Alex Johnston and Andy A. den Otter in their
Lethbridge: A Centennial History note that an
Irish-American settler Nicholas Sheran opened the first
commercial coal mine in the area of the Coal Banks, which is now
Lethbridge.1 The coal
seams were seen as outcroppings on riverbanks. In 1881, when
the Canadian Pacific Railway chose the southern plains as the
transcontinental route, the availability of coal became an
economic driver for the development of the region. Sir
Alexander Galt, a Montreal promoter and the father of Elliott T.
Galt, the local Assistant Indian Commissioner in southern
Alberta, hired Captain Nicholas Bryant to prospect for coal in
the same year. He confirmed the deposits noted by George M.
Dawson of the Geological Survey of Canada. In 1882, Sir
Alexander brought together investors to form the North Western
Coal and Navigation Company, Limited (NWC&NCo).2
These included prominent men from Britain and the US, such as
William Ashmead Bartlett Burdett-Coutts, William Lethbridge and
||Camillo Bridarolli: Oral
Mr. Bridarolli gives an idea of the Italian make-up of Lethbridge, and the
occupations that employed the majority of them.
Click here to listen!
The CPR tracks were 175 kilometres from the
Coal Banks works, so coal had to be transported by barges and
steamers. This did not prove economic, and a government subsidy
was sought and obtained, including railway and coal lands. The
prairie town of Lethbridge soon became an established community
with a range of social institutions, businesses and residences,
and incorporated in 1891. The first mayor was Charles Magrath
and he was a great booster for the region. Johnston and den
He fearlessly predicted that the abundant
supply of energy, combined with a future railway to the minerals
of the Crows Nest Pass, would attract smelting and reduction
industries to Lethbridge, while nearby sandstone, clay and water
would lure other factories as well. In short, the newly-elected
mayor was confident that because a progressive firm was
developing the regions great coal reserves, Lethbridge would
soon outstrip Winnipeg in size and become a leading industrial
Lethbridge prospered at the beginning of the
20th century and miners believed their wages were not keeping
pace with the economy. In February, 1906, the miners of the
Galt and Ashcroft collieries joined the United Mine Workers of
America. They drew up their demands, which were rejected, and,
on March 9th, 1906, they called a strike. While initially
peaceful, when the company hired 100 strikebreakers, the miners
attacked police who were protecting the strikebreakers.
Eventually, a mediator, W.L. Mackenzie King, was brought in to
find a settlement and the mines reopened in December.