Southern Alberta owes its coal history to its illustrious geological history. In its history are millions of years of being covered in oceans where ancient terrestrial life died and was partly preserved beneath marine clay. These eventually accumulated and under pressure and formed coal in this region. The discovery of coal in this region was timely, the area began to grow and coal was needed to heat homes, in Eastern Canada coal was demanded for industry, and coal was even exported from this region into Montana for construction of railroads. It was no wonder, at that time, coal was referred to as "black gold". The Coal in the Lethbridge region medium-carbon, high-volatile "c" bituminous coal, ranging in seam thickness from 1.2 to 1.8 meters, was found in the bear paw shale, along the Oldman River. This coal was considered to be high quality coal at the time.
(One of Nicholas Sheran's
old boats, often used to ship coal)
|In this region, coal was discovered by the entrepreneur Nicholas Sheran, who came to this region slightly after the American civil war. He came as whiskey trader and traveled throughout the northwest of United States, and southwest of Canada trading whiskey with local natives. In 1874, when Sheran established this areas first ferrying service along the Oldman River (then called the Belly river) he noticed that there were large seams of coal exposed on the bank. The natives called this "sik-ooh-kotoks" or black rocks. When Sheran realized this coal was "c-bitiminous" highly volatile medium carbon coal, he began to mine the banks of the river himself, and initially sold the coal to locals. When the RCMP began to establish posts in this region, Sheran was quickly sold them cheap coal as a source of fuel. Sheran, mostly mined the coal out of the sides of the river banks by himself, but he was able to sell coal as far away as Benton Montana. In 1882, Sheran drowned mining coal at Kipp's crossing. But his work began to spark interest in coal mining in this region, he was truly the pioneer of coal mining in southern Alberta.|
Picture of Elliot Galt, with cousin and sister.
(Canada's digital collection, 2000)
| The first large scale mines in the Lethbridge, and southern
Alberta region was established by Galt along the banks of the Oldman River.
Curious about Sherans small mines, Galt took a ferry trip on one of Sheran's
boats, and noticed that the banks of the Oldman River had seams of coal
running through them in many places. In 1879, Galt took samples of the
coal and tested them. He found the coal to be of superior grade, and highly
valuable. Unfortunately the area lacked the available infrastructure to
start any worth while operations. At least until 1880's, when the Galts
brought rail to Lethbridge, and the boom town was born, almost over night.
Young Elliot Galt sought out the help of his father Alexander Galt, to
help establish a large scale mine. Together the Galt family hired William
Stafford a superintendent of a mine in Nova Scotia, and Nicholas Bryant
to help establish the best location for a mine in the Lethbridge region.
The trio decided upon the coal banks region, now in West Lethbridge,
as the site for their lucrative mine. In 1882 William Stafford was hired
by Sir Alexander Galt to become the first manager and superintendent of
the North West Coal and Navigation Company Limited's mines. It was
Stafford who decided to open up drift mines (Drift Mine No. 1) on the west
side of the Oldman River.
By 1882, Sir Alexander T. Galt was able to gather a small but powerful group of investors to form the North Western Coal and Navigation Company (NWC&NCo.). For thirty years, until they sold out to the CPR in 1912, the Galts were powerful, and rich coal miners in the region of Southern Alberta.
The initial group of financial supporters gathered by Sir Alexander Galt for the N.W.C.&N.Co. was made up of some powerful men. The group included the wealthy William H. Smith, owner of the well-known news agency and book-selling firm W.H. Smith & Sons. Another member was William Ashmead Bartlett Burdett-Coutts, a wealthy American married to Baroness Angela Burdett-Coutts (the richest heiress in England) . William Lethbridge, another high profile member, became the company's first president. These three men, the Galts, and other investors from Canada and Great Britain became the basis of a company that would make Lethbridge a major settlement in Southern Alberta. (http://collections.ic.gc.ca, 2000)
One of the first problems for the company to get over, was that of shipping the coal. Initially steamers were used to run coal up and down the Oldman River, but this proved to be an impossible task, as it wasn't all too uncommon for the ships to "bottom out" and get stuck in the river. The coal was shipped via steamers to get it to the CPR at Medicine Hat. In 1884, the North West Coal Company applied for government grant to build a small railway to Medicine Hat. The government was eager to get people into the area, and have it developed, so this was granted. Also the government sold the company 4050 hectares of coal lands for $25 per acre. The railway was called the "Turkey Trail." The small railway was built to include markets in the United States, including Great Falls.
The Galts were actively recruiting experienced miners
from Nova Scotia and all over the country. They also went about Canada
(and the US to smaller extent) selling their high quality coal. Most
of the coal produced in the Lethbridge area was used all around Western
Canada for heating, electric power generation, and railway use. With a
large work force, and a valuable resource, more long term settlement
would be required. The mining camp boomed, and the company surveyed a new
town site above the river valley. Sixty buildings were completed in just
a few months. The new community was officially named Lethbridge (after
William Lethbridge, the first president of the N.W.C.&N.Co.) on October
15, 1885 and was incorporated as a town five years later on December 29,