.
Church Records, Historical
- Knox Presbyterian Church, 1886-1908
- Knox United Church of Canada, 1928-1941
- Saint Patrick Roman Catholic Church, 1874-1911
- Southminster United Church of Canada, 1938-1952
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1912-1948
- Wesley Methodist Church, 1896-1919
- Wesley United Church of Canada, 1928-1941
These records are all available on film through the Family History Library
City of Lethbridge
910 - 4th Avenue South
Lethbridge has a semi-arid climate and has been called the second driest city in Canada, averaging 386.3 millimetres (15.2 inches) of precipitation annually with 264 dry days.
Lethbridge is known as Alberta's windy city. With extreme wind speeds, sometimes reaching hurricane velocity of 120 kilometres (74.6 miles), Lethbridge experiences 116 days with wind speed of 40 kilometres (24.9 miles) or higher. This makes it the second windiest city in Canada.
Lethbridge enjoys an unique phenomenon known as the Chinook winds. Characterized by a highly visible "Chinook Arch" in the western sky, warm Pacific winds flow over the Canadian Rocky Mountains onto the Alberta prairies. These winds can raise the temperature from freezing to melting in a matter of hours, providing welcome relief from the rigors of the Canadian winter.
Coal outcrops were so frequent in the vicinity of what is now Lethbridge that the Blackfoot gave the region the name “Sik-okotoks”, or Place of Black Rocks. By the late 1860s the traders were also aware of the abundance of coal here. American adventurer and entrepreneur Nicholas Sheran began to mine a coal seam on the west side of the Belly (Oldman) River, about 460 metres (503.1 yards) north of the present Whoop-Up Drive. Sheran sold his coal to traders from Fort Benton, Montana and to the newly arrived North West Mounted Police (NWMP).
In 1879 Elliott Torrance Galt visited Nicholas Sheran at his mine. Galt lost no time in advising his father, Sir Alexander Tilloch Galt, of the potential of a mining operation. The elder Galt was interested in the idea because he knew that a trans-continental railway was to be built on a route across the southern prairies. The railway and the settlers it would bring would make a profitable market for coal.
Sir Alexander Galt hired William Stafford and Captain Nicholas Bryant to examine five possible sites for a large coal mining operation. The site they all chose was across the river from Sheran’s mine. On 13 October 1882 Stafford and a group of Nova Scotia miners opened the first drift mine of the North Western Coal & Navigation Company (NWC&NCo). Sir Alexander Galt created the company with the participation of English investors. The NWC&NCo. was capitalized at $250,000 and the biggest shareholder, publisher William Lethbridge, became its first president.
Once coal was being mined, the next problem was transporting it to the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) main line at Dunmore Junction, east of Medicine Hat. The railway wanted 3048.1 tonnes (3000 long tons) per month from the NWC&NCo. In 1883-1884 riverboats were tried as a means of hauling coal to market. The boats – Alberta, Baroness and Minnow – were plagued by low water and strong currents to the point that they were discarded in favour of construction of a narrow gauge railway. Sir Alexander Galt received government help to build the narrow gauge line from Lethbridge to Dunmore Junction, and it was officially opened by the Governor General on 24 September 1885.
Coal was lifted up to the narrow gauge railway from the drift mines by means of an inclined railway. However, shaft mines were soon started at prairie level. By 1900 about 150 men were employed and they mined about 304.8 tonnes (300 long tons) of coal daily. Coal production peaked during World War I, when 2000 miners in 10 large mines extracted 1,016,046.9 tonnes (1,000,000 long tons) of coal a year. The coal industry gradually declined after 1919 with the development of oil and natural gas resources. The last mine at Lethbridge, Galt No. 8, closed in 1957 and the entire industry collapsed when the mine at Shaugnessy closed in 1965.
The end of mining doesn’t mean that there isn’t any coal left in southern Alberta. All the mines in the region extracted only a fraction of the available coal. The seam still lies about 91.4 metres (300 feet) deep over an area of about 1040 square kilometres (400 square miles). Estimates are that about 812.8 million tonnes (800 million long tons) of coal is still there to be mined.
The Lethbridge region formed part of the homeland of the Blackfoot Confederacy, who resisted European penetration of their territory until the 1860s. The Blackfoot Confederacy comprised three nations: “Sik-si-kah” or Blackfoot, “Kai’nah” or Many Chiefs and now called the Bloods, and “Pi-ku’ni” or Scabby Robes and now called the Piegans. Collectively, they were known a “Sow-ki’tapi” or Prairie People. European fur traders along the North Saskatchewan River first came into contact with the Blackfoot, and applied their name to the entire Confederacy.
In 1869 the American Army outlawed trade in alcohol with Native people in Montana. American traders looked to Canada for new opportunities. John J. Healy and Alfred B. Hamilton took advantage of the newly created North West Territories, and in December 1869 finished Fort Hamilton near the junction of the St. Mary and Belly (now Oldman) Rivers. Native people burned the fort, but Hamilton and Healy rebuilt it and renamed it Fort Whoop-Up. The fort was one of a series of posts established on the southern prairies. The chief trade article of these posts was ‘whiskey’, usually made of pure alcohol adulterated with ingredients such as river water, chewing tobacco and lye. The whiskey trade did great harm to Native people and their culture, which flourished for 10,000 years before the arrival of the whiskey traders.
The excesses of the whiskey trade peaked with the 1873 massacre of Assiniboine Indians by Americans in the Cypress Hills. The Canadian government resolved to stop the trade. Prime Minister Sir John A, Macdonald formed the North West Mounted Police in 1874, and sent them west to establish order. The NWMP arrived at Fort Whoop-Up on 9 October 1874, and soon after ended the whiskey trade.
In September 1877 the Blackfoot Confederacy signed Treaty No. 7b and 129.5 thousand square kilometres (50 fifty thousand square miles) of Blackfoot territory passed to the Dominion of Canada. In 1883 the Blood people chose the region between the St. Mary and Belly (now Oldman) Rivers as their reserve.
Funeral Homes and Crematoriums
Affordable Cremation Services
PO Box 964 Stn Main
Lethbridge, Alberta T1J 4A2
Christensen Salmon Funeral Home & Crematorium
327 – 10th Street South
Lethbridge, Alberta T1J 2M7
Cornerstone Funeral Home & Crematorium
2825 – 32nd Street South
Lethbridge, Alberta T1K 7B1
Martin Brothers Funeral Chapels Ltd. and Cremation Services
610 - 4th Street South
Lethbridge, Alberta T1J 4P3
Southern Alberta Generations Funeral Home Ltd. & Cremation Services
703 – 13th Street North
Lethbridge, Alberta T1H 2T2
Lethbridge Alberta Family History Centre
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
1912 - 10th Avenue South (south door basement)
Sitting on a hillside, the University of Lethbridge is an unique building that appears to emerge out of the coulee hills. Architect Arthur Erickson designed University Hall which has received international acclaim for its architectural originality and functional design. The University Hall opened in 1971.
Lethbridge Community College opened in 1957 as the first public community college in Canada. On 14 February 2007, the college's executive council voted to change the name of the college to Lethbridge College. Lethbridge College offers preparatory studies, vocational training, and university transfer programs in 50 career fields, leading to one-year certificates, two-year diplomas, apprenticeships, and bachelor's degrees. Lethbridge College provides applied bachelor's degrees while other bachelor's degrees are available in collaboration with the University of Alberta, Athabasca University, University of Calgary, and University of Lethbridge.
Red Crow Community College was founded in 1986 under the direction of the Blood Tribe Chief and Council Education Committee as an adult education center, being the first to educate students for post secondary level. In March 1995, Red Crow Community College became the first Tribal College in Canada. RCCC has evolved into a complete post-secondary institution, offering Diploma, Degree and Masters programs in partnership with Mount Royal, Lethbridge Community College, SAIT, The University of Lethbridge, and the University of Calgary. Adult upgrading, continuing, and community education remain a critical focus of the curriculum.
Reeves College, Lethbridge Campus offers vocational training licensed under the Private Vocational Schools Act. It was established in 1961 by Mr. C. J. Reeves, a professional secretary and instructor. Reeves provides diploma courses in business, education and healthcare.
The first hospital in Lethbridge was the Galt Hospital, opened in 1891 by the family of Alexander Galt. The building now houses the Sir Alexander Galt Museum and Archives. The Sisters of St. Martha opened the St. Michael's Hospital at 13th Street & 9th Avenue South in 1929. In 1955, the city built a Municipal Hospital nearby. Both hospitals received several expansions up until 1960. At that time the Alberta Department of Health discovered both needed substantial structural upgrades. The decision was made to rebuild the municipal hospital and redesign St. Michael's as a long-term facility. The Lethbridge Regional Hospital opened 24 June 1988 at the cost of $118 million. The hospital was renamed the Chinook Regional Hospital in 2006. CRH is the main hospital in southern Alberta servicing a population of over 150,000.
Lethbridge Public Library
810 - 5 Avenue S.
Lethbridge : a centennial history; Alex Johnston and Andy A. den Otter; advisory editor, Hugh A. Dempsey; Whoop-Up Country Chapter, Historical Society of Alberta; (Lethbridge, Alberta, c1985) FHL US/CAN book 971.234/L1 H2
Lethbridge at war : the military history of Lethbridge from 1900 to 1996; Christopher R. Kilford; (Battery Books & Pub., c1996); FHL US/CAN book 971.234/L1 M2
Pioneer Pemmican Club roundup, 1885-1985; Pemmican Historical Society (Lethbridge, Alberta, 1984); FHL US/CAN book 971.234/L1 C4
T'he Bend : a history of West Lethbridge; West Lethbridge History Book Society (Lethbridge, Alberta, 1982); FHL US/CAN book 971.234/L1 H2 or FHL US/CAN film 1698291 Item 11; indexed online at Alberta Digital Archives
World War I
About 2,600 men signed up for military service in World War I; 261 died. Lethbridge had the highest percentage enlistment of any community in Canada. Attestation Papers can be found online at Library and Archives Canada.
World War II
World War II saw 1,750 enlist in the armed forces. 122 never returned (see Second World War Service Files: Canadian Armed Forces War Dead online at Library and Archives Canada). The city’s airport, Kenyon Field, was transformed into stations of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan: No 5 Elementary Flying Training School (1940-1941) and No. 8 Bombing & Gunnery School (1941-1944).
Prisoners of War
German prisoners of war were interned at Camp 133 in north Lethbridge from 1942 to 1946. The 12,500 POWs nearly equaled the population of the city at the time. Details and pictures can be found in Prairie prisoners : POWs in Lethbridge during two world conflicts; Georgia Green Fooks; Lethbridge Historical Society (Lethbridge, Alberta, 2002 (2003 printing)); FHL US/CAN book 971.234/L1 M2
When the community was founded in October 1882, it was called “The Coal Banks” or “Coalbanks” after the original Blackfoot name. The Post Office assigned the name Coalhurst, however, the settlement’s residents who were already calling the place Lethbridge after NWC&NCo. President William Lethbridge. The Post Office resisted, as there was already a town in Ontario called Lethbridge. In the end, the citizens prevailed and the community was officially renamed Lethbridge on 15 October 1885.
In 1890 the NWT legislature passed Ordinance No. 24 that provided for the incorporation of Lethbridge as a town. Lieutenant Governor Joseph Royal signed the proclamation on 15 January 1891. The town’s first Mayor, by acclamation, was Charles Alexander Magrath.
City status for Lethbridge came with an Act of the Legislature of Alberta on 9 May 1906. Mayor George Rogers presided over the first meeting of Lethbridge City Council on 26 May 1906.
Sir Alexander Galt Museum & Archives
Museum Location: 502 - 1st Street South [west end of 5th Avenue South & Scenic Drive]
Mailing Address: 910 - 4th Avenue South, Lethbridge, Alberta T1J 0P6
Recorded Information:  320-GALT 
Automated Switchboard:  320-3898
Toll Free: 1-866-320-3898
504 – 7th Street South
403-328-4411 or 1-800-552-8020
Lethbridge news and Macleod gazette, 1882-1900 : a subject and biographical index; compiled and edited by Barbara Marshalsay and Margaret Wheeler; MW Associates, Library and Information Services (Lethbridge, Alberta, c1981); FHL US/CAN book 971.234 B32
Lethbridge news, 1901-1906 and Lethbridge herald, 1905-1918 : a subject and biographical index; compiled under the direction of Margaret Wheeler, editor-in-chief, and Greg Ellis, city archivist; Archives of the Sir Alexander Galt Museum (Lethbridge, Alberta, c1987); FHL US/CAN book 971.234/L1 B32
Henderson Park is a 47 hectare (117 acre) blend of relaxed leisure and active recreation opportunities concentrated around a 24 hectare (60 acre) man-made lake. Walking trails border Henderson Lake, along with playgrounds, rest areas and picnic sites. Henderson Park has been a focus of civic pride for more than 85 years. Originally developed for the 7th International Dry-Farming Congress in 1912, it continues to be an attraction for special event celebrations. William Henderson, the Mayor of Lethbridge during the early preparations for the Farming Congress, was instrumental in initiating the concept of Henderson Lake and a surrounding park.
Indian Battle Park
The deeply carved river valley in the midst of Lethbridge has been developed into one of the largest urban park systems in North America at 1600 hectares (4000 acres) of protected land. The park is shielded from the surrounding urban environment by coulees extending 91.4 metres (300 feet) from prairie level to floodplain. Named Indian Battle Park, it commemorates the last battle between the Cree and the Blackfoot which was fought here in 1870. Natural and historical interpretation, open space recreation, picnicking, jogging and hiking are just some of the park activities. Indian Battle Park provides both an escape from the urban setting and a chance to experience the heritage of Lethbridge.
Marriage licenses issued at Lethbridge, Alberta, 1929-1938; Alberta. Bureau of Vital Statistics [compiled by David M. Howard]; (Cardston, Alberta, 1996?); FHL US/CAN book 971.234/L1 V29
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