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1971 to 2021: How west Lethbridge has grown since welcoming its first residents

Click to play video: '‘A lot of space’ left in west Lethbridge to continue residential expansion' ‘A lot of space’ left in west Lethbridge to continue residential expansion
In 1971, the municipal census found that only 68 residents were living in west Lethbridge. Today, that number has exploded to more than 40,000 and counting, as development across the Old Man River continues. Eloise Therien has more on the appeal of the west side, and just how much more expansion it can handle – Jan 14, 2021

The City of Lethbridge is separated into three sections: north, south and west, with the two former located on the eastern divide of the Old Man River.

In 1971, the west was included in the municipal census for the first time, boasting 68 residents, compared to 26,442 in south Lethbridge and 14,346 in north Lethbridge.

View of the west side of the 300 block of 5 Street South. Visible are, from left to right: Alexandra Hotel, Ritz Cafe, Captiol Furniture. Taken Dec. 5, 1960. Courtesy Galt Museum & Archives

Ten years later though, the west had already grown to around 7,400 residents. In 2002, it surpassed the north’s population, and in 2009, it passed the south’s.

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Aimee Benoit, curator with the Galt Museum & Archives, says although the history of west Lethbridge is fairly new, the idea of it isn’t.

“Even in the early 1900s when there was a big residential boom between the years of 1906 and 1912, there was a lot of land speculation happening, so there were plans very early on.”

But Benoit says those plans were put on pause by as a result of economic downturns and World War II.

Aerial view of west Lethbridge. Courtesy Galt Museum & Archives

Read more: History of Lethbridge’s Whoop-Up Days

A small community called “The Bend” was formed near the river in the early 1900s, but was the only community present until decades later.

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“It was really the development of the University of Lethbridge on the west side that changed the course of development in west Lethbridge,” she said.

The first neighbourhood developed in west Lethbridge was Varsity Heights, followed by Indian Battle Heights and Mountain Heights.

“Residential development was quite slow at first because there wasn’t a great crossing,” Benoit explained.

Image of the early development of West Lethbridge looking east over Nicholas Sheran park. Taken in 1979. Courtesy Galt Museum & Archives

“Whoop-Up Drive wasn’t built until 1975, so residents and people getting to the university had to use the Highway 3 bridge.”

When that development did happen, construction took off, using a different approach than what had been seen in the eastern part of the city.

“There was a school of thought in terms of the curvilinear development, so that’s why you see a lot of those arterial roads separating neighbourhoods and creating these curvy roads,” said the city’s community planning manager Marueen Gaehring.

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“That was the flavour of the day then.”

Image of a sign showing a map for the proposed development of Stage XI of the Varsity Village development southwest of the intersection of McMaster Boulevard and University Drive, north of Temple Boulevard. Taken in the 1970s. Courtesy Galt Museum & Archives

“I moved to the west side October 1992,” said Arthur Leventhal.  “Everything’s so convenient, the park is nice, I worked at the university, the shopping is good.”

Emily Demyen, who has lived in west Lethbridge for seven years, says she rarely goes to the eastern part of the city.

“I really love the west side of Lethbridge because I’m from a small town in Saskatchewan and it really resembles that to me,” she explained.

An aerial view of the University of Lethbridge, showing University Hall, the Performing Arts Wing, Physical Education building and support services buildings. Almost all of West Lethbridge is visible in the background. Taken in 1979. Courtesy Galt Museum & Archives

Communities such as Garry Station, Copperwood and Country Meadows are continuing to grow, with developments stretching further and further west.

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“There’s a lot of space in west Lethbridge [that] can be built into neighbourhoods,” said urban construction manager with the City of Lethbridge, Byron Bunzunis. “At least maybe one and a half times what’s there already.”

Bunzunis says while development hasn’t stopped in other parts of the city, the newer infrastructure makes western expansion easy.

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