Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Museum Exhibit Musings -- Changing of the Old Guard

One of the other documents that Kelti located was the Rent Rolls for The Alberta Railway and Coal Company for the month of 15 May 1908. Strangely for a form calling itself a rent roll, there is no record of what people paid in rent. Instead, this form seems to be a summary of who rented each property as well as what had happened to certain properties. For example, items 7 and 8 burned while 9 and 10 were sold to Iron Works. Some were vacant. At least one property was lost in the 1902 flood. And Lady Galt House was sold to E.H. Wilson (I’m not certain exactly to which property this refers but I’m going to try and track it down.).

But for most of the properties there is a name associated with each. If we combine this document with information from the 3 September posting, it is interesting to note that none of the men listed on this document as tenants would have been able to vote in municipal elections.

It is premature to speculate from only one document but this rent roll intrigues me, especially given that it is from 1908. Could this document have been something prepared for the sale of the company to the Canadian Pacific Railway? The CPR slowly acquired the Galt companies, starting with the Dunmore line in the 1890s. With negotiations started in 1907 and completed in 1908, the CPR gained controlling interest in the Galt Companies and then purchased all assets of the company in 1912. This transfer from the Galts to the CPR had to have had a profound effect on Lethbridge.

Up until the early 20th century, Lethbridge (and southern Alberta) and the Galt family were incredibly linked. Elliott Galt, while he kept a low profile, was influential in local politics and economics. In 1890, Galt successfully blocked the incorporation of the Town of Lethbridge until the Galt Companies were declared exempt from local taxes (excepting the school levy). It was Elliott Galt and his assistant (and future brother-in-law) Charles Magrath who made an arrangement with the Mormon Church for the development of the irrigation system. Elliott Galt and Charles Magrath worked with Jesse Knight to develop the Knight Sugar Company. Elliott Galt donated land near Lethbridge for the model farm which eventually developed into the Research Centre. He also contributed half the money for the new Galt Hospital in 1910. Galt Gardens, Lethbridge’s oldest park, was donated to the city by Elliott Galt (he was convinced to do so by Charles Magrath). And the list could continue related to what the company and the Galts built, contributed to and influenced. (The Stafford family even named one of their sons, Elliott Torrance Stafford, in honour of Elliott Torrance Galt.)

In 1905, ill health caused Elliott Galt to withdraw from the daily operations of the company. A few years later he left Lethbridge for retirement in Montreal and Vancouver.
During a time of massive growth and change, the old guard, the “father of Lethbridge,” moved away. Did the identity of Lethbridge change with the end of the Galt era and the purchase of The Alberta Railway and Coal Company by the CPR and, if so, how and in what ways? How does an exhibit capture this sort of change in the identity of a community (or should it even try)?

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