Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Museum Exhibit Musing -- Lethbridge's political leanings

I was having difficulty last night thinking of something to write so I decided to do a search on the internet just to see what I might find. So I went onto Google Scholar and put in Lethbridge 1906 1913.

I came across two rather interesting articles: The Rise and Fall of the Labour Party in Alberta and Socialists and Workers in the Western Canadian Coal Mines 1900-1921.

Rather than trying to explain the information, I thought it would be easiest to start with two quotes:

“Lethbridge elected Donald McNabb, a coal miner and moderate socialist, in a provincial by-election in January 1909. McNabb, however, had won by acclamation and proved unable even to keep his deposit in the general election.”

Lethbridge was the first Alberta constituency in which a self-styled Labour candidate had run for provincial office. Though no Labour candidates were in the running in Alberta’s first provincial election in 1905, an independent Labourite ran in a by-election in Lethbridge in April 1906, and receive[d] 463 votes against 543 for the victorious Liberal and 231 for the Conservative.”

To say that Lethbridge was a coal mining town in 1906-1913 is like saying that Fort McMurray is an oil town. While Lethbridge was working to diversify and was slowly becoming the agricultural centre of the area, coal was still the major industry. Over time the role of coal mining in Lethbridge’s economy diminished and agriculture became more and more important.

Could a moderate socialist win in a by-election in Lethbridge today? Can the fact that the first Labour candidate in the province came from Lethbridge be directly linked to Lethbridge’s coal mining past? Would it then follow that there is a link between Lethbridge becoming more conservative as coal mining (labour) decreased in importance? What is different about the identity of Lethbridge in the early 20th century and today? Can we see this difference reflected in voting patterns? How is identity (the underlying beliefs of a community) to be reflected in an exhibit? Certainly it is going to be important to look a great deal more into the labour activities going on in Lethbridge and southern Alberta in the early 20th century.

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