Lethbridge: Coal City in the Wheat Country
Log boom in the Belly (now Oldman) River at Lethbridge. The AR&Cco. Sawmill is on the bank of the river, AB, 1890
1890, 19th century
Silver salts on paper
20.3 x 25.4 cm
This artefact belongs to : © Sir Alexander Galt Museum and Archives
Keys to History
In all, at least ninety-eight mines operated in the Lethbridge coal field in the years 1882 to 1965. The coal seam they mined covers an area of 481 square kilometres. There are large sections of the seam that are relatively flat and level. While the geology of the seam itself was almost perfect for the extraction of the coal, that of southern Alberta in general made the job far more difficult. The coal seam is generally found among weak layers of sediment. To mine this coal safely by the room and pillar method required huge amounts of timber to support tunnels and rooms. The Galt companies went so far as to secure a timber lease in the Porcupine Hills west of Lethbridge and to set up a sawmill that provided their mines with the shoring they needed. Galt Mine No. 8 at Lethbridge had the distinction of being the most heavily timbered mine in Alberta, and among the wettest. Galt Mines Nos. 1, 3 and 6 also had persistent problems with water.
The logs were floated down the river from the company's Timber Limit 80 in the Porcupine Hills. The sawmill then produced timbers needed for supports in the coal mines and for the construction and maintenance of the railway lines and bridges.
Recent evidence uncovered during renovations of some of the older commercial buildings in Lethbridge suggests that timbers originally used in railway bridges were recycled as support beams in downtown buildings.
The Canadian Pacific Railway's High Level Bridge eliminated the need for twenty wooden bridges on the Lethbridge-Fort Macleod line. Construction of the High Level Bridge was completed in 1909, in the middle of a six-year building boom in the city. It's not hard to imagine that some of the Galts' bridge timbers moved indoors.
This photograph shows a log boom in the Belly (now Oldman) River at Lethbridge in 1890; the Alberta Railway & Coal Company (AR&CCo.) sawmill is on the bank of the river.