Lethbridge: Coal City in the Wheat Country
Foot of incline railway showing miners, coal cars and buildings, AB, 1890
1890, 19th century
Silver salts on paper
17 x 20.8 cm
This artefact belongs to : © Sir Alexander Galt Museum and Archives
Keys to History
While he was organizing the North Western Coal & Navigation Company (NWC&NCo.), Alexander Galt also sent Captain Nicholas Bryant and William Stafford west in the spring of 1882 to explore five possible sites for a large coal-mining operation. The sites had been identified by geologist Dr. George M. Dawson in 1881, and after inspecting all five locations, Bryant and Stafford recommended a spot in the valley of the Belly River across from Sheran's mine. On October 13, 1882, work was started on the first drift mine by a party of Nova Scotia coal miners under the direction of William Stafford. In just a few years, coal mining had grown from the American trader and adventurer Nicholas Sheran's sideline to a full-fledged industrial enterprise. A small community soon sprang up at the mine site. Known first as The Coal Banks, the name was changed to Coalbanks and then to Lethbridge on October 15,1885.
The incline railway was powered by a stationary steam engine at the top of the coulee, with endless-rope haulage. Miners were forbidden from riding the cars of the incline railway back up to prairie level at the end of their shift, but the rule was largely ignored.
This photograph of the foot of the incline railway shows loaded coal cars, miners, horses and some of the buildings in the river valley at what became Lethbridge.
Until the incline railway shut down on May 15,1893, it was the most prominent link between the "old" Lethbridge of the river valley and the "new" Lethbridge of the prairies.
The Galts were never afraid to spend time and money on the latest equipment and techniques. The incline railway, for instance, was one of the technical innovations they implemented for coal mining at Lethbridge.