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Lethbridge Herald: Celebrating our Heritage

Updated: Aug 5, 2023

On Monday we will celebrate Heritage Day, an annual holiday set aside to commemorate Alberta’s heritage and the diverse traditions, thoughts, beliefs, and ways of life that shape our identity today.

Before European settlement, our region of southern Alberta was known as the home of the Niitsitapi (Blackfoot) people. What is now called Lethbridge was part of their wider hunting grounds. Early European settlers were originally connected to the whiskey trade and Fort Whoop Up served as their trading post. This drew the North-West Mounted Police, who established their presence here in 1874. In 1882, Sir Alexander Galt and his son established the first coal mine in a town called Coalbanks, which later became Lethbridge.

With the success of the first miners, railways were built to support a growing economy, including our world-famous single-track viaduct across the Oldman River Valley, now know as the High-Level Bridge. This growing prosperity attracted people to the city of Lethbridge to pursue economic opportunity and make a home for themselves.

To say the West was hard to settle, is an understatement. Those who chose to make this land their home were characterized by grit and determination. Courage was second nature to them. It is only through the hard work of Indigenous peoples and pioneers that this area grew into a strong local community.

As the coal industry waned and the vision of irrigation was realized, farming became the predominant livelihood. The mining town became an agricultural hub as farmers and ranchers grew canola, sugar beets, grain, and livestock. Soon, southern Alberta became a leader in food production.

By 1897, the first Lethbridge Exhibition was underway—eight years before Alberta even became a part of Canada! This exhibition sought to advance the burgeoning agricultural scene and served as a hub for Indigenous folks, farmers, ranchers, and businesspeople to partner with one another to advance the region’s prosperity.

In the span of less than a century, Lethbridge grew from a frontier outpost to a small metropolitan centre built by those committed to working hard and caring for their neighbour.

Today, the Lethbridge area is a beautiful tapestry of diverse cultures. From the Blackfoot peoples to fourth-generation Dutch farmers, to newcomers from Nepal, Syria, numerous African countries, Ukraine, and beyond, our region is a beautiful example of what hard work, innovation, and collaboration can produce.

Our population has grown, and the region’s workforce has evolved, but agriculture remains at the heart of who we are. Agricultural production, food processing, agri-science, agri-technology, and agri-business are what keep our region strong and hold the greatest opportunity for our future.

In just a few days, the Lethbridge Exhibition will hold a grand-opening for its expansion, known as the Agi-food Hub & Trade Centre. Continuing the legacy that began in 1897, this will mark our renewed commitment to being the premier hub for agriculture and agri-food in Canada. This world-class project will provide tremendous opportunity to do business, build community connections, and strengthen our ties to the rest of the world.

As the globe grapples with unprecedented challenges, the same bravery, grit, and determination that our predecessors exemplified will be required as our region rises to meet the needs of the future. We occupy an exciting point in history. Equipped with the knowledge of our past, we have an opportunity to steward our present and build a vibrant future.

Reflecting on our history helps us understand what we have inherited, how we can best steward our present, and determine what we hope to leave for those who come after us.

This Heritage Day, we have so much to celebrate—from the early coal mining days of the late 18th and early 19th Century to the dawn of a new era in agriculture and beyond. Let us appreciate our past, champion our present, and forge a legacy that will provide hope and opportunity for generations to come.

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