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Irrigation in Southern Alberta

Water Works Wonders
A History of the White, Wilson, McMahon,
River Junction School Districts Pages 20 - 22

An excerpt from a four page supplement of the October 6, 1900
issue of the Manitoba Free Press, which contained several pictures
and maps. The article itself examined the recently-completed
irrigation enterprise of the Galts, and began in the usual flowery
fashion of the day:

From Winnipeg to Lethbridge is seven hundred miles as the crow flies. And the line of the crow's flight would go straight west over Manitoba, over Assiniboia and on into Alberta a line as straight as if drawn across the map with a parallel ruler, fifty miles north, all the way, of the forty-ninth line of latitude, along which are set the boundary posts between Canada and the United States. In sight of Lethbridge, this westward-winging crow, posed like a black sea gull above ocean-like expanse of prairie, would spy afar in the west the smoke sent up over that town by the Galt collieries, like the smoke of an ocean liner coming up over the sea rim. Farther on, faint along the horizon, would appear misty shapes, becoming more distinct and yet more fairylike all the time, in their sapphire tints, capped with glistening white--the far-off Rocky Mountains with their snow-crowned summits.

Like attracts like, and so we may suppose that our far-voyaging crow would alight at Lethbridge, to view the heavy black smoke pouring out from the tall chimneys clustered where the Galt coal is mined. Continuing his journey, still straight westward, he would follow the line of the Crow's Nest railway and after a flight from Lethbridge of some four score miles, would find himself among the Rocky Mountains, in the Crow's Nest Pass--a most appropriate place to leave him.

The extensive irrigation enterprise we are about to go over is the work of a company which is one of several branches of the corporate tree whose trunk is the Alberta Railway and Coal Company. That all these enterprises have been undertaken and carried to success is due to the energy of Mr. E. T. Galt, his capacity to foresee great developments and his ability to handle large undertakings. It was he that first conceived the project of mining for the coal which he saw cropping out in the steep river bank below where the town of Lethbridge now stands and who interested his father, the late Sir Alexander Tilloch Galt, in the project.

Following upon the inception of the coal-mining enterprise came the building of the railway from Lethbridge to Great Falls in Montana, and the formation of the other subsidiary companies growing out of the parent concern, of which the latest is the Canadian Northwest Irrigation Company. Of each of these companies Mr. Galt is president, among the British capitalists associated with him in these various enterprises being Mr. Lethbridge, from whom the town is named, the partner of the late W. H. Smith, first Lord of the Admiralty and government leader of the House of Commons, who was also interested in Mr. Galt's enterprises, Mr. Wm. Burdett-Coutts, M.P., who is chairman of the board of the Canadian Northwest Irrigation Company, Lord Iveagh, Baring brothers, and the United States Debenture Corporation, a London syndicate, which has heavy investments on this continent. Mr. Galt is controlling head of the enterprises centred in Lethbridge, in which a total capital of nine million is invested.

The monthly payroll of the Alberta Railway and Coal Company is about $30,000. It has extensive machine shops, capable of turning out a locomotive. This completeness of equipment being made necessary by the distance of Lethbridge from cities where machine shops are situated which have the plant needed for any and all repairs and machinery. The population of Lethbridge is already 2,000, with every certainty of a steady increase being maintained. The town, which is admirably laid out, with its principal streets surrounding a large public square, has in addition to its array of first class stores and shops, branches of the Bank of Montreal, and the Union Bank of Canada, Board of Trade, a Dominion Land Office, Mounted Police barracks, public and Roman Catholic schools, Presbyterian, Methodist, Church of England and Roman Catholic churches, a public library and reading room, good hotels, excellent telephone service, an efficient fire brigade, and not to make the enumeration tiresome beyond measure, everything that could be looked for in a town which makes an instant and abiding impression upon the visitor of growing progressiveness and prosperity. Its streets are lighted by electric light, which is also used in the mines and in the business places and very generally in the residences of the town, which is largely brick-built, brick of excellent quality being among the productions of the place. Among the noteworthy public institutions of Lethbridge, mention should be made in passing of the Galt Hospital, which was established by Sir. A.T. Galt at a cost of $20,000 and has since been enlarged. It is aided by municipal and territorial grants, and its completeness of equipment and its excellent management make it worthy of being classed as a thoroughly modern hospital inferior only in size to those in the leading centres of the country. It is an institution in which Lethbridge and Southern Alberta has reason to take great satisfaction and pride.

The town waterworks pump the water from the river up the three hundred feet of the steep bank, to the level of the town, for distribution. The buffalo sought out suitable places in the banks to make paths down to the water, and crossing the plains in all directions are their still plainly marked trails, many of them worn into regular trenches, showing the routes along which they trotted in regular procession to drink in the river. Today in trenches made along sides of the streets in Lethbridge clear water runs rippling to the river after many miles of its meanderings across the plains in the main canal constructed by the Canadian Northwest Irrigation Company, and in the Lethbridge lateral canal, which crosses the plains bringing water, just as the buffalo of old used to cross them in quest of water, will give the town a new appearance, which will be but one of the many improvements which will follow upon the introduction of the irrigation system into Lethbridge itself.

It was on Tuesday, September 4 last, that the water was first turned into the trenches along the streets of the town. There was rejoicing among the citizens, and the small boys of Lethbridge found the flowing water a source of much delight, little water-wheels being set going, and sundry fish that had injudiciously come in from the main canal to see the town being caught, a specially large one, of the "sucker" species, falling prey to the prowess of a youngster armed with a potato bag, with which he whipped the fish out of the runlet in front of the residence of Dr. Mewburn, the mayor of Lethbridge. Dr. Mewbum deserves mention for being the first person in Lethbridge to plant trees on the lawn about his house and on the boulevard in front and to lay pipes about his property from the irrigation trench running down the street on which he lives.

There was no formal celebration of the entrance of the water from the Irrigation Canal into the town. Neither was there any formality to mark the completion of the Canal system and the turning on of the water at the intake head-gates down south near the Montana border. As the Governor-General and Lady Minto were at that time on their way homeward from the coast on their return from their tour of western Canada which had taken them as far as Dawson City, they were invited by Mr. Galt to spend a day in seeing something of the Irrigation Canal... Accordingly, on September 14, the vice-regal party... were taken over as much of the work as could be viewed in one day ... Two of the highest dignitaries of the Mormon Church, Presidents George Q.Cannon and Joseph F. Smith had been invited from Salt Lake City to meet the Governor General and Countess Minto. President Cannon, accompanied by his daughter, and President Smith, whose wife and two sons were with him, had come up several days previously from Great Falls, in a special train, with Mr. Galt, Mr. C.A. Magrath, manager of the Canadian Northwest Irrigation Company, and Mr. P. L. Naismith, manager of the Alberta Railway and Coal Company, ex-Judge Thomas Brady, of Great Falls, the attorney for that company across the line, and Hon. Timothy Collins, state treasurer of Montana, joining the party.

Lord and Lady Minto desired greatly to see Magrath and Stirling, the two new prairie towns established by the Mormons within the past twelve months... For the construction of the Irrigation Canal, the Mormon settlers furnished the labour, taking half their wages in land, and the friendly cooperation of the heads of the church, from the beginning of this vast undertaking, has had a very great deal to do with making it possible to carry the work through to its successful completion ... The vice-regal party were taken out to Stirling on a special train ... The head of the town of Stirling, Bishop Theodore Brandley, bustled about affably, making the visitors welcome, and conducting them to the meeting house, used also for the present as a public school, which was filled to the doors with an expectant assemblage of the townspeople, the men altogether on one side of the aisle down the centre, the women altogether on the other side ...

The next morning found the Free Press representative setting forth again from Lethbridge across the prairie toward Magrath, this time behind a team driven by George G. Anderson, of Denver, the engineer who located the Irrigation Canal, after having had complete surveys of the country for that purpose made during the summer of 1898, and who has had charge of the work of construction ... The first day out luncheon was had at a ranch near Magrath, where the engineering staff engaged in laying out the new railway which is to connect Stirling with Cardston were of the party. The construction of this road is being pushed forward rapidly, the track having been laid some eight miles out of Stirling at that time, and the expectation being that trains would be running by the middle of November to Spring Coulee ...

The section of the canal from St. Mary's River to the headwaters of Spring Coulee is termed the first division. It is ten and a half miles long ... The second division of the Canal is that diverting the water from the bed of Spring Coulee to the headwaters of the Pot Hole ... The third division of the Canal is that portion diverting the water from the bed of the the Pot Hole Coulee to the level of the plains between it and Stirling. It is only five and three quarter miles long ... The fourth division extending from the cast bank of Pot Hole Coulee to near Stirling, is a fair sample of prairie canal, without any special features to note ... The fifth division is what has been styled the Lethbridge branch ... The branch canal which has been built westward from Magrath renders irrigable some 35,000 acres not served by the Lethbridge lateral ...

This great Irrigation Canal enterprise, it should be said, was mooted for several years before the changed conditions in the west permitted its being, undertaken.

The Alberta Railway and Coal Company had carefully considered a number of irrigation projects for the purpose of making available for settlement their lands situated between Lethbridge and Cardston, but capital could not be secured for the carrying out of any such undertaking owing to the lack of a convenient market for the products of the district. The construction of the Crow's Nest Railway made Lethbridge the gateway and distributing point to the rapidly developing mountain mining regions of the East and West Kootenay, in British Columbia, including the towns of Fernie, Cranbrook, Fort Steele, Aisworth, Slocan City, New Denver, Sandon, Kaslo, Trail, Nelson and Rossland, An idea of the rapidity of the development of the mining interests of those districts may be gathered from the fact that Rossland, a town of about five years existence, has a population of over 8,000. The beginning of this new order of things and the wide prospects it opened made it possible for the Canadian Northwest Irrigation Company to be formed, which purchased the lands to be irrigated and proceeded with the work of constructing the Canal. The Free Press representative enquired of Mr. Magrath, the manager and Land Commissioner for the Irrigation Company, the terms on which the irrigated lands are to be disposed of, and learned that the price had been placed at $8 and $ 10 an acre, on easy terms of payment extending over ten years. "In addition to the purchase price of the land," continued Mr. Magrath, "the owner or occupier will pay an annual water rate of a dollar per acre. As an acre of irrigated land produces at least twice as much as an acre depending entirely upon rainfall, this charge of a dollar per acre for what might be termed 'crop insurance', is a profitable investment for the farmer and necessary to the Irrigation Company for the proper care and maintenance of the extensive system which has been constructed ... The low freight rates guaranteed on the Crow's Nest railway by special provision made by the Dominion government in the charter for that line, are a most important factor in the situation, as regards the large and constantly increasing market assured in the East and West Kootenay regions for the products of Southern Alberta. The local market at Lethbridge is also of growing importance ...

From the City of Lethbridge Archives.

Irrigation in the Lethbridge Area by Dot Weatherup

Mr. Ben Whitney, under contract with the Alberta Railway & Irrigation Company, built the canal from a point in the rolling hills North West of Raymond to Lethbridge, in the summer of 1900.

The water was turned into the ditch the following spring, and the Fairfield Bros. were engaged by the above company to demonstrate the advantages of irrigation in Southern Alberta, which they did quite satisfactorily. In fact they were the first to introduce the growing of alfalfa in western Canada. I might add that the Fairfield farm, situated on the out-skirts of Lethbridge, is still producing abundantly.

Mr. David J. Whitney commenced his operations on prairie land adjoining the Fairfield place the same year, 1901. He specialized in the growing of various kinds of trees including small fruit, strawberries, etc. With it's shady trees, spacious lawns, was the showplace of the South where many important conventions took place. Incidentally, it was on this farm that bee culture was first introduced in western Canada, in the year 1903.

Among the other original farmers located on the ditch were as follows: Messrs. Gwatkin, Parry, Tiffins, Brodie, Rev. White, Keffer, McAdoo & Van Horne, Chas. James and Angel Evans.

These were the Pioneers of irrigation in the Lethbridge district, all gone to the happy hunting ground, and the people of today owe so much to so few, for it was they who helped in such large measure to put Lethbridge on the map as the "Irrigation Capital of Canada.

Irrigation From notes by Bob Harvey

The first known irrigation system of the Western World was inaugurated in the Salt Lake Valley in the year 1847, when the Mormon pioneers, driven West, settled in that valley and started to plough furrows off from what is now known as City Creek to irrigate the arid lands there about.

Forty years later a small group of these Latter Day Saints (Mormon) people migrated north to Canada and settled at what is now known as Cardston and district. Then, almost at once, they started work on their irrigation schemes. Preliminary work started in the summer of 1898 and by that December was in full swing. A large part of the contract was awarded to the Church for completion by the Canadian North West Irrigation Company, later known as the Alberta Railway and Irrigation Company.

Earlier, about 1894, Sir Alexander Galt and his son foresaw that if Southern Alberta was ever to attract many settlers, they would have to be encouraged some way and to irrigate seemed the logical solution. C. A. Magrath was able to get the support of Sir Clifford Sifton at Ottawa and moneys were forthcoming for survey and work.

At this time arrangements were made with the Mormon Church to send settlers from Salt Lake who knew how to build and handle irrigation projects.

The Mormon Church took the large contract for half pay in land along the right of way, which it later sold to the new settlers, and the balance in cash.

M.D. Hammond was the overall foreman for this project. Others sent by the church to help out were William Russell, then of Stirling and Theodore Brandley-Stirling.

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Mary Tollestrup