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Roads and Highways

Water Works Wonders
A History of the White, Wilson, McMahon,
River Junction School Districts Pages 47 - 49
by Ernest Snowden

The first decade of the 20th century throbbed with optimism. The pioneer era was over. Canada had a transcontinental railway. The land had been surveyed, creating a system of roads a mile apart running north and south and two miles apart running east and west. Homesteaders were expanding the area of settlement. Most of the newcomers overlooked the value of the services, institutions, and public works which they had enjoyed, and had failed to realize that as yet, there were none of those in the homestead area. Over the coming years they were to find themselves providing many of these: churches, schools, and roads.

As they had been for centuries horses still remained the only practical mode of power. Oxen had been and were still used by homesteaders but were on the way out. Horses continued to be used as pack animals. Teams drawing covered wagons were bringing in settlers from the American Mid West. Horses pulled surreys, democrats, buggies, oxcarts, carriages, drays and wagons. The number of horses had steadily increased, reaching a maximum of 806,000 in 1921 in the Province of Alberta. From then on dobbin's duties were to be taken over by machines.

The year 1901 marked the arrival of the Motor Age Alberta, and the need for roads. The first automobile in the city of Lethbridge was Elliott Galt's 20 HP gasoline powered Wilton which he brought to the city the summer of 1903. In 1906 the Government of Alberta found it had 41 cars within its borders and passed the Automobile Act. It set the speed limit at 10 miles an hour in towns and 20 in the country. Owners to pay a three dollar operator's license. Each driver was given a number but no plate to put on his car - he to supply that himself. In 1906 the government established a budget of a half a million dollars for roads and bridges but 60% went for bridges. Government policy was to bring them up to strength to carry threshing machines and steam tractors. Roads were secondary and most of the roadwork done was because it was uncertain where the road should be. From then on, in ever increasing numbers, lines of travel were established.

There was, in this era, an instant fraternity of spirit among men who owned cars. Any carload of people, full of the new found spirit of travel, constituted a motor club - the first faint stirring of the Alberta Motor Association. Automobile clubs had been formed in the cities and many of the small towns. They urged that municipalities be given the power to borrow money to build roads, believing that good roads were of first importance in the development of the area. Their objectives were good roads, just and rational highway legislation, proper highway marking, driving information, safe driving and maps for members. The first comprehensive road guide of Alberta is reputed to have carried the advice about the Lethbridge-Cardston strip: "Lethbridge Goal-Keep Out!". By 1907 there were sufficient car owners in Lethbridge to form an automobile club. The city commemorated the event by passing By Law 232 which required owners to register their cars. It also set the speed limit at 8 miles an hour.

By 1912 there were 2500 drivers in Alberta and they were paying more for the privilege. The Motor Vehicle Act raised the license fee to ten dollars plus a dollar for a set of plates. It also set new speed limits: 20 miles an hour on straight roads and 15 going around corners. By 1913 the number of licensed drivers jumped to 3733 and the government gave official recognition to the importance of roads by creating a highway branch within the department of public works. By 1918 there were 29,000 licensed drivers and trucks had appeared on the roads. The Provincial Government brought in Alberta's first Highway Act to present guidelines for a system of highways. Roads were placed in three categories: main, district and local. In 1919 the federal government took the first initiative in encouraging a national system of highways. Alberta's second Highway Act of 1922 classed roads as main highways, essential market roads and local roads. Essential market roads were given the priority. As a result, highways did not develop as connecting arteries of travel.

The same year (1912) a joint project linking Lethbridge and Great Falls, Montana was being promoted. Art Baalim was in at the start of the movement. A meeting, held at the Marquis Hotel, generated such enthusiasm for the Sunshine Trail, which would run from Mexico to Alaska, that the first link from Lethbridge to Great Falls was created on the spot.

After vigorous lobbying, Lethbridge became the hub of three major roads: the Black Trail or Sunshine Trail ran from Butte through Great Falls and Lethbridge to Calgary, via Vulcan; the Red or All Red Trail traversed Southern Alberta in an east-west direction: while the Yellow Trail connected Lethbridge to Cardston and Waterton lakes. These trails, marked with colored bands on telephone poles, were blade-graded dirt roads with some of the low places fresno filled and most of the small streams diverted through wooden culverts. It was recommended in 1926 that all highways be numbered in the belief that the province would run out of colors long before it would run out of numbers. It would be another thirty years before the Sunshine Trail would become Highway #4 and the Yellow Trail Highway #5.

A new highway act was brought in scrapping the 1922 legislation. Highways were divided into main and secondary, the term "essential market roads" was dropped and supplanted by district roads. Local roads were still local. The province finally agreed that roads should be kept open in winter. By 1929 a total of 833 miles of highway had been graveled.

Good roads might have been the road to prosperity in 1930, but unfortunately, there was no way. The economy sagged and the Bennett-Buggy became the symbol of the times. R.B. Bennett was Prime Minister of Canada at this unfortunate time and had his name attached to the horse-drawn buggy. A Bennett-Buggy was usually a Model T Ford or a Chev 490 which a farmer could not afford to repair or replace. The engine would be removed and the horseless carriage would be converted back to a horse-drawn carriage. Harry Malcolm, the principal, Verna and I rode to school in a horse-drawn cart. It was a cart made from a 1925 Ford front axle complete with rubber tires. Later we hauled beets with a wagon converted from a 1928 G.M.C. truck chassis.

Early in 1936 the government introduced a five-year plan, calling for a thousand miles of hard surfacing (blotter coating). The number of vehicles on Alberta roads topped 100,000 after slumping to 86,000 in 1932. The campaign was on for hard, dustless roads. Hard surfacing on Highway #5 between Lethbridge and Cardston, the Yellow Trail, was completed in 1951, and the pavement was extended to Waterton in 1956. The Sunshine Trail was graded in 1944 and regraded in 1946. It was hard surfaced in 1947 and again in 1960. Highway #4 remains the same today amidst rumors of twinning.

Acknowledgments: A History of Motoring in Alberta, by Tony Cashman from the Alberta Motor Association

Lethbridge 1955, Alberta's Golden Jubilee

"The first matter, that engaged the attention of the Lethbridge Board of Trade shortly after the town's incorporation in 1890, was the improvement of the approach to the town. Six Mile Coulee, south of the city, caused the Board much trouble before it was properly bridged. After the railway trestle became a highway bridge, the Board continued its efforts until a steel structure was built. Later the culvert replaced the bridge, and the crossing of the Six Mile was made wider and safer."

The Airport Road

Lethbridge Council realized that roadways into the city from the south needed improvement, and, in 1912, began corespondence with the CPR regarding the possibility of leasing the abandoned Crow's Nest Railway right of way. The right of way was apparently leased in 1915 and by the 1920's the Southeast Entrance Road was in use. At first the narrow unimproved road simply ran along the top of the old railway grade. In the 1930s the wooden bridge on the Six-Mile was replaced by a steel highway bridge; then, by the late 1940s, by an earth fill and culvert. After the development of Kenyon Field Airport in 1937-38, the Southeast Entrance Road became known as the Airport Road.

Acknowledgement.- Lethbridge Place Names Alex Johnston / Barry R. Peat

Abandon Old Magrath Trail

Lethbridge Herald Feb. 1909 -- Government Will Not Renew Lease Of Old Trestle Bridge Over Coulee

Edmonton - Feb. 8, 1919 - Indications are that the long-used trail from Lethbridge to Magrath is to be abandoned owing to the unwillingness of the Department of Public Works to renew the lease on-the old trestle bridge over the coulee on the former C.P.R. St. Mary's right of way a few miles south of Lethbridge. The bridge belongs to the C.P.R. and is now in such a condition that it would require $10,000 to put it in shape, and the government does not care to spend that amount of money on a temporary structure which does not belong to the province.

It is likely that the old trail about a mile east will be put in shape again and a low level bridge over the coulee will be built. The trail was used before the old C.P.R. grade was made available on the abandonment of the St. Mary's grade.

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Mary Tollestrup