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Galt Historic Railway Park


Alberta Railway and Irrigation CompanyReporting mark: unknown

The Alberta Railway and Coal Company began as the North Western Coal Company (NWC&NC) in 1882. It was formed by Sir Alexander Tilloch Galt as a means of encouraging colonization. The plan was to build industries (in this case coal mining) that would drive settlement to what would later become the province of Alberta.

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The Hon. Sir Alexander Tilloch Galt
Source: National Archives of Canada, MIKAN no. 3215898

The company managed to secure a contract from the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) to purchase a minimum of 20,000 tons of coal per year over a five year period at $5 per ton. However moving coal by steamer was both impractical and inefficient. To solve the problem, Galt applied for a charter to construct a narrow gauge railway from Dunmore to Lethbridge. Following completion in 1885, the line was leased to the CPR in 1893 and upgraded to standard gauge. The CPR took full ownership of the line in 1897.

In 1889 the NWC&NC incorporated the Alberta Railway & Coal Company (AR&CC). The goal was to extend the corporation's reach into the United States, a distance of some 65 miles (104 km) from Lethbridge. The NWC&NC's assets were then transferred to the new company. Construction of the new line took place in 1890.

Access to Montana was gained by obtaining a state charter to build a small extension (approximately 1 metre) across the border from Coutts to Sweetgrass Montana, which became known as the Great Falls and Canada Railway. The extension was converted to standard gauge in 1901 and purchased by the Montana Great Northern Railway, a subsidiary of the Great Northern Railway.

A large freight station, owned by the railway, was built directly on the border with the international border running straight through the centre of the lunch/dining room. In addition, the station included a post office, telegraph services, and customs inspection. It served as the official Canadian Government port of entry. The post office, which opened in 1893, remained in use until 1960.

In a second but parallel venture, AR&CC came to an agreement with a Mormon group to develop an irrigation system to be used in farming. The plan involved leasing 500,000 acres of land to the Mormon settlers, who would in turn provide the labour and build the canals.

To reflect its newfound focus, the company changed its name in 1899 to the Canadian North West Irrigation Company. The canal was completed in 1900. Around the same time, Elliott Galt formed the St. Mary's River Railway Company to provide service to the new settlers. The two companies were merged in 1904 to form the Alberta Railway and Irrigation Company (AR&IC).

In 1912 the ARI was taken over by the CPR. The station at Coutts was later relocated slightly north, so that it was entirely on Canadian soil. It remained in use until the 1980s. In 2000, the station was moved and restored to the period covering 1890 - 1920. It now forms part of the Galt Historic Railway Park in Warner County, Alberta.

Special thanks to Bill Hillen for additional details on the station.