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Alberta Online Encyclopedia
When Coal Was King
Industry, People and Challenges
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View of Lethbridge, Alberta. [ca. 1890]In 1885, the North Western Coal and Navigation Company constructed a 109 mile long narrow gauge railroad to transport coal from 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 1885.

Heritage Trails No. 420—Galt 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!

Several of these rickety cable footbridges characterized the Lethbridge district mines. This one provided access to the Federal Mine (Mine No. 54) in the 1920s and was used in conjunction with a "High Line," an overhead cable structure that connected the west side mine with a tipple (middle distance) on the east side of the river in present-day Indian Rattle Park. There was another cable footbridge across the Oldman River just north of the present No. 3 highway bridge. Still another provided access from the south side of the river around Royal View to Diamond City.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.

In September 1963, under the guidance of the late George Watson, the Lethbridge Historical Society and the Lethbridge Miners’ Library Inc. joined forces to place a permanent marker in the riverbottom to commemorate the start of the coal industry and to honor our coal pioneers. The Miners’ Cairn, unveiled by Nick Zubach and William Gibson, is shown.The Lethbridge coal field also supported other large-scale mines throughout the region: Royal View (1904-1922), Commerce (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.

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