Friday, 17 August 2012

Diamond City, Royal View and four depressions in the river bottom

It's funny how connected things sometimes are.

Diamond City. Galt Archives 19730023014
A few months ago a friend who lives in Diamond City had a bit of a puzzle for me. She asked me about the steamboats that used to travel on the river and whether or not they had ever docked at Diamond City. Down by the river at Diamond City were four square depressions that, according to a neighbour, had been the steamboat dock for Diamond City. My friend wanted to know if that's what they really were. 

Diamond City, 1905-1980 postcard. Galt Archives 19841061000
I thought about it for a while. Certainly steamboats did travel along the Oldman River (or the Belly River as it was known then). When the Galts realized the railroad was going from Medicine Hat to Calgary rather than through Lethbridge, they had to think of a way to get their coal from Lethbridge (or Coalbanks) to Medicine Hat. Their idea? Steamboats down the river. Three boats were made. The Alberta and Baroness were steamboats while the Minnow was a barge. Unfortunately the river was only navigable for a short season and proved an unreliable way of transporting coal. So the Galt company instead built its own narrow gauge railway from Lethbridge to Medicine Hat (actually Dunmore) in 1885.

Steamboat on the Belly River. Galt Archives 19760238103
This was not the end of river travel. There are a few reports of boats on the river until approximately 1907 though very little comes of it.

So certainly there had been docks in Lethbridge but at Diamond City? The timing didn't seem right to me. Diamond City came along after river travel was proven unreliable. It had to be something else.

Then it hit me what those depressions really were. They were the docks/supports for the ferry. People forget how incredibly importants ferries were in the development of southern Alberta. There was a ferry that ran in Lethbridge across what is now Whoop Up Drive. There was another ferry that ran from Diamond City across to what was then the coal mining community of Royal View. People did not want to take the time or effort to go miles around on the highway bridge and it was simpler to go across. (There were also several suspension, walking bridges but that's a subject for another time.) When my friend went back to take a closer look the old roads down the coulees to the ferry were also still visible.

So the ferry went from Diamond City to where? To Royal View, of course.

Well, as luck would have it I've been spending quite a bit of time on Royal View history this year, with the new cemetery development. When I was putting together an information package on Royal View for artists working on ideas for the Royal View Memorial Cemtery art project/main gates, I took the opportunity to learn more about the ferry and the connections between Diamond City and Royal View. And then just last night I had a wonderful conversation with a gentleman whose family ran the ferry and whose parents were married in Royal View.

Miners in front of Royal View Mine. Galt Archives 20021054000
 While it was neat to see how all of these strings of the story came together, it also makes me realize that while buildings may be gone for those with a keen eye and a questioning mind, there are all sorts of clues out there that reveal pieces of the past.

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