Appointed Canada's first high commissioner to Britain in
1880, Sir Alexander Tilloch Galt was instructed by the Macdonald
government to make the development of the North-West Territories
his top priority. As it turned out, his own business interests
pointed him in the same direction.
His son Elliott Torrance Galt went to the Territories as an
assistant Indian commissioner in 1873 and noted the coal
deposits being worked by
Sheran on the Belly River at
the Coal Banks. A Cornish mining engineer, Captain Nicholas
Bryant, was sent out to check on the deposits. He was assisted
William Stafford, a mines superintendent from Westville, Nova
Scotia. Reports were favourable and, with the help of London
business interests and federal land grants, Sir Alexander set up
the North Western Coal and Navigation Company, Limited.
An instant town sprang up around the mining operation. First
called Coalbanks, it was later christened Lethbridge after the
company's president, William Lethbridge.
Sir Alexander returned to Canada from London in 1883 to
devote the last ten years of his life to his western business
ventures. The North Western mining operation took off in 1885
when the company completed a railway line to the CPR's main line
at Dunmore, near Medicine Hat. The CPR took control of this line
in 1897 and extended it through the Crowsnest Pass.
Elliott Galt continued his father's work. In 1900 his
Canadian North-West Irrigation Company completed the first
large-scale irrigation project in Alberta. In 1903 he became
president of the Alberta Railway and Irrigation Company, which
lumped together the
Galt mining, railway and irrigation
interests. The flourishing business was sold to the CPR in 1912.
This article is extracted from Alex
Johnston, Keith G. Gladwyn and L. Gregory Ellis. Lethbridge:
Its Coal Industry (Lethbridge, Lethbridge: City of Lethbridge,
1989), Occasional Paper No. 20, The Lethbridge Historical
Society. The Heritage Community Foundation and the Year
of the Coal Miner Consortium (of which the City of Lethbridge is
the lead partner) would like to thank the authors for permission
to reprint this material.