October 30th, 2020

Unearthing part of the city’s history


By Lethbridge Herald on August 7, 2020.

City officials and construction workers get a chance for a close-up look at the recently uncovered streetcar rail lines during the 3 Avenue project currently underway downtown. Herald photo by Ian Martens @IMartensHerald

Ian Martens
Lethbridge Herald
imartens@lethbridgeherald.com
Work started on the City’s 3 Avenue South reconstruction project this week, but before any serious digging gets underway, crews first have to deal with an element of history that has been lying for decades just below the surface.
The Lethbridge Municipal Railway operated from 1912 with streetcars rolling through the community on lines stretching from downtown, up 13 Street North, as well as heading out to the Exhibition Grounds, with the last tram making its final trip in 1947. Those rail lines, at least along the area of the 3 Avenue project, are still there some 70 years later.
Preliminary investigation and engineering for the reconstruction project, along with past repair work, made crews aware the lines were indeed still there, says City project manager Crystal Scheit, who contacted the Galt Museum to see if they would be interested in a piece once it was removed.
“We’re not a hundred per cent sure if just this section was left in or if the whole thing was left in,” says Scheit. “Without the history of knowing when it was paved over, it’s hard to know.”
That missing history of an artifact is a challenge for officials at the Galt Museum as well. Collections technician Kevin MacLean says there is a preference to have a living memory of an object, but with the life of the rails expiring 70 year ago it makes that hard to find.
“We’re left with the more technical type information, which are the technical histories as opposed to the personal and the individual. It’s not that they don’t exist, that they weren’t recorded, say 30 years ago, but they’re not questions that we can pose today, because those people are gone,” says MacLean.
“It’s amazing how short our memories are. Here’s something that was a significant part of our community and it’s been under our feet invisible to us for so long, and so to find someone in 2020 to be able to speak to it personally, to have personal memory, it’s hard.”
Once a representative section of track is identified for the museum it will go through the usual process with an acquisition committee making a recommendation to transfer from the City’s ownership to the Galt before being catalogued and made available to the public through the museum’s database and potentially put on display at some point in the future.
“In the case of the streetcar system, what’s interesting is that while it was a public object, and it is, it’s been buried underground for the last 70 years and so that creates a lot of public interest as well,” says MacLean.
The 3 Avenue South reconstruction project, which covers 4 Street to 8 Street South, will see the replacing and re-lining of deep utilities, followed by streetscaping work encompassing landscaping, widening of sidewalks, a raised intersection at 6 Street and parking level with sidewalk to allow for more event space when needed. The project is expected to be completed in the fall of 2021.
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