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a stable fuel supply for prairie settlers and western raUways; they granted the NWC&NCo a precedent-setting subsidy of 3,840 acres per mile of railway (965 ha/km) free except for a ten cents per acre (25 cents per ha) survey charge. The government also sold the company 10,000 acres (4050 ha) of coal lands for $10 per acre ($25 per ha). Armed with this generous government subsidy. Gait concluded the difficult negotiations with his London backers. The gloomy economic climate of the mid-1880s had created a general mood of timidity among investors, particularly in railway shares, but Gait's comprehensive package of railway, coal and land development eventuaUy won over his friends. Construction on the narrow gauge, begun in the faU of 1884, was completed the following summer. On 25 August 1885, the first train rolled into Coalbanks, officiaUy named Lethbridge on 15 October of that year. With the means of transportation assured, the NWC&NCo could commence fuU production, and it began to recruit miners from across the continent. Suddenly the mining camp throbbed with new life; town lots sold briskly and buildings shot up everywhere. By the end of October 1885, Lethbridge boasted over 60 buildings including six stores, five saloons, four biUiard rooms, two barbershops, one hotel and a Uvery stable. Despite the hasty construction, overall development was orderly because the company, as the original landowner, had surveyed the site and laid out wide and straight streets in accordance with prairie custom. The scarcity of building materials severely Umited the erection of private dwellings and for some time many of the miners Uved in tents. Lethbridge had, according to the Macleod Gazette, appeared instantly "like a newborn infant city dropped from the clouds." Created so quickly, Lethbridge was initially a rough town, plagued by numerous saloons, gambling dens and flagrant prostitution. John D. Higinbotham, a 21-year-old druggist from Ontario who arrived in Lethbridge in October 1885, found the mining town crude and teeming with noisy bars. Pay nights especiaUy were filled with boisterous drinking and brawling. Yet, violent crimes such as murder and armed robbery were rare. The NWMP watched the town carefuUy and in 1886 established its K division (called "Cowboy K" because of the nature of its patrols) just to the south of the settlement. Through good humour and tact, particularly of commanding officers Uke Captain R. Burton Deane, the poUce were able to moderate the exuberance of an immature society. They also fulfiUed a social function. Beginning in 1887, 40 the NWMP sponsored annual baUs at the barracks and its band regularly performed at commimity affairs. Captain Deane, a former British miUtary officer, clearly placed his stamp on the town. He was active in the AngUcan church, visibly involved in local poUtics, and founder of a number of clubs, including a troupe of amateur actors. Under the protective umbreUa of the mounted poUce, the new town quickly achieved the basic stabiUty needed to foster the growth of social institutions. These estabUshments were organized mainly by a smaU group of young and ambitious businessmen, professionals, and executives who saw in Lethbridge an opportunity for social and economic advancement. One such individual was Harry Bentley, an employee of an Ontario retail firm, sent West to start a store at Medicine Hat. Personal fortune beckoned, however, and Bentley borrowed enough money to set up his own store in Lethbridge. Within a year he was one of the wealthiest men in town, owner of a retail store, wholesale outlet, stage coach operation, and a partnership in a hotel. His interest was not limited to commercial deaUngs, however, as Bentley was a founding member of most of the town's social organizations, including the town council. Some company officials, too, played a prominent role during Lethbridge's formative years. The most notable was Charles A. Magrath, the NWC&NCo's land commissioner. Like Bentley, Magrath was Ontario-born, young and aggressive. He estabUshed a close friendship with ElUott Gait, the company's resident manager. He also became a leader of the towm's social eUte, actively involved in virtually all its clubs and associations, elected as the town's first mayor in 1891 and later the same year as member of the North-West Territorial Council. Men Uke Magrath, Bentley, Higinbotham, Frank H. Mewburn, the town's physician, and Charles F. P. Conybeare, a lawyer, were members of a close and lasting circle of friends which provided a measure of social cohesiveness in a young and volatile community. The voice of this small group was the Lethbridge News, a gossipy, Uvely weekly founded by E. T. (Si) Saunders in 1885, only months after the completion of the railway. Its editor, a former mounted poUceman, was a westerner in the sense that he embraced the spirit of the frontier — the desire to create in western Canada the idealized features of the Ontario most of his readers had left behind.
|Title||Lethbridge : A Centennial History|
Lethbridge (Alta.) -- History
Lethbridge Historical Society -- Monographs
|Description||A publication authored by Alex Johnston and Andy A. den Otter on the centennial history of Lethbridge, Alberta.|
|Creator||Johnston, Alex ; den Otter, Andy A.|
|Publisher||City of Lethbridge and The Whoop-up Country Chapter, Historical Society of Alberta|
|Source||Lethbridge Historical Society|
|Relation||University of Lethbridge Library Digital Collections|
|Rights||Copyright - Lethbridge Historical Society|