The Galts and Public Service

Few realize that it was the actions of a worried parent that contributed to the founding of Lethbridge. Alexander Galt (1817–1893)– who had produced one son during his first marriage and eight daughters and two sons during his second–was a strict but affectionate parent. It was Elliott Galt (1850–1928), the offspring of Alexander’s first marriage to Elliott Torrance, who was a cause for concern to Alexander. Alexander was troubled by “the life of self-indulgence and great temptation” that his eldest son, Elliott, was leading. So Alexander wrote to Prime Minister John A. Macdonald who, in turn, appointed Elliott to the post of Assistant Indian Commissioner. This job took Elliott away from his “temptations” and brought him to western Canada in 1879.

Elliott Galt first came to Lethbridge for his official duties between 1879 and 1880. This period was crucial for the development of Lethbridge. During his time in the area, Elliott made a preliminary survey of the coal outcroppings along the Belly River. (The section of the Belly River that runs through Lethbridge was renamed to Oldman River in 1915.) Samples sent east were analyzed and an ensuing report made commercial development seem like a profitable venture. This news was forwarded to Alexander Galt in London, England.

By 1880, Alexander Galt had been appointed to position of first Canadian High Commissioner to London. Alexander Galt was a man with an impressive set of credentials. Before his post as High Commissioner, Alexander had already made a great impact as a leading voice pushing for confederation. In 1858, as the leader of English speaking Canadians in what was to later become Quebec, he presented a resolution on federation. Within days of the speech, Alexander was named Federal Minister of Finance under Macdonald and later became a Father of Confederation.

The middle-aged Alexander Galt of the 1880s had new and exciting dreams to pursue. He wished to open up the Canadian west. Son Elliott’s encouraging news regarding the prospects for a western coal industry were a step in that direction.