Museum Exhibit Musings -- Sometimes It's Just a Cigar

There are few things more frustrating than when you get a glimpse of something that occurred in the past but can find no in-depth information on it. Going through the Galt Archives I came across a picture of men standing outside the Lethbridge Cigar Factory holding “Lethbridge Belle” cigars. Lethbridge had a cigar factory? Actually at one time there may have been two cigar manufacturers in town but frustratingly little is written about them.

The 1st appears to have started around 1906 and continues until 1911 or so. We have advertisements, including:

If your’re [sic] on the W. W. and
someone says. ''Have something,"
always demand a "Lethbridge
Belle." It's a good smoke, and it's
home manufactured.


Smoke the "Lethbridge Belle”
and patronize home industry.

Not certain what the W.W. is (or why you’d be on it), but if you know or have ideas what that is, please let me know.

This immediately led me to think about where the tobacco would come from. I had a chance to speak with Henry Janzen from the Research Centre. He believes in the early 20th century there were some attempts to grow tobacco locally on experimental plots but, because of the short growing season and climate, doesn’t think there was any commercial growth of tobacco. This suggests the tobacco was imported. In a 1908 advertisement “Lethbridge Belle” cigars are included under a line about Clear Havana Cigars which suggested that the tobacco may have been Cuban in origin. This had to have been expensive – to import the tobacco for local manufacturing here. The same advertisement also noted that the cigars were strictly union made. I suspect that the high cost of business (and no local tobacco) may have been a significant part of the reason the industry disappeared in southern Alberta.

Two names are reported in connection with the cigar factories. The 1908 ad has “manufactured by T.W. Hanrahan” And a 1910 article has “The Lethbridge Cigar Factory, H. Cunningham, Proprietor.” In a 1908 article, T.W. Hanrahan’s daughter, Irene, is reported to be in Fernie with her uncle, H.J. Cunningham so it is likely that the two men were related. Also in 1908 Hanrahan purchased four lots on Ford Street from Robert Green. This was for the cigar factory and residence.

And what about the workers in the factory? Is making cigars a specialized skill? Would these men have been encouraged to come to Lethbridge to work in the factory? Or were they local men who found work when the factory opened? Nothing is known about the men and none of them are identified in the picture.

You have to admire the entrepreneur spirit of the time. While a lot of the things they attempted beween 1906 and 1913 to diversify the economy didn’t work out, they were at least trying to develop new industries and strengthen Lethbridge and southern Alberta through economic means.