19738150000 | The "Alberta" docked at Medicine Hat, AB, 1883
The "Alberta" docked at Medicine Hat, AB, 1883
1883, 19th century
Silver salts on paper
17.5 x 25 cm
This artefact belongs to : © Sir Alexander Galt Museum and Archives
Keys to History
When the North West Coal & Navigation Company (NWC&NCo.) mines opened in October 1882, Sir Alexander Galt was faced with the problem of how to move coal from Coalbanks to the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) main line at Dunmore Junction. In 1883 and 1884 three riverboats - the Alberta, the Baroness and the Minnow - and a fleet of barges moved coal from the mines to Medicine Hat. Unfortunately, the Belly River was completely unsuitable to riverboat navigation: shallow, with many sandbars and a current so strong that it took the boats five days of hard steaming to return from Medicine Hat. In 1883 the boats moved only 180 metric tons of coal along the river; in 1884 they managed to transport 2,729 metric tons. After two seasons, Galt realized that his riverboat gamble had failed. The only sure solution to the problem of moving coal to market was a railway.
This photograph shows the Alberta docked at Medicine Hat in 1883.
After the Alberta docked at Lethbridge on her last trip, she was beached and her engine and boilers removed and placed in the NWC&NCo.'s sawmill in the river valley. The boat's hull was used as a platform by swimmers until the floods of 1902 washed it away, and the bell was used to sound fire alarms and curfew in Lethbridge.
Over that two-year span, the Alberta made just eight round trips, loaded with 500 tons of coal each time. Sir Alexander Galt's experience with the riverboats in 1884 turned out to be the epitaph for river transportation. "In 1884 I waited at Medicine Hat for the water till after the twenty-fourth of May, and by the twenty-eighth of June our boats and barges were tied up for the season."
The Alberta was 30.5 m long and 6.1 m wide, with a gross weight of 150 tons. It was built by John Todd at Medicine Hat, and its engine was manufactured by Rees & Sons of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Launched at Medicine Hat on April 15,1884, the Alberta was taken out of service on June 24,1886.