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Early Settlers

Water Works Wonders
A History of the White, Wilson, McMahon,
River Junction School Districts Pages 17 - 18

The land southeast of Lethbridge was known to be fertile but the scarcity of rain and the ever present wind made it more conducive to feeding animals than farming. So the Galts realized that 19th century farming techniques could not cope with these semi-arid conditions and they planned to sell the land to large ranching companies. Consequently they took their land grants in alternate townships rather than the usual sections. They soon discovered that they couldn't compete with the generous grazing leases offered by the Dominion Government. The A. R. & C. had to sell their lands to recover the money spent sponsoring the large scale irrigation projects. While alternate townships were convenient for ranching they were unsuitable for irrigation. To make irrigation farming feasible the A. R. & C. were permitted to consolidate most of the company's lands into a solid block.

In 1899 the Canadian Northwest Irrigation and Coal Company was formed to purchase land from the Alberta Railway and Coal Co. Elliott Galt and C. A. Magrath foresightedly began to build irrigation works. They advertised for settlers. In 1900 a pamphlet circulated throughout Canada, U. S. and Europe extols southern Alberta's climate and fertile soil. The circular promised that a two room house could be built for $150.00 and that the government of the N.W. Territories would supply schools. The publisher of this brochure, N. W. I. C., proposed to sell parcels of land in the irrigated heaven at a minimum of $5.00 per acre and rent water rights at $1.00 per acre per year.

The Galts were hard pressed for money to finance their projects. They formed new companies, transferred and converted shares, and merged companies in order to stay solvent. In 1904 the Alberta Railway and Irrigation Company (A.R. & I.) was formed by merging the Canadian Northwest Irrigation Co., the Alberta Railway and Coal Co., the Lethbridge Land Co. and the St. Mary's' River Railway Co. Elliott Galt was president and C. A Magrath was land commissioner.

By 1906 the Dominion Land Agent at Lethbridge was exulting over the fact that settlers had started to homestead the land in his district. Moreover, he rejoiced at their caliber. Many of these newcomers came from the prairie areas of the United States. Besides knowing what to expect of their new lands, they had considerable experience in dry land farming, and some of them came with a great deal of money. Coming in by rail or by covered wagon caravans, they brought horses, stock and cash. Steam tractors soon followed. Having land that needed no clearing they were able to set to work and break up the area. Industrious, experienced and fairly well financed, they were to mark a new era in Alberta's agricultural history.

Agriculture was seen as the best means of attracting settlers to Lethbridge. The dryland area was called 'The Winter Wheat Lands' in early promotional material given to immigrants. However irrigation was needed to bring in the settlers, and they came in ever increasing numbers. Each year many more acres of sod were broken and placed under crop.

Our Vacant Lands

from The Lethbridge News, July 26 1 1888

There is but little doubt that at an early date the attention of the Department of the Interior will have to be directed towards the waterless vacant lands of this district. For many miles east and south of Lethbridge it may be said that there is no water procurable on the bench lands, and even on the Government lands immediately above the river valley; the time and labor lost in hauling the necessary water for household purposes, is more than the ordinary settler can afford. The difficulty of procuring water for household purposes on a homestead, is now the great stumbling block in the way of the settlement of the vacant lands in this neighborhood, and if the difficulty could be removed or in any way aberated (sic) there is no doubt but that a large quantity of the Government land around Lethbridge would be placed under cultivation.

We have before urged that the Government should experiment as to the possibility of sinking artesian wells in some few townships in this district, but this it seems they are not inclined to do, although the country, being the largest property owner, would be the greatest gainers by the success of such an experiment. If, however, nothing can at the present be done towards finding water for the settlers in the vicinity of their homesteads, the situation could be considerably improved by a very slight change in the existing laws. Under the present regulations it is sufficient if a homesteader resides within two miles of his homestead. Unluckily, however, for the settlers in the vicinity of Lethbridge that the lands within this two mile radius are all owned by the N. W. C. & N. Co., (North West Coal and Navigation Co.) and the nearest Government lands are three miles away from the town. If, however, this two mile radius were by the Government extended to five, this would open up quite a large area to settlement by bonifide settlers, who although on account of the lack of water they could reside with their ' families in town and would cultivate and raise crops upon the land, until such time should have arrived as they will be able to afford sinking artesian wells for themselves or can procure water in some other manner.

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Mary Tollestrup