The North Western Coal and Navigation Company (NWC&NC) was incorporated in England in 1882 under the “Companies' Acts, 1862 to 1880,” to undertake mining at the coal properties.5 Lumber for mine timbers, buildings, and the construction of a steamboat and barges for delivering coal to Medicine Hat was obtained from a 50-square-mile timber lease in the Porcupine Hills where a portable saw mill was erected.6
The steamboat Baroness was built along with a number of barges in 1883.7 Two other vessels, Alberta and Minnow, were added.8 The plan to ship coal to Medicine Hat by river proved to be impractical.9 The time of navigable high water was short and undependable, and shoals and sandbanks proved hazardous. A total of only 3200 tons of coal were delivered to Medicine Hat in two seasons.10
Sir Alexander Galt had already conceived the idea of a railway and in 1884 the Federal government confirmed the British charter and empowered the NWC&NC to build a narrow gauge (3'0") railway from Medicine Hat to its coal properties 109.5 miles with an extension to Fort McLeod.11 The Canadian Pacific Railway contracted to buy a minimum of 20,000 tons of coal a year for five years at $5 a ton delivered to Medicine Hat.12 The line was officially opened for traffic on October 19, 1885.13 The company with two subsidies acquired a land grant of 700,800 acres in alternate townships (not sections as with other railways), without the stipulation that it had to be “fairly fit for settlement.”14 The company was also given the option to purchase 10,000 acres of coal land in the Lethbridge area at $10 per acre.15
On the same day that the NWC&NC was empowered to build its railway, the Galts obtained a charter for the Alberta Railway and Coal Company (AR&CC) that allowed it to assume the obligations of the NWC&NC. should the latter fail to fulfill them.16 In 1889 the AR&CC was incorporated to build a narrow gauge railway from Lethbridge to the Canada-United States border, a distance of 64.62 miles.17 For this the company received a land grant of 413,568 acres which meant that the Galts had acquired a total of 1,114,368 acres of railway lands.18This was reduced by 12,656 acres to satisfy indebtedness on coal lands, giving a net total of 1,101,712 acres.19
Coincident with the building of the AR&CC line, the Galts received a Montana charter for the narrow gauge Great Falls and Canada Railway (GF&CR).20 The line ran from Sweetgrass, opposite Coutts, to Great Falls. By extending their railway into the United States the Galts were able to enlarge the market for Lethbridge coal. In 1901, the GF&CR was purchased by the Montana Great Northern Railway, a subsidiary of the Great Northern Railway.21
Originally leased to the CPR in 1893, the line from Dunmore to Lethbridge (the AR&CC had acquired the properties of the NWC&NC in 1891)22 was purchased outright in 189723 and became the first leg of the Crow’s Nest Pass branch railway to the CPR’s mineral properties in the Kootenay area of south-eastern British Columbia, with the right to extend the line to Hope.
To further the AR&CC’s aims to develop the granted land and attract settlement, Elliott Galt was made aware that farming, not ranching, was the appropriate means of development, and irrigation was the key. He was approached by Charles Ora Card of the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, familiarly known as Mormons, who detailed his vision of using the local river systems for irrigation.24 Card had visited Canada in 1886 and had returned in 1887 with a group that settled on Lees Creek and established the village of Cardston.25 Under Brigham Young, the Mormons had established a thriving community centered on Salt Lake City and had pioneered and gained expertise in farming by irrigation in an area of deficient rainfall.
An agreement was reached with the Mormons in 1891, whereby they would lease 700,000 acres of land, bring in settlers, and provide labour for building the canal system. Economic depression and the lack of capital ended the project.26 Though temporarily thwarted the Galts continued to pursue their plan for irrigation and established the Alberta Irrigation Company, incorporated in 1893. (Sir Alexander died on September 19, 1893 in Montreal.) The company was established with the strong support of the Mormons.27 The charter was revived in 1896 and in 1899 legislation permitted the Alberta Irrigation Company to change its name to the Canadian North-west Irrigation Company. With an upturn in the economy and a new Liberal government with Clifford Sifton as Minister of the Department of the Interior, who pursued a vigorous policy of immigration, the fortunes of the Galt enterprises changed for the better.28 An agreement was reached with the Federal government whereby in an exchange of lands the AR&CC was able to assemble a solid block of 500,000 acres adjacent to the St. Mary River thus making large-scale irrigation feasible.29 A new contract was signed with the Mormons in which they were to construct the canal system and in return for their labour they were to be paid “one-half in cash and one-half in land, the land with water rights being valued at three dollars per acre, to a total of $75,000 and 25,000 acres.”30 A remission of the survey fee of ten cents per acre was also granted by the government.31 The church-sponsored immigrants, to whom Galt advanced the costs of transportation, were to establish themselves in hamlets, one each in the tracts twenty and thirty miles south of Lethbridge.32 The main canal was completed in August 1900.33
That same year the St. Mary’s River Railway Company was incorporated to provide access and serve the settlers benefiting from the irrigation system.34 It reached Cardston in 1903, with permission to extend the line. At Raymond a sugar beet factory was erected.35 A further consolidation of land took place in 1900 followed in 1902 by the purchase of the adjacent 500,000 Acre Tract at one dollar an acre after the awarding of credits amounting to two dollars an acre. Payment was to be made in ten equal annual installments. The stipulation was that the land could not be sold for more than five dollars an acre, and the unsold balance, after 15 years, would revert to the government. Due to a technicality the CPR acquired this land when it obtained control of the Galt enterprises.36
In 1904 the Galt companies were merged into a new corporation, the Alberta Railway and Irrigation Company (AR&IC). The St. Mary’s Canal was enlarged and a beginning was made on a canal from the Milk River, halted by the Waterways Treaty of 1909 between the United States and Canada, dividing the waters of the two rivers equally between the two countries.37 In 1912 the CPR leased the AR&IC for 999 years thus ending the independence of the Galt enterprise. The Galts, father and son, had lived up to their responsibility of developing and settling the land.