Whiskey Traders, Coal Miners, Cattle Ranchers and a
Locational Dynamics and the Historical Space Economy of Downtown
Field Trip Guide, March 11, 2005
Western Division, Canadian Association of Geographers
and Indian Battle
Park (Site of the last Indian battle
PM Individuals meet
Ian MacLachlan at Department of Geography office, 8th
level C, University Hall, University
PM Groups meet
promptly in their vehicles at the circular roadway in front of the Main
Entrance to the University Library (near Students’ Union entrance), University of Lethbridge in vehicles, ready to drive.
(Extra seats will be available for pedestrians).
PM Meet at the
parking lot beside the Galt Museum, on 5th Avenue South, just west
of Scenic Drive, just north of Whoop-Up Drive, five minutes south of the
Lethbridge Lodge, Day’s Inn and Travelodge. Look for the crowd of geographers
and a construction crane in front of this building which is presently closed
PM Walk to Oldman
PM Provincial Court
PM The Penny Coffee
House (refreshment break)
PM Railway Station
PM Post Office
PM Return to Galt Museum
PM Return to the
university by car
(Circled numbers refer to locations on the map
to be added)
The Urban Landscape of Downtown Lethbridge
This is a three hour, 3.5 kilometer walking tour
though we shall carpool from the university to downtown. We’ll go rain or shine
and in the latter case, Lethbridge
is quite photogenic. Dress for the weather.
meet at the Galt Museum
parking lot, walk round to the “Wheel of History” and then out on the coulees
to the edge of the Oldman River
Oldman River Valley
Whoop-Up is a centennial replica (1967) commemorating the whiskey trade
which began here in 1869. American whiskey traders exchanged alcohol and
firearms for buffalo hides with aboriginal people. The hides were then shipped
to Fort Benton
on the Missouri
via bull train. The original Fort Whoop-Up was located some ten kilometers
upstream of the location of the replica.
In 1870 a Cree war party armed with muzzle-loading muskets attacked the Bloods
who were much weakened by the smallpox epidemic of 1869. A running battle moved
from the west side prairie level to the valley bottom where the Bloods were relieved
by Peigans who, unknown to the Cree, were camped in
the valley. Some 300 Cree, who had initiated the attack, were slaughtered by
Blackfoot equipped with repeating rifles. The Oldman River is reputed to have run red with
blood that afternoon.
second coal mine in the area was located immediately north of what is
now the Whoop-Up Drive Bridge
on the west side of the river. The drift mine was opened in 1874 by Nicholas Sheran, sometime whaler, soldier in the Union Army and
whiskey trader. Only a small disturbance in the coulee ridge just north of the
bridge approach remains to mark the mine.
Coalbanks mining camp was established in the
river bottom in 1882 at what is now the eastern end of the high level bridge.
River boat and barge shipment of coal to Medicine
Hat failed. With the arrival of the narrow gauge
railway in 1885, the mine was relocated to prairie level and operations shifted
from horizontal drifts to vertical shafts.
Bottom After mining operations shifted up to the prairie level, the valley
floor became a zone of discard, occupied by the poorest miners and prostitutes
in decrepit shacks and some aboriginal people in tipis.
Garbage was dumped in the coulees for many years. Floods in 1902 and subsequent
years washed most of the early housing away. (The last major
flood was in 1995.) The valley bottom became a pariah landscape
of elderly and sick prostitutes, indigent miners, aboriginal people and
garbage. After 1940 the valley became home to some market gardens, squatters
and small businesses such as gasoline stations. It is now zoned as a conservation
area and most housing and businesses have been removed.
The CPR’s Crowsnest
Pass line (which was opened
in 1897) had to cross the river via a byzantine
system of switchbacks that took it far to the south of the town. In 1904 the
Town of Lethbridge
offered the CPR exemption from taxation for twenty years and 200,000 gallons of
free water per day. In exchange for this incentive, the CPR shifted its
divisional point from Fort Macleod to Lethbridge;
built a passenger station, railway yards, locomotive shops and a round house in
Lethbridge; and replaced the system of
switchbacks carrying the Crowsnest Pass Line across
with the high level bridge. Completed in 1909, this is the highest bridge for
its length and the longest for its height of any bridge in the world. (Though
there are higher bridges and there are others which are longer!)
CPR’s southern Crowsnest Pass route, which breaks
away from the transcontinental line at Medicine Hat, leads west to the mining
towns of the British Columbia’s Kootenay and on to
Vancouver via Cranbrook, Nelson, and Hope at the top
of the lower Fraser Valley.
Power Plant and City Mine were operated from 1910
to 1941 when the municipally owned and operated plant was converted to natural
gas. The plant was finally sold to Calgary Power in 1974, the plant itself was
closed soon after, and Lethbridge
became dependent on distant sources of electricity.
Number 8 was opened in 1935. The tipple itself was first erected at Galt
Number 6 and operated there from 1909 until 1935 when it was disassembled and
moved to its present site. Galt Number 8 was closed in 1957 and the property is
now in private hands though a move is afoot to conserve the site and open it
for heritage purposes.
University The decision to build the university as a “campus in the
coulees” was undertaken as part of a student and faculty based movement to make
the university (founded in September 1967) more autonomous and independent from
the Community College at the south east end of the city. Arthur Erickson’s
master plan (he also designed the quadrangle at Simon
Roy Thompson Hall) was unveiled in 1968, construction began late in 1969, and
University Hall was opened in the fall of 1971. The design concept was inspired
by the horizontal sweep of the high level bridge. The 1,000 foot long
bunker-like building was intended to nestle into the valley side without
breaking the prairie horizon. Fransden Manor, the
apartment tower to the west of the university property, was built in 1978,
compromising the design concept.
West Lethbridge For four years the university was
isolated on the west side with no nearby housing or services and connected to
the city only by the Highway 3 bridge. Election of Peter
Loughheed and a new Conservative government in 1971
was the impetus to build the bridge and Whoop-Up Drive in 1975. The bridge and
roadway were twinned in 1985 making the west side more attractive for
The west side (West
Lethbridge) was planned as a series of “villages” of about 640
acres each with a population capacity of about 6,000. Each was planned to have
its own neighbourhood shopping, schools, churches and
parks. The first house on the west side was finished in 1974 and the west side
has grown rapidly ever since. It now accounts for over one quarter of the
city’s total population. The development of Lethbridge’s west side is a good example of Harris and Ullman’s multiple nuclei model while the villages
are a direct application of Clarence Perry’s neighbourhood
to the south-west we can see the new houses in Paradise Canyon.
In the river bottom there is more single family and low-rise condominium
housing scattered in and around an 18-hole golf course.
Now let’s turn around and look east.
The Point Prostitution gradually migrated
from river bottom up to the point in the late 1880s, close to the colliery’s
dormitory. Red Lane
was a dead end avenue leading west onto the point from 1st Street which by 1890
featured six brothels. The gaily painted two and three story wood frame
brothels were visible from miles away and after the bridge was completed, the
brothels were the first and most prominent landmark to be seen by train travellers arriving from the west.
core of this red light district is now the site of the Lethbridge Lodge (1978),
the city’s largest downtown hotel. There was an understanding that the “soiled
doves” were only at liberty to shop downtown on Tuesday and Friday afternoons
between 2:00 PM and 5:00 PM, when “decent women” were expected to stay at home.
An isolation hospital for patients with contagious diseases (largely
tuberculosis) was also established on the point though the matron complained
about the noise and revelry emanating from the adjacent brothels. Thus a new
pariah landscape developed on the point. Debauchery of all kinds rubbed
shoulders with contagion, hemmed in by coulees, which were filled with refuse.
By the 1950s the point had become an auto wrecker’s yard, a function it
retained for nearly 30 years.
the 1970s the Oldman
River valley was on the
edge of the city, something to be ignored from the city’s grimy coal mining
past. Once residential development started on the west side, plans to begin
developing the river valley as a recreational area began in earnest. By the
late 1990s the downtown and the river valley are near the centre of the city.
Far from being a pariah landscape to be ignored, the valley has become one of
the city’s leading recreational amenities.
Galt Hospital was built in 1891 on the
edge of the valley and expanded in 1910 with funding from Elliott and Alexander
Galt, who founded and financed the coal mine. Originally intended primarily for
“sick and afflicted” coal miners employed by the Galts,
the public hospital was closed in 1955 and it became a nursing home until 1965.
The original frame hospital was demolished and the 1909 brick expansion is now
home to the Galt Museum. Consider the location of the
nineteenth century hospital on the edge of a pariah landscape!
Medican Condominiums were built in the
late 1990s by a developer who constructed similar buildings in Medicine Hat. Lethbridge has a disproportionately large elderly
population and is growing in popularity as a retirement centre. It draws
retired people from farms and smaller communities all over the prairies due to
its mild climate and low housing costs. Condominium by-laws restrict the
residents in these buildings to people over the age of 55. These large
structures are built of 2x6 frame construction (stick-built) instead of the
reinforced concrete that is more common in buildings of this size.
Now we shall walk north and east to the Provincial Court
House plaza on 4th
By the 1970s the downtown area of Lethbridge, like many
smaller cities, was suffering from competition from suburban shopping malls to
the south, east and north. Redevelopment of the downtown area began with the
construction of Lethbridge Centre in 1975, the city’s first downtown mall. The
Lethbridge Lodge was completed in 1978 along with Chancery Court and Southland
Terrace in 1982 and the Provincial Court House in 1983. Thus the first phase of
downtown redevelopment was accomplished by demolition and infill with infusions
of both private and provincial capital.
Court House has a larger set-back than most other structures in the downtown -
some students see this as symbolic of the distance that the judiciary keeps
from the citizenry. All of the civil, criminal and
traffic cases arising in nearby municipalities are tried in this building, a good
example Lethbridge’s many central place functions. But the court house
is also a fascinating study in irony! We are standing at the centre of the
“segregated area” in which the law, as it governed public morality, was
effectively suspended for nearly 40 years.
As the houses of prostitution expanded beyond the
capacity of the point they began to move east and into the town proper, mainly
on 2nd and 3rd Streets. The house of “Swede Alice” at the
corner of 4th Street
and 4th Avenue
was said to be the largest brothel in the city. Swede Alice’s house of ill repute
was strategically placed as an intervening opportunity to intercept
traffic headed towards the brothels on the point.
1920 until 1944 the “segregated area” bounded by 1st and 5th
Avenues and 1st and 4th Streets was wide open for prostitution,
gambling and the sale of alcohol at all hours. The clergy and moral reformers
decried the flagrant prostitution but most of the city’s businessmen silently
approved of the carefully circumscribed zone of debauchery and they profited
from it. There was the occasional raid but for the most part prostitution was
tolerated within the limits of the segregated zone. By 1909 a system of regular
medical examinations for prostitutes had been established. City police declared
publicly that they were doing all they could to combat this social evil but it
seems likely that they were on the take.
World War II, Lethbridge was ranked as second
only to Montreal as the worst source of venereal
disease in Canada.
With the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan school
at Kenyon Field in full swing, provincial officials delivered an ultimatum to
end prostitution or the province would send in the RCMP. (Perhaps it was
believed that the thirteen remaining brothels were interfering with the war
effort.) A former RCMP Staff Sergeant was hired as Chief of Police in 1944 and
within two months open prostitution in the segregated area had disappeared. The
Provincial Court House and a number of law offices have erased most of the evidence
of Lethbridge’s third red light district, replacing a pariah landscape
with the authority of the judicial system.
Walk east on 4th Avenue to 5th
Street to the Penny University, Lethbridge’s
independent downtown coffee house
Coffee at the Penny
We might see a few Hutterites
on Friday afternoon though Thursday morning is when local Hutterite
colonies typically “come to town” to visit the doctor, to shop, deliver grain
and produce, and to meet and socialize with Hutterites
from the many other colonies in the Lethbridge area.
Walk north on 5th Street noting Growly’s in what was formerly the Union Bank and cut
through the Galt Gardens to stop opposite 2nd Avenue.
To the left (west) note the Lethbridge Hotel. It
was built on this site in 1885 but no part of the original structure remains in
view. Across 2nd Avenue
from the Lethbridge Hotel is the Higginbotham Block on the corner. It was built
and occupied by one of the city’s early pharmacists in 1904. The building was vacant
through most of the 1990s and renovation began in 1998. The builder has tried
hard to reflect the original structure in a restoration project that was begun
in the summer of 1999.
Gardens was once known as “the
square”: a reserve of native prairie at the centre of town where one might have
seen mounted Blackfoot pulling travois, bull teams harnessed to wagon
trains loaded with bison hides and the horse-drawn stage coach set for
departure to Fort
Macleod. The park was
given to the city by Elliott Galt and in 1906 the trees were planted. By 1990
the park’s public washrooms were in a disgusting condition and they were
demolished making it more difficult for street people to find a place to
relieve themselves. The pergola was completed in 1994 which provides
festival space for summer activities.
Turn left (west) on 2nd Avenue and walk west.
fire hall was first built on this site in 1890 but was demolished and
completely rebuilt in 1910. At one time it was also the police station with a
commanding view over the segregated and restricted areas. It still has cells in
the basement. The building ceased to operate as a fire hall in 1975. After
sitting empty for over twenty years, it was renovated and opened as a
restaurant and bar in 1998.
Chinese immigrants began to appear in Lethbridge about the turn
of the century when
railway work on the Crowsnest
Pass rail line came to an
end. Racial discrimination appeared in Lethbridge
as it did in every western Canadian city at this time. The city passed a by-law
in 1910 restricting Chinese laundries to the area west of 4th Street between
1st to 6th Avenues. The ostensible motives for the
law were to ensure that laundries would not overload the sewer system and to
satisfy residents who complained that neighbouring
laundries were operated on Sundays and constituted a nuisance. Its practical
effect was to segregate Chinese residents in a small and undesirable area that
was more or less contiguous with the red light district: a new pariah landscape
had been created. The law was repealed in 1916 but the “Restricted Area” of
1910-1916 is still visible in the one block China Town
on 2nd Avenue
between 3rd and 4th Streets.
building at 310 2nd
Avenue (1924) has a recessed second storey balcony
reminiscent of turn of the century architecture in South
China. Many of the older buildings in Vancouver's
Chinatown also have this feature. The upper
storey is the meeting house of the Chi Kung Tong or Chinese Freemasons.
Immediately across the street is a competing club of the Kuo
Min Tang or Nationalist League (1915). In the 1940s the Free Masons
supported the Communists while the Nationalists sided with Chiang Kai Shek.
the corner, note the row of mostly abandoned cottages further west (to our
left) on 2nd avenue.
This was company housing built by Sick’s Lethbridge
Brewery about 1902. (One wonders how the families of the brewery workers would
have responded to the nearby brothels.) The three storey Castle Apartments on
the northwest corner of 3rd
Street and 2nd Avenue was known as the
Castle Hotel. It was considered to be a "first class commercial
hotel" when it was built in 1909. It was a run-down rooming house in the
1970s when demolition was considered.
Turn right (north) on 3rd Street and walk north.
Downtown Revitalization and Railway Yard Relocation
As the main impetus for growth of residential
areas was shifting to the west side of the city, the downtown was drawn closer
to the physical centre of the city thus it was ideally situated to benefit from
redevelopment. The most important change in the downtown area resulted from
relocation of the city’s railway yards.
many years 1st Avenue
parallelled the railway tracks. But in 1983 the CPR
relocated most of its trackage and all of its
marshalling yards to the hamlet of Kipp, ten
kilometers north-west of the city. In 1974 the federal government passed The
Rail Relocation and Crossing Act, providing an incentive to move railway
infrastructure away from congested downtown areas. Lethbridge was one of the smallest cities to
take advantage of this legislation. Removal of the railway tracks freed up an
east-west corridor leading to the heart of the city that became the Crowsnest Trail. An additional 95 acres of
land at the centre of the city, known as Centresite
also became available for redevelopment in 1984. Centresite
is now occupied by the Rio Vista and Grandview Village adult condominiums, a
new Police Station, Toys “R” Us, Park Place Mall, Garden View Lodge (a nursing
home), the London Drugs strip mall and, on the north side of the Crowsnest Trail, The Brick and Thunderbird mall.
In 1990 the merger of Molson Breweries and Carling-Okeefe resulted in the closure of Molson’s Lethbridge Brewery,
a fixture on the Lethbridge
skyline since 1902. For some time the community debated the merits of retaining
agri-food processing in the downtown area and a
barley processing operation was considered for the brewery site. This was
rejected due to the potential environmental impact on the downtown area and the
old brewery lands are now occupied by River Ridge, another Medican
Cross 1st Avenue, turn right and
walk six blocks east.
Park Place Mall was planned to have two important effects on the
downtown. First, as a traditional shopping mall, internally anchored by Sears, Eatons and Winners, it draws shoppers into the downtown
area. At a larger scale, the mall is itself one of two anchors in the downtown,
the other being the Lethbridge Centre, two blocks away along 5th Street. This was Lethbridge’s main shopping street from the turn of the century until
the 6th Street
department stores were built after World War II. For example, the building
occupied by Auction World (Chinook Trading Centre) was the Hudson’s Bay Company Store until it was
closed during the Great Depression. Thus the core of retail activity has gone
full circle over the past century. It has been hoped that the presence of two
downtown malls would anchor 5th
Street as a viable traditional shopping street
articulating the two malls. Unfortunately, it seems that two blocks is too far
to walk and some shoppers are frightened of this area.
we walk east we will note some functional change in existing buildings: a
service station became the New Dynasty Restaurant. The former CPR Railway
Station (built in 1905, closed with the termination of passenger rail service
in 1971) is now far from the railway tracks. It functions as the clinic for the
City of Lethbridge Health Unit
which opened in 1987.
Continue walking east past the old railway
station until we reach Stafford
Street) and then turn south and walk to 4th Avenue.
before we turn the corner, we should look east and note Ellison’s Flour Mill
which is significant as the first food processor to establish itself in Lethbridge once the CPR made Lethbridge its divisional point. It is also
symbolic of the growing Mormon influence in the local economy. The other, more
distant but much larger structure, is the inland grain terminal built by
the Canadian Grain Commission in between 1928 and 1931. Though it was started
before the depression was truly underway, it was an important symbol of federal
government spending in a community that might otherwise have felt quite
forgotten by Ottawa.
It is now owned by Cargill, an agribusiness giant that is argued by many to be
the largest privately owned firm in the world.
➇ Mounted Police Reserve
The new City Hall
is under construction on one corner of what was the Mounted Police Reserve, a
four block area that was set aside for the NWMP in 1886 when the town was first
platted. It held barracks, stables and offices until the city acquired it from
the RCMP in 1942. In the late 1940s and 1950s the barracks square was
redeveloped as the Civic Square with a court house, city hall, concert
hall and theatre, YMCA, RCMP Detachment offices, ice rink and the Fritz Sick
Pool and Senior’s Centre.
availability of such a large area of land only blocks from downtown was a
terrific opportunity for a well integrated civic centre of lasting utility. In
1944 the city hired an architectural firm to prepare a master plan for the
entire parcel. But fifty years later it does not seem to have fulfilled its
promise. The city outgrew the court house and the city hall which was so
architecturally undistinguished that it was demolished in 1998 with hardly any
Avenue turn right (west) and walk to 6th Street.
the Beaux Arts Post Office (1913) in buff Tyndall stone
(dolomite) still serves as the city’s main post office and mail sorting plant.
Note how the Royal Bank’s new main branch is also built in Tyndall stone to
match the post office as is the former Royal Bank branch (now a furrier and
coffee shop) across the street. Note too how discreetly a wheelchair ramp was
built into the structure in the late 1980s, in contrast to the boorish modern
style extension of the 1960s.
➉ LA Transit Terminal
The corner of 4th Avenue South and 6th Street
is the transfer point for all of the city’s bus routes. Most of the city’s bus routes
converge at the same time every 30 minutes and they all depart at the same
time. For many years this corner was the hub of downtown shopping. Eaton’s
built its two storey department store at the south-east corner, S.S. Kresge’s was on the south-west corner and F.W. Woolworth’s
went up at the north-east corner. The art deco MacFarland Building on the northwest corner gives a
sense of the commercial block buildings that were demolished to make way for
these department stores.
trip hammer succession Eaton’s was closed and demolished to make way for the
Bank of Montreal’s new main branch, S.S. Kresge’s
with its hardwood floors was closed and remodelled to
become a miniature mall and Woolworth’s was closed and the store occupied by an
independent discounter. The free standing department stores have all
disappeared yet the downtown and this intersection remain reasonably vibrant.
Several of the chartered banks have remodelled or
rebuilt their main branches within a block of this corner while many of the
city’s downtown retailers have migrated west to the Lethbridge Centre and north
to the Park Place Mall, closer to 5th
Street, the city’s original main shopping street
bounding the edge of the square.
Our “three hour tour” has provided some examples
of western Canadian heritage in the built environment and illustrated trends in
will be familiar to students of other Canadian cities. Some will be a little
disappointed in the paucity of Victorian architecture and how little remains of
the city’s wild western past. In the 1960s and 1970s a number of quite
attractive and well built buildings were demolished which can never be
replaced. But it should also be remembered that until the 1950s, Lethbridge was a mining
town and never terribly prosperous. At a time when cities of similar size in
Ontario were accumulating capital and their merchant and industrial capitalists
were building spectacular Victorian piles of brick, stone and gingerbread, Lethbridge’s immigrant miners were building their own small
frame cottages out of the catalogues and eking out a modest living subject
always to the vicissitudes of coal industry.
only came to this city in the post war era as manufacturing and services for
irrigation agriculture and public sector investments in post secondary
education and agricultural research began to bear fruit. Despite all of the
“free market” and “level playing field” rhetoric of western populists, Lethbridge’s development was in large measure the product of
government intervention at the federal, provincial and municipal levels: land
grants, tax incentives, subsidies and direct investment in public works. And
the form of the city owes much to municipal planning
visionaries, who have been responsible for so many of Lethbridge’s amenities that make it uniquely liveable
as a small prairie city.
the social geography of the downtown area is being transformed by a number of
senior’s residences and condominiums restricted to the over 55 set. These
“adult communities” demonstrate a preference for downtown locations by senior
citizens with the means to purchase $150,000-$200,000 condominiums. Judging by
the number of recreational vehicles around the back, many of these residents spend
the winter months in the southern states. The 2001 census shows some population
growth, rising incomes and an aging population in Lethbridge’s downtown census tract.
Baker, William 1992 Lethbridge: Founding the Community
to 1914: A Visual History
A.A. 1981 “Lethbridge: Outpost of a Commercial
Empire” in Town and City ed. by Alan F.J. Artibise
Regina: Canadian Plains Research Centre, University of Regina:
Gray, James H. 1971 Red Lights on the
Western Producer Prairie Book
Alex and den Otter, Andy 1991 Lethbridge: A
Centennial History 2nd edition Lethbridge: Lethbridge Historical Society
Gladwyn, Keith G. and L. Gregory Ellis 1989 Lethbridge: Its Coal Industry Lethbridge: Lethbridge
Viel, Aimeé 1998 Lethbridge
on the Home Front Lethbridge: Lethbridge Historical
Special thanks are due to Greg Ellis (City
Archivist), Bob Harri (City of Lethbridge Planning
Department), Kel Hansen (City of Lethbridge,
Corporate Land Management), Bernie Wirzba (University
Photographer) and Irma Dogterom.