Page 1 | 2
In 1885, the North Western Coal and Navigation Company
constructed a 109 mile long narrow gauge railroad to transport
Coalbanks to the CPR mainline at Dunmore, near
Medicine Hat. With the completion of the new line, the Company
had achieved a reliable means of transportation to ship its coal
to many new customers throughout western Canada and the United
States. A second narrow gauge line was built from Lethbridge to
the United States border to ship coal to the smelters of western
Montana. Ten years later, the Company built a narrow gauge track
from Stirling to Cardston to serve the Mormon settlers.
In May 1885, a modern townsite was laid out on the prairie.
The town was initially named Coalbanks, as an expansion of the
river valley community. However, its citizens preferred the name
Lethbridge, after William Lethbridge, first president of the
North Western Coal and Navigation Company. The Post Office in
Ottawa approved the name change to Lethbridge on 15 October
Trails No. 420Galt Mine at Lethbridge
Find out how the Galt family got its start in the coal mining industry and how Nicholas Sherron, one of Alberta's earliest miners, played a role!
Click here to listen!
The town quickly grew, and by the end of 1885, it had a
population of over 1,000 people. At this time, the town boasted
over 60 buildings, including six stores, five hotels, 19
saloons, four billiard rooms, two barber shops and a livery
stable. Lethbridge was the first industrial town in western
Canada. Like Coalbanks, it was initially a company town, owned
lock, stock and barrel by the Galt companies. Coalbanks soon
became known as "The Bottoms" and attracted a number of houses
of ill repute to service the single miners.
The Galt Company abandoned their river bottom drift mines in
1893, which implied a new interest of the Galt companies towards
large-scale exploration of the coal resources at Lethbridge.
Drift mines gave way to shaft mines as Galt Mine No. 3 began
production in 1892. Large investments in new machinery for No. 3
in 1897 and 1908 allowed the mine to reach its peak production
of 1,634 metric tonnes of coal a day. Galt Mine No. 6, opened at
Hardieville in November 1908, was also equipped with the latest
machinery. Coal production in No. 6 quickly reached 1,634 metric
tonnes per 8-hour shift.
The last coal mine at Lethbridge was
Galt Mine No. 8, opened
by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1936 to replace Galt Mine No.
6. As with Galt Mines Nos. 3 and 6, there was ongoing investment
in new equipment to make the mine as profitable as possible.
World War II made new machinery and parts hard to get, and the
technical problems were compounded by a shortage of miners. The
result was that only about 1,100 metric tonnes of coal per day
were produced. It was not until 1948, three years after World
War II, that production rose again. Despite the continual
purchase of new machinery, Galt Mine No. 8 was always hampered
by unstable geology and flooding from the Oldman River. No. 8
required more timbering than any other coal mine in Alberta, and
was notorious among miners as a 'wet' mine.
The Lethbridge coal field also supported other large-scale
mines throughout the region: Royal View (1904-1922),
(1910-1924), Shaughnessy (1927-1965), the Diamond Mine
(1905-1929) and Coalhurst (1908-1935) are just a few of those
that fuelled southern Alberta's economy for almost 100 years. In
all, 196 coal mines were registered with the provincial Mines
Branch over the years in the Lethbridge coal field, and
countless more 'pot-hole' operations were carried on without
official approval or notice.
When the Standard Mine at Shaughnessy was declared abandoned
on 4 February 1965, one of the most important and complex
chapters in the history of Lethbridge and southern Alberta came
to a close.