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The Railroad

Water Works Wonders
A History of the White, Wilson, McMahon,
River Junction School Districts Pages 14 - 15

Lethbridge was being projected as a progressive town with unlimited potential for future expansion. The main stay of the town's economy was the North Western Coal and Navigation Company (N.W.C. & N. Co.). The company depended almost entirely upon the sale of coal to the C.P.R. via the narrow gauge railway it had built to Dunmore on the C.P.R.'s main line near Medicine Hat. The C.P.R. was built on the premise of a rapidly expanding prairie population. However, the flood of settlers did not materialize and the N.W.C. & N. Co. had to increase consumer demand by expanding beyond the limits of a small western Canadian market.

To meet the objective, Elliott Galt persuaded several powerful Montana investors to help build a railway from Lethbridge to the smelting industries of western Montana. The project was delayed several years because the C.P.R. had a monopoly on all railway construction within 30 miles of the international boundary. By the spring of 1889, however, Parliament had repealed C. P. R.'s monopoly and approved a charter for a narrow gauge railway from Lethbridge to the boundary to meet an American line coming up from Great Falls. It also granted Galts company a 6400 acre per mile subsidy. With these concerns, Galt transferred all assets and liabilities of the N.W.C. & N. Co. to a newly capitalized London-based company, the Alberta Railway and Coal Company, which built the Lethbridge to Montana railway during the summer of 1890. The narrow gauge railway paralleled the old Whoop Up Trail. It wasn't built to Montana as a colonization road. The primary object in building the road was to open up markets for Lethbridge coal. There were mixed trains passenger and freight - running daily from Calgary to Great Falls and back as early as 1893.

In 1901 the narrow gauge was converted to standard gauge. However, a third rail made it possible for narrow gauge trains to continue hauling until 1912.

The various companies set up by the Galts to exploit the coal discoveries, to build railroads and to construct irrigation systems were amalgamated in 1904 as the Alberta Railway and Irrigation Company. In 1912 Elliott Galt sold the A. R. & I. to the C. P. R.

In 1931 daily passenger service was cut to three days a week and in 1933 mixed train service was substituted. In 1955 the line was reduced to freight service only, which it remains at the present time.

Acknowledgments: Lethbridge: A Centennial History, by Alex Johnston/Andy den Otter

The Old Railway

January 31, 1910 Trail wreck. 7 flat cars and an engine fell 38 feet off a bridge. Mr. Monroe engineer died 24 hours later from a crushed chest. Don McKillop was the conductor. Six others were badly hurt.

The old tracks used to go down what is now known as Mayor Magrath Drive. The tracks hooked up with a series of 18 bridges. These 18 bridges were condemned in 1897 and in 1909 they were dismantled. The timbers were completely rotten when pulled out

In the area south of Lethbridge and out to St. Mary's River there were 3 bridges, one was on a curve and the trestle was 1 mile long. This was near Fort Whoop-Up. There are piers that can be seen there today but not in the water anymore as the river has been diverted.

Just before the 1 mile trestle, was St. Mary's Station with a water tank. They had a man there who patrolled the network of bridges for fire. This was caused by sparks from the smoke stack. The end of one bridge did catch fire and it was 2 days before the trains were running again.

Big bull snakes used to crawl onto the bridges to sun themselves. The workmen who built and later maintained these bridges were warned to watch for them.

The big bridge west of Lethbridge was completed in 1909 to replace this other network of bridges. It was considered cheaper to built one steel bridge than to replace 18 wooden ones. The engines could pull 835 tons over the old ones and when the new bridge was finished the engines could pull 2, 455 tons or almost 3 times as much. It was built at a cost of $1,335,000.00. It took 20 tons of steel and 625 flat cars to bring it to Lethbridge. The steel was ordered and supplied by the Krupp Works of Germany. It was all cut so well that each rivet hole fitted,

A Mr. Hamilton was killed just off pier 45 when he fell to his death. The men were taken up in an elevator to work but one, a Mr. Cleaves, used to go up the spans on his own, and fell 105 feet, slipped into some snow, and only broke both wrists.

A Mr. Fiddler was dismissed from the C.P.R. during the building of the bridge under Rule G. This stated that drinking or drunkenness on the job was not allowed. This man's job was to pour alcohol which was used in the compressor to keep it cool when the rivets were driven. The men began to complain that the pressure was not being kept up and of course it was discovered that Mr. Fiddler had been mixing it with water and drinking it.

A 15 foot piece of rail fell from the top of the bridge toward the east end. -It weighed 1200 pounds and buried itself to within 4 feet of its length. It has been left there to this day.

The ties and other wood used in the construction of the 18 bridges were brought to the site from the Porcupine Hills. There was one steel bridge over the Belly River that was left until 1939 when it was dismantled and the metal reused during the 2nd World War.

Crow's Nest Railway

The Dumnore-Lethbridge narrow gauge railway had been built in 1885, brought to standard gauge in 1895, leased to the CPR in 1894, and was fully under CPR control by 1897. In 1897-1898 the line was completed from Lethbridge to the Crow's Nest. It followed what has become Mayor Magrath Drive South, crossed the Six Mile Coulee on a wooden bridge, curved westward to cross the St. Mary River and the Blood Indian Reserve, then on to Fort Macleod and the Crow's Nest Pass. There were twenty-two wooden bridges on the line, many of considerable length and complexity. By 1904 the wooden bridges were in a state of disrepair and were a constant source of trouble. As a result, in 1907-1909, the CPR built the present High Level Bridge and rerouted the line out of Lethbridge.

St. Mary's Butte was also called The Little Hill. The small hill was on the east side of the St. Mary River where St. Mary's station was located and the former Crow's Nest Pass railway crossed the river by a 2,933 foot long wooden bridge.

In 1837 the butte was the centre of a scene of unimaginable fear and horror when possibly as many as 6,000 people, two thirds of the Blood and Blackfoot tribes, died of smallpox in the general vicinity.

Acknowledgement: Lethbridge Place Names by Alex Johnston & Barry R. Peat

Train Wrecked at St. Mary's Jan 31,1910

The accident took place near Whoop-Up about ten miles southwest of the city. Just before the track comes to the St. Mary river are two small bridges on either side of a narrow ridge separating the coulees. The drop from the bridge is about fifty feet. The old line having been abandoned, the bridges were being torn down. The train, carried a gang of men tearing down a bridge farther west. One man was killed and twelve men seriously injured.

'Tea Kettle' was the derogatory term given the early narrow gauge (three footer) railway, by teamsters and others.

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Copyright 2000
Mary Tollestrup