Monday, 20 July 2009

Museum Exhibit Musings -- Bricks and Blocks

Ah, serendipity. I started writing this blog and then went to the Archives to do research on another topic. I did not find what I was looking for in the Archives but found several documents relevant to this blog. Just goes to show that researchers need to be open to what they find.

Many buildings were constructed in Lethbridge from 1906-1913. Some still here: Galt Hospital, Bowman Art Gallery, Post Office, Castle Apartments, Fire Hall No. 1, Odd Fellows Building and Alec Arms. Where did the materials for these buildings come from?

A lot of the materials were locally sourced. Lethbridge had a brick plant, called the Lethbridge Brick and Terra Cotta Company. The brickyard was in the coulee just south of St. Patrick’s Cemetery. In 1963 (and now I really have to go and see if there’s anything left) the pit which was created by the removal of clay and parts of a number of foundations were still visible. Tom Arnold said that in the summer of 1907 about half a dozen “of us boys” came to Lethbridge from England and immediately found work in the brickyard. When they arrived, the yard was making 35,000 bricks a day. The public library (built in the 1920s) used 70,000 bricks.

The foundation for many of these buildings was sandstone. The Monarch sandstone quarry, called the MacLeod Quarrying and Contracting Company, was also known as the The Townsite or Scotsman’s Quarry. Quarrying began here in 1910. The quarrymen first removed the few feet of shale. Then they blasted out large slabs of sandstone which were hoisted out of the quarry by a heavy winch, loaded on carts and carried to a giant saw, which roughly cut the stone into required widths and thicknesses. Then the stone-cutters did all of the cutting, shaping and polishing necessary. Some 60 to 80 men worked there and sandstone from this quarry went to Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Fort Macleod, High River, Calgary, Edmonton and even Regina.

In the Galt Collections is a cornerstone from the 1910 Fleetwood School. The sandstone from the cornerstone came from the Monarch Quarry. Carved into the sandstone are these words: “Trustees 1910 J.H. Fleetwood Chairman, W.S. Galbraith MD, O.H. Johnston, J.S. Stewart, O.D. Austin, C.B. Bowman Sec. Treas., Architects H.M. & W.A. Whiddington” There is history in our old buildings – not only just in the uses and the people but also in the materials and construction. Looks for these cornerstones as you’re out and about in Lethbridge. There’s more of them than you may imagine.

FYI -- Fleetwood School was built in 1910 on the present day site of Fleetwood-Bawden School. The 1910 building was demolished in 1971.

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