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Southern Alberta Region

By 1884, the settlement at Fort Macleod had become the largest in Alberta. The second largest town, Calgary, was well on its way to becoming a major centre as well, due almost exclusively to the push of the C.P.R. westward. Increasingly, railway movement began to give impetus to industries other than ranching. One such industry was coal mining and many of the earliest mines and mine towns still bear the names of those who founded them. The city of Lethbridge (page 70) was named for William Lethbridge (1824-1901), first President of the North Western Coal and Navigation Company, Limited, which was formed in 1882 to mine coal from the banks of the Oldman River to sell to the Canadian Pacific Railway. After the opening of the Sheran mine in 1872, the settlement there was locally called "The Coal Banks," but the name was changed to Lethbridge around 1882. There already was a Lethbridge in Ontario, and according to Post Office practice no two post offices anywhere in Canada were to have the same name. Postal authorities changed the town's name to "Coalhurst," to the irritation of town residents. Public pressure forced the Postmaster General to restore the name Lethbridge in 1885. Although the greatest volume of coal from Alberta came from the Crowsnest Pass at the foot of the Canadian Rockies, the success of coal mining in the Lethbridge area was considerable. Before 1920, 42 shafts were opened in the Lethbridge area and many of the place names around Lethbridge reflect this involvement. For example, the locality of Hardieville (page 56) was established in 1910 and named for W.D.L. Hardie, Superintendent of the Gait Coal Mine when it opened in 1909. Gait Island (page 49), located immediately west of Medicine Hat is named after the Gait family who provided the capital to develop the valuable coal resources of southern Alberta and branched out to river shipping and railroad building. Sir Alexander Tilloch Gait (1817-1893) served as Canada's first high commissioner to Great Britain from 1880 to 1883 and organized the North Western Coal and Navigation Company, Limited with British capital, to develop and market the coal of this area. Along with his son, Elliott Torrance Gait, he developed coal mines in Alberta with a daily capacity of over 2,000 tonnes. Other pioneer businessmen also left their names on southern Alberta's settlements. The town of Magrath (page 75) was named in 1899 for Charles A. Magrath (1860-1949), who was a Dominion Topographical Surveyor and later became one of the managers of the locally prominent Alberta Railway and Irrigation Company from 1885 to 1906.

While many of the geographical names reflect the names of the various people involved in mining ventures, others are more original. The hamlet of Diamond City (page 37) was named for the mine located in the area and was descriptive of the vast quantities of coal located in the mine. The town of Black Diamond (page 12) likewise received its name from the fanciful nickname for coal in these areas. And many of the most interesting geographical features, the long rugged coulees, also reflect names indicative of mining activity. Coal Coulee (page 28), located 58 kilometres south of Calgary and Miner's Coulee (page 83), located 120 kilometres south south-west of Medicine Hat both received names that reflect the early coal extraction industries of southern Alberta.

Attempting to flee the repressive anti-polygamy laws in the United States, a group of Mormons migrated from Utah to Alberta in 1885. The small group of colonizers chose south-western Alberta because of the good land, accessible timber and coal, and most important, water for irrigation. Several geographical names owe their origins to the members of this church. The town of Cardston (page 23), located approximately 65 kilometres south south-west of Lethbridge, was named for Charles Ora Card (1839-1906), who came to the present site of the town in order to establish a new home for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons). A post office was established in 1892 and Cardston was incorporated as a town in 1901 with Charles Card as its first mayor. In 1901, Jesse Knight, a prominent Mormon southern Alberta rancher originally from Utah, contracted with the Alberta Railway and Irrigation Company for 10,522 hectares (26,000 acres) of land to grow sugar beet and to build Canada's first sugar factory. A townsite was selected, located 25 kilometres south of Lethbridge, and the majority of the land was donated by Knight. The gift carried the provision that no liquor outlet could ever be established in the town or the land would revert to the Knight family and its heirs. Knight named the town Raymond (page 101), after his eldest son, and mainly because of the sugar beet factory, the town attracted over 1,500 people within two years. Many companies became convinced that in irrigation lay the key to continuing economic success in the region since it would provide a means of settling the vast dryland.

Between 1891 and 1911 large-scale cattle and beef production was giving way to farming. While ranching was never totally abandoned, World War I and the increased accessibility of settlement due to the railways, caused many small-scale ranchers to abandon their holdings and many of the large-scale ranchers lost the sense of destiny they had felt for over thirty years. Wheat suddenly became Canada's great commodity and western lands attracted many thousands of farmers. Many communities in southern Alberta bear the names of those who helped establish them as important grain-growing districts. The village of Nobleford (page 87), located 22 kilometres north-west of Lethbridge was named in 1913 after Charles S. Noble (1873-1957), a farmer and organizer of this community, which was known as "Noble" until 1918. Noble originally homesteaded near Claresholm in 1902, but a few years later he bought 2,023 hectares (5,000 acres) near Lethbridge and began what was to become a huge farming operation. The Noble Foundation was established and by World War I, 14,164 hectares (35,000 acres) were under cultivation, making his the largest and highest-yielding farmland in the British Empire.

In 1928, a post office was established approximately 55 kilometres south-west of Medicine Hat and was given the name Granlea (page 52). The word is a combination of the words "grain" and "lea" and was suggested due to the rich agricultural value of the land which combined high grain production and valuable tracts of pasture lands or leas. The post office closed in 1962, although the name remains in the official record. The amount of wheat that emerged from southern Alberta during these boom years was phenomenal and many localities were named in honour of this agricultural bonanza. The village of Champion (page 25), located 65 kilometres north-west of Lethbridge was created when the Canadian Pacific Railway established a station in 1909 and a post office followed in 1910. By 1915, Champion became known as the "million bushel town" when over one million bushels of wheat were shipped from this community that year. Irrigation in southern Alberta had important economic and social effects and assisted many farmers with the dry conditions of Palliser's Triangle.

Of all the economic activities in which Albertans have engaged, perhaps the most famous is the oil and gas industry. And like the coal mining that preceded it, this energy industry has seen its share of boom-bust conditions that helped create the names that dot the landscape. The first oil well to actually produce oil was located in what has since become Waterton Lakes National Park, named after Charles Waterton (1782-1865), a famous English naturalist. The townsite that grew up around the Rocky Mountain Development Company's oil strike was appropriately named "Oil City." But when it was discovered that geological reports indicated that further drilling would be unsuccessful, the townsite was abandoned.5 Aside from the hamlet of Naphtha (page 86) which was named for the light gas taken from oil wells there, the vast majority of geographical names, both for features as well as localities, mainly commemorate the pioneer developers of the oil and gas industry. The Keystone Hills (page 66), located approximately 64 kilometres west north-west of Calgary were named after an American oil company that drilled in the area around the 1930s. Baymar Creek (page 7), located 58 kilometres west north-west of Calgary was also named for the oil well that was located near the mouth of the creek.

Prior to the establishment of official policies for geographical naming, features were often named for individuals or for companies or organizations that assisted in the development of industries in the various areas of the province. This practice has, however, been largely discontinued and geographical names are now chosen according to very stringent principles that govern the adoption of commemorative names.

With the development of official naming procedures came the opportunity to accumulate extensive records on existing and proposed or local names. What follows is the geographical names history of the southern Alberta prairies and badlands. The volumes in this series treat their respective study areas with a similar approach (see map on page xxiv), heralding the uniqueness of each territory. The intent of these maps is to provide a reference guide for the reader to accurately find locations using individual topographical map sheets as orientative tools. The brief summaries are intended to give readers information on the origin and significance of the place names of Alberta and to suggest the close connection between culture and heritage of the province and its citizens, and the geographical names that describe and define the landscape.


5.Palmer, Alberta: A New History, p. 162

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