July 26th, 2017

Galt Gardens is heart of our city

By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on March 15, 2017.

If Lethbridge has a “heart of the city,” surely it’s Galt Gardens.

About 110 years ago, the city plowed the land, then planted trees and grass. Before then, the “town square” was used as a sports field. It was a place for lacrosse, cricket, football, tennis and more.

In 1910, when the city acquired the four-block tract from Elliott Galt, he stipulated the land must be maintained as a park forever. How the city has acted on that mandate has certainly evolved over the years.

Historic photos from the 1920s show an ornate bandstand, placed over top of a “board of trade” building. In front, park benches line both sides of a paved plaza.

Later, an entrepreneur named Walter Gurney rented the building and converted it into a museum for “natural history” and gunnery displays.

Funds from the Carnegie foundation spurred construction of a library on the south side of the park, added in 1952. A memorial to First World War veterans had been built in 1931.

More recently, residents have seen the library transformed into the Southern Alberta Art Gallery, and the cenotaph relocated to a site beside city hall.

Modern-day improvements have included the circular pergola with a stage and seating, and a spray park near the park’s southeast corner. Meanwhile, the park has become “home” to an impressive list of events: Shakespeare in the Park; the Street Wheelers’ show; Canada Day celebrations; events focused on jazz; aboriginal traditions; LGBTQ equality; Oktoberfest – and so much more.

As the city evolves, the park takes on many new roles. So it’s probably time for improvements and a new vision for Galt Gardens. A new master plan for the park has been prepared and presented to city council.

Citizens and user groups were consulted during its preparation, and Lethbridge residents will have an opportunity to offer more comments and suggestions later this spring.

The proposal now under consideration would bring visible improvements and new facilities, including a playground for children. The historic Canadian Pacific Railway steam locomotive would also be returned to the park, and a new water feature added for more passive enjoyment of the park.

Improvements would take place in several phases, at a cost of about $5.1 million.

City council will have many worthy projects to consider as it works its way through Capital Improvement Program proposals for the coming years. Councillors will evaluate the Galt Gardens plan alongside others which may offer many advantages. And whether Alberta is riding an economic boom or pulling out of a “bust,” there’s a limit to what city taxpayers and the provincial grants programs can afford.

But with its ties to our earliest days as a community – and in recognition of the countless celebrations and events that have been held in our downtown park for more than a century, we hope council will be able to proceed with these upgrades. At the heart of the city, Galt Gardens has played a unique role in the life of our community.

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