By Al Beeber - Lethbridge Herald on January 9, 2024.
Visitors to downtown may have recently noticed new signs posted at the entrance to alleyways in recent weeks.
The Back Alley Naming Project is an initiative of the Lethbridge Historical Society which is aimed at telling the stories behind people who helped build the city.
The society on its website says that when Lethbridge was first developed in 1885, streets were named after company officials and investors who were often wealthy people with no actual residence here.
So it conceived the idea that if “the rich people got the streets, everyone else should have the alleys.”
The plan of the project was to name downtown alleys after people who regularly used them in the late 19th century and early parts of the 20th century. The plan was to include people ranging from public health officials and store owners to police, firefighters and even bootleggers and madams.
” An attempt was also made to identify and include a diversity of people from different ethnicities and genders,” says the society.
No Indigenous names are included because during the years of the “Pass System,” they had to get permission from an Indian Agent to leave their reserves so very few First Nations people actually lived in Lethbridge.
The project was spearheaded by historian and Historical Society member Belinda Crowson.
Among the people honoured is Dr. Miriam Barber whose sign graces a light post adjacent to the Herald parking lot.
Barber was the city’s first female dentist who worked here in the 1920s before moving to B.C. Each sign has a QR code which people can scan to learn more information about the names.
And the stories behind them are extremely interesting.
Minnie White, for instance, was referred to in a 1985 letter to the editor in the Herald as a woman “who “operated good, clean sporting houses without male pimps. For several decades in the early years of the 1900s, Minnie White (also known as Frances Wright and Fanny Wright) was a well known Lethbridge madam.”
Her sign is on the alley from 4 to 5 Streets between 3 and 4 Avenues.
John TT Vallance was the city’s sanitary inspector and health inspector for decades. In 1910 he had a salary of $100 per month.
Kyosei Kohashigawa was a native of Okinawa who came to Canada in 1907 and served as a “houseboy” for the Mounties in Fort Macleod and a dishwasher at the Dallas Hotel in Lethbridge before moving onto to other careers as a coal miner and farmer.
His sign is on the alley off 4 Avenue between 4 and 5 Streets.
Wiliam Repka was the secretary of the Beet Workers Union who was arrested in September 1940 by the RCMP and kept in a camp until 1942 for being a Communist.
Thomas Peter Kilkenny was the city’s fire chief who died from pneumonia in 1911 after fighting two fires in -40 weather in January of that year.
Mary Glendinning operated Fancy Goods & Millinery for five years starting in 1890 before she died. Her nieces, the McLeay sisters, took over the business and ran it into the 1940s.
And Albert Coulter, whose sign is near the Haig Tower, was know as Bert the Popcorn Man for the stand he ran near Galt Gardens.
Many other residents are also honoured and each has a compelling story worth reading.