Exploring Cultural Landscapes
The Galt Museum & Archives and the City of Lethbridge Planning Department recently hosted a symposium called “Exploring Cultural Landscapes.” The event was designed to increase understanding of what cultural landscapes are, and how the approach can be used to manage places that have complex layers of both natural and cultural values.
In Lethbridge, the Oldman River valley system incorporates traditional Indigenous relationships with and knowledge about the land. It is home to native plants, traditional use sites, and other features that have continuing significance for Niitsitapi (Blackfoot people). For example, the last significant battle between the Cree and the Blackfoot people took place in 1870 near Bull Trail Park, on the west bank of the Oldman River.
The valley is also embedded with more recent memories and uses. The area between Whoop-Up Drive and the Highway 3 bridge housed Nicholas Sheran’s 1874 drift mine, and became known as “The Coal Banks.” Sir Alexander and Elliott Galt began a coal mining operation there in 1882. Remnants of these mines are evident in old incline railway beds and mine waste along the coulee banks. An abandoned tipple and water tower from the Galt No. 8 mine stand near the High Level Bridge–an iconic structure on the landscape that was finished in 1909.
Generations of residents have also called the Oldman River valley home. The hamlet of “Coalbanks” grew up around the mining operations, and although the town of Lethbridge was surveyed on the top of the coulee, some residents continued to live in the riverbottom until the 1950s. Since that time, Indian Battle Park and other parts of the valley have been primarily designated for recreation.
The Oldman River valley in Lethbridge is a significant cultural landscape. Its many layers of Indigenous, industrial, cultural and natural values continue to evolve, providing a strong sense of place for local residents and visitors.