19720115000 | Tracklayers finish the Canadian portion of the Great Falls & Canada Railway, AB, October 1, 1890

 
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Tracklayers finish the Canadian portion of the Great Falls & Canada Railway, AB, October 1, 1890
October 1st 1890, 19th century
Silver salts on paper
19720115000
This artefact belongs to : © Sir Alexander Galt Museum and Archives
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Keys to History

Why did Sir Alexander Galt decide to build a narrow-gauge railway instead of a standard gauge? Cost. A narrow-gauge railway spans 0.91 m between the rails, while standard gauge is 1.43 m between the rails. Construction costs were lower for a narrow-gauge line, and rolling stock - locomotives, freight and passenger cars - were less expensive as well. The railway yards were established in what became the geographic centre of Lethbridge.

With the narrow-gauge line now operating, the Galt companies looked to expand the customer base for their coal beyond the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) and prairie settlers. The copper smelters of western Montana were within the reach of a railway, and Galt decided to build a narrow-gauge line south into the United States. Lack of money and political considerations altered the plan somewhat, and the result was a railway from Lethbridge to Great Falls. It opened in 1890 as two lines: the Alberta Railway & Coal Company's 108 km track from Lethbridge to the border at Coutts, and the Great Falls and Canada Railway's 215.6 km line from Sweetgrass, Montana, south to Great Falls. As was policy, the federal government provided land grants for construction of this line as well.

  • What

    Tracklayers finish the Canadian portion of the Great Falls & Canada Railway on October 1, 1890.

  • Where

    The Great Falls & Canada Railway was never intended to carry passengers. It was regarded by its operators strictly as a means to ship coal south into Montana, with the hope of opening up a significant market there.

  • When

    Ultimately, with the success of irrigation in southern Alberta and the drying up of the U.S. market for coal, the railway became an instrument of colonization as farmers arrived to take up irrigated homesteads south of Lethbridge.

  • Who

    The priest in the foreground is Father Leonard Van Tighem OMI (Oblate Missionaries of Mary Immaculate), the first resident priest at Lethbridge.