William Stafford

Southern Alberta Pioneer
Submitted by Sandy Dean

William Stafford
William Stafford
My great-grandfather, William Stafford, the roots of the Stafford family in the Lethbridge area, was born to a family of five older siblings in Straiton, Ayrshire, Scotland on November 15, 1842. In Auchinleck Village on December 31, 1863 the 21-year-old William married a 16-year-old, Jane Gibbs. Sometime between mid-1871 and mid-1873 William and Jane, with three children, emigrated to Westville, Nova Scotia, where he was hired as a miner by the Acadia Coal Company.

In early May 1882, a party of eight comprised of Captain Nicholas Bryant, an iron mine operator in Westville N.S. and William Stafford with his 17-year-old son William Jr., began their journey west. They travelled by the Grand Trunk Railway following the St. Lawrence River. They continued by rail through Chicago to St. Paul, Minnesota. Then proceeded across the plains to Bismarck, North Dakota. Bismarck, located on the Missouri River, was the staging point for transporting freight and passengers by boat up river to Fort Benton, Montana. They acquired horses, wagons and supplies and started overland on the well-travelled trail to Ft. Macleod 150 miles north. Over a five week period they prospected, examined and assessed five coal leases held by Galt's company in Big Bow River and Belly (now Oldman) River areas. Based on the recommendations of William Stafford, Galt directed the party to commence the first adit on the coal seam near Coal Banks on the east side of the Oldman River.

William Stafford - Coal Mine
Entrance to No. 1 Drift Mine with William Stafford right and an employee,
McLean,on the left. The object is an air-powered cutting device;
the date is about 1883. (Courtesy of City of Lethbridge Archives)

In June 1883, William Stafford returned to Nova Scotia to collect the remainder of his family and return to the west. The development of the underground mine with a steady increase in coal production proceeded well. By 1891, with the building of the initial railway, a second narrow gauge railway some 120 miles south to Great Falls, Montana, together with the widening of the Lethbridge-Dunmore rail line to standard gauge, the Alberta Railway and Coal Company (successor to the NWC and N Co.) had earned 1,116,288 acres of land grants in southern Alberta. In 1893 an initial formal agreement with the Mormons for an irrigation development was entered into. In the late 1890s the St. Mary irrigation project was completed with 92 miles of canals constructed.

All three of the elements needed to secure the future of Lethbridge and southern Alberta was now in place: coal, railways and irrigated agriculture. The work of William Stafford in building the coal mines into an important industry set the first foundation stone into place.

William Stafford Ranch
The Stafford Ranch, taken from the top of the coulees looking west.
1890. (Courtesy of City of Lethbridge Archives)

William Stafford, while employed at AR and C Co., established the Stafford Ranch in 1885. Over the years he became more and more interested in ranching and in late 1893 at the age of 51 he resigned his position of Mines Superintendent. Though primarily committed to the operation of the ranch, a year later the government offered and he accepted the appointment as Inspector of Mines in the Territories. He was responsible for inspecting the operation of the coal mines in Lethbridge, Canmore and Anthracite. He held that position, where he was paid $6.00/day and expenses when engaged during periodic mine inspections, until late 1897. William Stafford operated the ranch until his death on May 12, 1907.

Over the years William and Jane raised thirteen children - nine boys and four girls. Three born in Scotland, seven in Westville, Nova Scotia and another three in Coal Banks, NWT. Henrietta, born on October 31, 1884, was the first white child born in Coal Banks. Many of the Stafford offspring, similar to their parents, were risk takers and sought adventure. Alexander Boswell Stafford left home in 1896 for Juneau, Alaska. He wanted to learn how to prospect for gold. The following spring he heard of the gold discovery on Bonanza Creek in the Klondike area and prepared for his trip through the Chilkoot Pass. He staked a claim, Placer Claim No. 1 at Sulphur Creek. An older brother Richard joined him and they both mined placer deposits in the Yukon with some success. In 1898, Alexander sold his claim and returned to Lethbridge where he opened a furniture and hardware store in partnership with David Brodie. In 1915, he took command of the newly formed 39th Battery in Lethbridge. Major A.B. Stafford was killed in action during a German counterattack at Vimy Ridge, France on June 24, 1917.

Richard Stafford returned to Lethbridge from the Yukon and convinced his younger brother David to accompany him when he returned to Dawson City. David left the Yukon and in a few years became a mechanical engineer. He is credited with being part of a team that designed and built the "Granby Car". The Granby Car was a major improvement that substantially increased the rate of daily underground mine production. Richard remained in the north until he retired to Vancouver in the 1930s.

Back in Lethbridge, the other Stafford offspring were discovering their own paths in Life. William Jr. worked on the Stafford Ranch for a time. He later opened a small coal mine on the Little Bow near Carmangay, Alberta. John Stafford spent his working life in Lethbridge as a blacksmith. Agnes married Alexander Ross and moved from Juneau to Seattle. George Stafford worked at the Lethbridge Laundry from 1920 to 1940. Margaret Jane Stafford married Herbert Kelley and moved to Spring Coulee. James Walter was Dominion Land Agent in Lethbridge during the land rushes of 1908 and 1912. He later continued to work for the government in both Edmonton and Ottawa. Annie Laurie Stafford married Bonner Peat. In 1978 the Lethbridge Historical Society published her writings about the history of the community as the book Nineteenth Century Lethbridge.