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Our History

The City of Lethbridge acknowledges that we are gathered on the lands of the Blackfoot people of the Canadian Plains and pays respect to the Blackfoot people past, present and future while recognizing and respecting their cultural heritage, beliefs and relationship to the land. The City of Lethbridge is also home to the Metis Nation of Alberta, Region III.

Southern Alberta is the traditional land of the Niitsitapi (Blackfoot) people who called Lethbridge Sikoohkotoki meaning black rock because of the coal they found.

The first European settlement in the area was connected to the whiskey trade and the establishment of Fort Whoop Up and other trading posts. That brought the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) to the area in 1874.

Before becoming Lethbridge, our City was a small mining town called Coalbanks. As the community grew, it was renamed Lethbridge, incorporated as a town in 1890 and a City in 1906. Charles Alexander Magrath was Lethbridge’s first Mayor in 1891.

Many people assume the name Lethbridge is related to the iconic High Level Bridge that spans across the river valley. In fact, Lethbridge is named after William Lethbridge, the first president of the North Western Coal and Navigation Company, owned by Sir Alexander Galt. Mr. Galt liked to entice investors to his company with the promise of naming streets and towns in their honour. This is how William Lethbridge became the namesake of our city.

The opportunities in Lethbridge are often connected to the natural resources we enjoy. From the Blackfoot people who lived off the land as bison hunters to the growth of the coal and agricultural industries, our land has opened doors for people around the world. These opportunities have fostered an impressive legacy of entrepreneurs and innovators. Because of this, the City’s motto “Gateway to Opportunity” was adopted in 1907 and still remains today.

In 1874, Nicolas Sheran opened a coal mine in the coulees on the west side of the Old Man River. In 1882, a second coal mine, owned by Sir Alexander Galt, opened across from Sheran’s mine. As the coal mining industry grew, so did the population and the businesses supporting the new community.

Increased coal production led to the need for railway transportation. A new line from Lethbridge to Dunmore became operational in 1885. During the First World War, Lethbridge’s coal mining industry was at its peak producing more than 1,000,000 tons a year and employing 2,000 miners.

As oil and gas resources became more prominent in the area, the coal mining industry died away with the last local mine closing in in 1957.

Agriculture has always been a way of life in Lethbridge and many of the country’s agriculture innovations were born in southern Alberta.

Men leaving the employment of the NWMP often chose to "live off the sod" as ranchers. Immigrants flooded the area after the introduction of dry-farming techniques and inventions like steam tractors and plows. Later, mixed farming and specialty crops like sugar beets were introduced.

By 1900, more than 153 kilometres of irrigation canals were completed, including the main canal from the St. Mary River with branches to Stirling and Lethbridge. The irrigation canals were built with the help of Charles Ord Card, the Mormon leader, and his followers. Their homesteading foreshadowed the later immigration boom of the early 1900s.

Agriculture remains a strong and vibrant industry in southern Alberta. The opening for a new Cavendish Farms processing plant in 2019 put local potatoes on the map, creating hundreds of jobs. The industry was heightened even further when Lethbridge Exhibition began construction in 2021 of a new Agri-Food Hub and Trade Centre.

An iconic Lethbridge landmark, the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) High Level Bridge spans 1624 metres across the coulees and towers 96 metres above the Old Man River. When construction was complete in June 1909, this engineering feat was - and still is - the longest and highest trestle bridge in the world.

The CPR helped established Lethbridge as a regional hub by moving their local operational headquarters to the city in 1905. With this change came a new route to Fort Macleod. The construction of the High Level Bridge was the key element in that plan, eliminating the need for 8.63 km of track and 20 wooden bridges.

Canada’s first publicly-funded community college opened in Lethbridge on April 17, 1957. The early days of the Lethbridge Junior College were a few classrooms at the Lethbridge Collegiate High School. Today, Lethbridge College is a thriving post-secondary institution that is an integral part of our community.

In September 1967, we further planted our roots as a campus community when the University of Lethbridge began classes as a liberal arts institution. In 1971, the U of L moved from the College campus to its forever home in west Lethbridge where is has grown to be one Canada’s leading research universities.

Every year, the Lethbridge College and the University of Lethbridge attract thousands of bright minds that add a youthful, progressive and engaging energy to our city. Tens of thousands more alumni have taken a piece of Lethbridge with them to all corners of the world.

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