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Stirling and Magrath, Alberta

Charles A. Magrath of Lethbridge, Alberta,1890. The towns of Magrath and Stirling are unique in their settlement history. Unlike Cardston, which Mormon pioneers founded in the hope of enjoying religious freedom, Stirling and Magrath were built with the encouragement of industry. On September 29, 1897, the First Presidency of the Mormon Church met with Charles A. Magrath and his delegation from the Alberta Irrigation Company. The Mormons, it seems, had not only built a successful colony in Alberta, but a reputation as well. The company hoped to settle a contract for colonization on an irrigation lease.

The terms of the contract stated that a fifty-mile canal be built from Kimball to the Stirling railroad station. In exchange, workers would receive wages that would support them until they were able to settle on one of two equal blocks of land - at least 250 people per block - which would be named after Magrath and J.A. Stirling, managing director of a London Securities corporation. Work on the canal was to begin no later than 1 September, 1898, and be completed by the end of 1899. Charles Card met with his brethren, and, on April 14, 1898, the agreement was officially bound.

A private car on siding to right of photograph in Stirling, Alberta on June 14, 1898. Card, as supervisor of the canal's construction, organized a persuasive advertising campaign for workers. Pamphlets and newspaper articles with titles like "Plenty of Room For Homesteaders Where Industry Thrives" and "Good Places to Make Comfortable Homes" emphasized the benefits of farming in Alberta, a place whose wide-open spaces and fertile soil rewarded honest labour. Envoys were sent to Utah to further encourage settlement in the north. On May 5, 1899, the first settlers arrived at the Stirling station, and by October 11, 1899, the Lethbridge News reported that things were certainly going well:

Only a few months ago there was nothing on that site but the railroad section house. Now some seventeen new residences have been erected, and at least fifteen more are to be completed by December 1st... Just at present every available man is working on the canal, there being as many as 100 teams at work on our division, it is expected the contract will be completed by December 1, 1899.

Irrigation canal and cowboy near Stirling, Alberta in 1900. In fact, the canal was officially opened on November 14, 1899, by the Dominion Minister of the Interior, Clifford Sifton. By that time, the two plots, each one square mile in area, had been surveyed and divided into ten-acre lots, which was then further divided into four two-and-a-half acre blocks for each family. In 1900, the population of Magrath was 424, and Stirling had a population of 349 souls. By 1902, Charles A. Card announced that the colonies were stable and independent, and the Mormon church granted all lands to the Alberta Mormon authorities.

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            For more on the history of settlement in Alberta, visit Peel’s Prairie Provinces.