Thursday, 3 September 2009

Museum Exhibit Musings -- Could you vote?

I was thinking the other day that during the time period of this exhibit (1906-1913) I, and many of you, would not have been permitted to vote in municipal elections in Lethbridge. First, you would have had to be 21 years of age. Secondly, most women would not have been able to vote (the first woman to vote in a Lethbridge municipal election was in the 1890s – a widow who was able to vote in the election on behalf of her family – but this was a very rare exception). And, third, if you were a renter you COULD NOT vote in municipal elections. Only male homeowners over the age of 21 could vote. Greg Ellis, the Archivist here, and I have been trying to find when women and tenants were permitted to vote in municipal elections. It appears that women could first vote in 1918 but we have two different dates (1913 and 1918) for renters. So more research definitely needs to be done.

There were two events in 1913 that most definitely had a profound effect on Lethbridge. First, in 1913 the City of Lethbridge annexed the Village of Stafford or Staffordville. In 1890 construction started on Galt Mine No. 3 and the mine was opened in 1892. A community, originally known simply as Number Three, developed around the mine shaft and achieved village status in 1900. Staffordville is north of Dave Elton ball park and east to Stafford Drive. Lethbridge’s take over of the village in 1913 made the North Ward (as it was called then) more prominent in the development of Lethbridge.

When Lethbridge initially developed in the 1880s, there was a small settlement in the river valley and two small areas on the north side, but the major development was south of the rail tracks from the top of the Old Man River valley east to 13th Street South. The addition of Staffordville provided Lethbridge an impetus to grow north (along with the coal mines and the construction of Galbraith School in the north ward in 1913).

I’ve been told that when the Village of Stafford stopped operations they never officially adjourned their last meeting. While the City of Lethbridge did not want to annex Staffordville, Staffordville had been requesting just such an annexation for years. The lack of adjournment may have been due to their excitement at this being the last meeting of the Village of Stafford.

The other major political development in 1913 was the adoption of the Commission form of government for the City of Lethbridge. A relatively new form of governance at that time (it first developed in Texas in 1900), voters elected three commissioners who were responsible for the operation of the city. Much of the control was in the hands of the Mayor who was also responsible for finance. This form of government remained in Lethbridge until 1928. Some day when I have more time, I definitely want to do more research into into the commission form of government and its effect on Lethbridge.

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