Galt Hospital, Lethbridge, Alberta

Recently I bought this postcard of a hospital. The seller had it down as English, but I had never seen anything quite like it either in England or Scotland. On closer inspection it didn’t take long to work out why. As the postcard clearly shows, Galt Hospital was in Lethbridge, Alberta, in Canada.

A little bit of research revealed the gist of its history, although there is a fair amount of conflicting information out there, so apologies for any errors. According to an item in the Lethbridge News that appeared in January 1903, subscriptions had been solicited back in 1886 for a hospital but not enough was promised. Instead a small private hospital was established by the Alberta Rail and Irrigation Company (in some sources the Alberta Rail and Coal Company) which was used jointly with the Police. This seems to have had just three beds.

This postcard, post-marked 1909, showing the hospital with nurses’ home to the left, is from the Peel’s Prairie Provinces Collection. Reproduced under Creative Commons Licence CC BY-NC by University of Alberta Libraries.

In 1890 Sir Alexander Galt gave $10,000 to the build a new hospital, and afterwards, with some assistance from friends, another $7,000. ‘Thinking it would be a benefit to the public the hospital was thrown open, the town paying a stipulated sum per day for its patients, which was afterwards changed to a lump sum. In every year except one there had been a deficit ranging from $500 to $3,000.’ [1] Sir Alexander Galt was the founder and owner of the Rail and Coal company and a leading figure in Canada’s history. He was a politician as well as a wealthy industrialist, born in London, the son of John Galt – Scottish novelist and coloniser. My postcard shows the Galt Hospital building of 1890-1 which seems to have had around 15 beds.

A large and smart new wing was built in 1908-10 at the instigation of Sir Alexander Galt’s son, Elliott Torrance Galt, who gave $30,000 towards building costs on condition that the same amount was raised by the City of Lethbridge, plus additional funds for its maintenance. [2] By that time the hospital was struggling financially, and there were fears that it might have to revert to being a private hospital again.

Photograph of the opening of the Galt Hospital, reproduced courtesy of the Galt Museum and Archives

The new building was officially opened by the Prime Minister, Wilfred Laurier, on 1st September 1910. It brought the bed capacity of the hospital up to 65. A School of Nursing was established around the same time.

Photograph of the Galt Hospital in 1925, reproduced courtesy of the Galt Museum and Archives

This view from 1925 shows the 1908-10 building on the right, which survives as a part of the Galt Museum today. To the left is the 1890s hospital block with its two-tier wrap-around verandas and prominent roof-ridge ventilators. In 1930 additions were made to provide a further 35 beds.

Sunbeam Children’s ward, 1940. Reproduced courtesy of the Galt Museum & Archives

In 1955, with the opening of a new municipal hospital, the Galt Hospital became a long-stay rehabilitation centre. The centre lasted until 1965 after which part of the building was occupied by the Lethbridge Health Unit, and a part was given over to the Sir Alexander Galt Museum. [3]

  1. Lethbridge News, 7 Jan 1903, p.2
  2. Lethbridge Daily Herald, 24 Nov 1908 p.2
  3. Galt Museum & Archives Exhibits, Galt Hospital, 100 Years

See also: Canada’s Historic Places Register

About Harriet Richardson

I am an architectural historian. I worked on the Survey of London from 1991-2018, and am an honorary senior research associate at the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL, and an honorary fellow of the University of Edinburgh. I have worked on surveys of hospital architecture in Scotland and England.
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