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When Coal Was King
Industry, People and Challenges
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Galt Companies

Sir Alexander GaltSir Alexander Tilloch Galt and Elliott Torrance Galt built 355 miles (571 km) of narrow gauge railway and 150 miles (241 km) of irrigation canals throughout southern Alberta and developed coal mines with a daily capacity of 2,000 tons (1815 tonnes). In all, the Galts formed eight companies in connection with their southern Alberta enterprises. It would have been easy to secure legislation to extend the life of any of them but shareholders would not take on additional responsibilities.

The companies were: North Western Coal & Navigation Company, Limited, formed in 1882, absorbed by the Alberta Railway & Coal Company in 1889; Alberta Railway & Coal Company, formed in 1884, absorbed by the Alberta Railway & Irrigation Company in 1904; Lethbridge Land Company Limited, formed in 1888, absorbed by the AR&ICo in 1904; AlbertaFather of Confederation Sir Alexander Galt and his son Elliott T. Galt were involved in the building of Lethbridge, which was developed as an industrial centre to rival Pittsburgh in the US.  The Galts were instrumental in building narrow-gauge railways to carry coal not only locally but also in Montana (the Great Falls and Canada Railroad) as well as the mines that fuelled them.  Tracks went right to the mine sites and Galt No. 3, which opened in 1890 and produced until 1924, is pictured.  Irrigation (company, formed 1893 reorganized as the Canadian North-West Irrigation Company in 1899, absorbed by the AR&ICo in 1904; Great Falls and Canada Railway Company, formed in 1889 to build the Sweetgrass-Great Falls portion of a narrow gauge railway, sold to J. J. Hill of the Great Northern Railway in 1901; St. Mary's River Railway Company, formed in 1898, absorbed by the AR&ICo in 1904; and the Alberta Railway & Irrigation Company, formed by amalgamation of all previous Galt companies on I October 1904. It was known for a time as "The Group" but became best known by its initials. "The AR&I."

The AR&I company was purchased outright, partly by conveyance and partly by 999-year lease by the Canadian Pacific Railway on 1 January 1912. (The CPR retained the corporate name, Alberta Railway & Irrigation Company, which is still listed on land titles as owning mineral rights to a large area of southern Alberta.)

Elliott GaltThe Montana and Canadian Railway Company was mentioned frequently around 1888 when a line from Lethbridge to Fort Benton was proposed. The company was never incorporated. [According to a 12 December 1888 Lethbridge News report, Elliott Galt had raised money in England to transform the Dunmore narrow gauge road to a broad or standard gauge road and, at the same time, to extend the railway to Fort Benton, Montana, to connect with the Northern Pacific, which had reached Benton in 1887. This was the source of the rumors about the establishing of a new company. The railway to Benton was never built although a narrow gauge line was extended to Great Falls in 1890. It was all part of an effort to open new markets for Lethbridge coal.]

The Montana section of the 1890 narrow gauge had cost the Galts about $2.0 million to build. It was purchased by J. J. Hill for $750,000.Lethbridge Its Coal Industry

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.

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