Irrigation History

History of Irrigation in Southern Alberta

The first large scale irrigational companies were undertaken by Lethbridge's very own, Sir Alexander Galt in 1893. As research of the human histories of the Oldman River, Galt was already a railroad and coal mine owner in this region, with co-investors, the Northwest Coal and Navigation company. Funded by the Northwest Coal and Navigation Co. Galt began to construct canals to Margrath and Sterling of this region, supplying them irrigational water for thier dryland crops. It was the resident Latter Day Saints that did most of the work for these canals.

The early settlers of this region came because the soil was rich in organics, and good farming soil. It quickly became apparent to the resident farmers that an artificial source of water as needed because so little precipitation fell on the region of Southern Alberta. Galt’s great Irrigation projects brought the first water to settlers of this region. Though they did not have sophisticated piping and intricate canals, small channels of water dug throughout the farmers fields, and their land was often irrigated through periodic flooding.

In the 1930s farmers quickly learned about their poor irrigation and farming practices. Flood irrigation, introduced far too many sodic salts into the soil, which decreased soil aggregation. Also in the thirties, there were poor levels of moisture in this region, making the soil quite dry. This made the conditions just right for winds to blow away the top soil.

Take some time to learn more about the Oldman Watershed and how it has shaped our community, visit the Galt Museum & Archives exhibit Water in a Dry Land and attend the Wednesday at the Galt program on SMIRD: Past, Present & Future presentation by Terrence Lazarus Wed AUG 02 from 2-3 pm. Admission fees apply. Admission is free to annual pass holders.