The Magrath Trail is an intermunicipal recreational, educational and historic corridor commemorating the unique human and natural history of the Town of Magrath and its surrounding rural region.

Magrath was founded in 1899 and came to be known during this period as both “The Garden City” and “The Irrigation Capital of Canada.” Apart from being an outstanding recreational resource, the Magrath Trail tells the story of these early years. Its southern sections, for instance, include the Fel Balderson Nature Reserve, the nationally-recognized Galt Canal National Historic Corridor and Diversion Works, and Irrigation Builders Memorial Park.

Magrath is known for its fitness orientation and for its natural beauty and oasis-like quality. It is also widely known for its exceptional range of plant and animal life along the Pothole Creek valley. This includes its goose and other nesting sites which also parallel the Trail.

Exceptional local scenery, outstanding wildlife habitat, rich history and impressive views of Alberta’s Rocky Mountains set this trail apart. There is no better place to view prairie and riparian landscapes, view wildlife, walk your dog, jog, ride a bike, or to sit or stroll with a friend than the diverse and beautiful terrain of the Magrath Trail.

Executive Summary

The Magrath Trail system is currently centred on the ecologically diverse southern edge of Magrath and adjacent Cardston County. The intermunicipal vision for this trail, however, extends east in stages across the entire southern then eastern Pothole Creek Valley. It then continues along the northern and western edges of Magrath to completely enclose the historic boundaries of this growing model community. As the Trail expands, this encompassing trail loop will create an exceptional multi-purpose greenbelt corridor for Magrath and area residents south of Provincial Highway #5.

The purpose of this document is to encourage continuing private and public sector support for the progressive stages of this important historic, recreational, environmental, educational, and unique community-building and quality of life-oriented initiative.

Project Summary

The Magrath Trail was conceived by the elected officials and administration of the Town of Magrath as a way to build on the unique history and beautiful setting of this special part of Southern Alberta. In urban design terms, the Magrath Trail represents leading-edge thinking from community recreational, lifestyle and esthetic standpoints, as well as from community branding and marketing perspectives. It has been proven internationally that trail and open space corridors like this are one of the least expensive and most impactful forms of community investment and infrastructure. The Trail is also consistent with Magrath’s “fitness for life” orientation, and with the highly unique model community history of the Town of Magrath and its “Garden City” epithet dating back to the late 19th century.

The continuing extension and eventual completion of this trail will make Magrath and its surrounding rural region an even more distinctive place to live. It is an essential part of the community’s ‘Garden City’ brand and will speak to our community’s commitment to the right sustainable balance between our natural and built environment for generations to come.

Goals and Objectives

The major goals and objectives of the Magrath Trail include:

  • Applying urban design, environmental and community development “best practices” toward the creation of a state-of-the-art recreational trail and interpretive corridor surrounding the Town of Magrath, including sections extending into Cardston County;
  • Showcasing the unique natural history, wildlife and environmental quality of the Magrath region in conjunction with special interest groups and both local and regional educational institutions;
  • Creation of a uniquely health and fitness-oriented resource for residents of the Magrath region and for visitors of all ages;
  • Attraction of permanent jobs to Magrath and its surrounding rural region driven by its sustainable lifestyle and fitness-oriented residents, industries and businesses;
  • Building Magrath and its rural hinterland in coming years to an eventual ideal size of from 5 to 10,000 people within and immediately surrounding this prominent greenbelt and trail corridor;
  • Showcasing the unique history of the Magrath by visually reinforcing the community’s oasis-like quality south of Highway #5 based on its unique environmental traditions and irrigation-led industrial history; and
  • Perpetuating the urban planning and design principles represented in both the ground-breaking British ‘Garden City’ movement and the Mormon ‘Plat of Zion’ model community traditions.

Nature and the Environment

Southern Alberta was once preferred wintering ground of 80% of the great North America bison herd, which numbered by some estimates around 60,000,000 animals. When the first settlers arrived in Magrath in 1899 most of the buffalo were gone and, according to historic photographs, there was not a tree in sight. The landscape had been decimated over the years by bison grazing and wallowing along the Pothole Creek and by grass fires. The Blackfoot hunted bison in this area and the name for the Magrath area in those days in the Blackfoot tongue was “Old Man with a Hump.”

Though the region had previously been over-grazed, the quality of its prairie grasses had attracted ranchers from Texas and other parts of the American west across the 49th parallel. The McIntyre Ranching Company was the most prominent in the Magrath area. (This ranch was once the largest in Canada and lies just south of Magrath along the Milk River Ridge. The owners of the ranch have continued to preserve the pristine landscape of the area.

When the first settlers arrived in Magrath, many had roots in more established communities in the United States and Europe. The prairies during this period were widely seen as uninhabitable, and it took convincing to keep many families in this area due to the weather and the land’s barren condition. Irrigation was the spark that led to major immigration into the region.

Over the years, indigenous plants recovered along the Pothole, including an exceptional diversity of willow trees (including the regionally famous Diamond Willow) as well as wild rose, wolf willow, water birch, chokecherry and Saskatoons. The Pothole Valley became again a haven for wildlife which has been greatly valued by the community over the years. Street tree planting and the planting of gardens and flowers was also embraced to an exceptional degree in the Magrath which, among other things, led to its being named “The Garden City” by one of its prominent early residents. [FOOTNOTE: A prominent area newspaperman (later Mayor of the City of Lethbridge) gave Magrath this name. His name was David Elton and he recounted his thoughts at the time in the booklet Magrath’s Golden Jubilee: Commemorating 50 Years of Irrigation published in 1949:

How the “Garden City” was Named Contributed by D. H. Elton, K.C (King’s Counsel).

You ask me, in a very brief word, to say why I designated: Magrath, “The Garden City”, and for the first time, I venture to reply.

The present century was just one year old when I first saw Magrath. Save for a few houses, a few furrows, a general store, nature had not been greatly disturbed, but held its virgin sod and soil in primeval repose. The “Sea Gulls” had not even spied out the land.

Magrath was then a part of the great North West Territories, and was not, so far as the eye could see, very far removed, either in cultivation or redemption, from the vast area of the original “Prince Rupert’s Land”. The nearest approach to anything like modern civilization was a “narrow-gauge” railway, terminating at Spring Coulee—the “jumping-off” place for Cardston and the Lee’s Creek settlements.

The next four years saw a rapid and unprecedented growth in its agricultural and commercial development—especially the first year. “Archie” Mitchell, government agriculturalist (later the promoter of the nursery that skirts the western boundary of Coaldale), made several visits, delivery lectures, showing pictures, and urging the planting of trees—primarily for windbreaks.

The pioneers of Magrath were first and foremost in accepting his message and applying themselves whole-heartedly and unreservedly to his urge. May I be permitted to name him: “The Tree Prophet and Planter of Southern Alberta”, for such he was. If:


then, “Archie” Mitchell was the forerunner of His craftsmanship, and the pioneer prophet of the gospel of tree planting--- at least in this part of His vineyard. All honor to his name!

As a direct result of “Archie” Mitchell’s missionary work, this erst-while “bald spot” was soon festooned beneath a bower of trees, and flowers, and lawns, and gardens and comfortable homes, and a happy prosperous, progressive people. As I looked upon this marvellous transformation I said: “Surely this is the Garden City.”

If the Valley of the Euphrates was the garden of the world in its day, then Magrath has easily won for itself the coveted title of “The Garden City” of our day, and mine (with all due apologies) the Twentieth Century Herodotus to bear record of the same.

And now, Magrath, in your Golden glow

Recalling fifty short years ago:

It pleases me greatly to know

You’re still “The Garden City”.

My christening seems to have taken effect,

And I trust you will never have cause to reject

The title bequeathed with sincere respect –

Magrath, “The Garden City”.

It’s yours to have, and yours to hold

As years may come, and time unfold,

May all with pride and joy behold

Magrath, “The Garden City”.

Observations Taken From The First Newspaper Printed in Magrath

Magrath has been known as the Garden City since 1901 and is widely considered one of the most beautiful communities in Southern Alberta, nestled as it is along the Pothole River Valley and bordered on the north by Highway 5. The trail will reinforce the community’s historic boundaries and its oasis-like quality.

Magrath is known for its beautiful golf course and its parks along the Pothole, particularly. Street tree planting, species and habitat protection, and park development remains a priority in the community, and the development of the Magrath Trail continues Magrath’s tradition in striking the right and leading-edge balance between its natural and built environment. [FOOTNOTE: The Town’s leopard frog reinstatement project was one of the few successful projects of its kind in Alberta, and is represented by interpretive signage along the Trail.]

The Origin of Irrigation in Canada

The origins of Magrath are unique in the sense that they were not inspired by transportation, trade, security, or the agricultural features of the local landscape like most communities, but by an utopian new town model and a major water diversion project.

Speaking of the founding of Magrath and the role of its large Mormon immigrant population from Europe and the United States, Charles Magrath once said:

"In my opinion, the movement of the Mormon people into the south of Alberta was of inestimable value in opening up that section of our west. They understood irrigation, and Lethbridge being their market town, we were continually told of the wealth that could be created by diverting onto the land the waters running to waste down the rivers. It was fortunate that the Galts, who understood the fundamentals of colonization—the care of the newcomers—and the Mormons, who understood irrigation by actual experience, met at this time. It was only a question of bringing about co-operation of the two interests." [Irrigation Builders, p. 61.]

The Alberta Railway and Irrigation Company was established with the support of the Canadian government to help promote the colonization of the Canadian West. It was headed by Elliott T. Galt and his brother-in-law, Charles A. Magrath.* These men approached the Mormon Church—based in Salt Lake City, Utah—to see if they would be willing to participate in a major settlement and irrigation project activity in Southern Alberta. Key terms of the contract were the creation of two communities by December 31st, 1899, each with populations of at least 250 people. These communities were Stirling and Magrath.

By November 1899 Magrath and Stirling had been established and the head-gates of the irrigation system in Magrath were officially designated by the Government of Canada as a National Historic Site. The original Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada bronze marker states:

“The Magrath Head-Gates: Promoted by Elliott T. Galt, Charles Alexander Magrath and Charles Ora Card, and aided by the Dominion Government, the first large-scale irrigation system in Canada was inaugurated with the opening of the Magrath head-gates by the Alberta Railway and Irrigation Company on 14th November, 1899. It extended for ninety miles from Kimball to Lethbridge and beyond. British capital, Canadian enterprise, and the vision, experience and labour of Mormon pioneers united to fructify and beautify the land.”

The early settlers who came to this area were attracted by its rich farm and ranch land and its abundance of water flowing from the nearby Rocky Mountains. Magrath's founders tapped this water through what at that time was the largest irrigation project undertaken on the North American continent.

Irrigation became a major industry in Southern Alberta and contributed significantly to the settlement of this entire region south of Calgary. Magrath is unique in historical terms in this sense. Today it has a separate untreated irrigation water infrastructure that is the envy of many communities. Irrigation continues to keep Magrath green, and to support –through its water table and irrigation corridors—our community’s robust urban and adjacent natural landscapes.

Irrigation unquestionably altered the Southern Alberta landscape. It increased the range of certain deer populations in the Magrath region, for instance. The Magrath Trail provides a unique opportunity to tell these kinds of environmental, wildlife and cultural stories. Magrath’s founders felt compelled to change the prairie landscape to create a sheltered and productive place for their families. Both the history and finding the right balance between the natural and built environments in Southern Alberta will be uniquely showcased here.

The Garden City Tradition in Magrath

By 1901 Magrath was known as “The Irrigation Capital of Canada.” During this period it also became known as “The Garden City.”

Magrath was conceived by the abovementioned Galt, Magrath, and other Canadian nation-builders and entrepreneurs. Most had strong ties to Britain.

From a planning and design perspective, Magrath was conceived as an entirely new model town based on a clearly-defined set of parameters called the “Plat of Zion.” [FOOTNOTE: The Plat of Zion model was always inclusive, so many of the residents of the community since its founding have not been members of the Mormon Church.] But unknown to many today, and quite uniquely, the community of Magrath and its irrigation works were also conceived, engineered, surveyed and built under contract by a prominent London-based enterprise [A company founded by Sir Alexander Galt and perpetuated by his son, Elliott T. Galt, and son-in-law, Charles Alexander Magrath.] at a time when the British Garden City Movement was just taking root in England.

Newspaperman David Elton’s Garden City designation of Magrath was no doubt influenced by his Mormon religious background and the eagerness of Magrath residents, particularly, to plant fruit-bearing, shelterbelt, street, and other trees. It was also, likely, influenced by the widely-publicized Garden City Movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries in England. (One of the chief characteristics of this movement was a surrounding natural zone or greenbelt.) This utopian community-building program shared most of the characteristics of the Plat of Zion, and was being aggressively promoted and reported in London in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by its founder, Ebenezer (later, Sir Ebenezer) Howard. (The Englishman Howard—who had previously homesteaded in the central United States and worked as a journalist in Illinois—was instrumental in encouraging a similar satellite model community approach to community-building during this same period in England.)

Howard’s American-influenced model community concept was popularized in a book in the 1890s and was first called the “New Jerusalem,” which was also a highly familiar name and theme amongst the Mormons. He later renamed it a Garden City in his book, To-morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform, published in 1898, the year Magrath was formed. In 1902 his book was republished under the title, Garden Cities of To-morrow.

in the late 1890s while Charles Magrath, Jeremiah Head and their associates were raising funds to build Magrath, Stirling and the irrigation system in London, this movement was taking root. The immigration opportunities and fundraising activities of the Alberta Railway and Irrigation Company were also being actively promoted in England at this time by the Galt family and the Canadian government.

Tonya Dee Basset’s thesis titled Mormon City Planning, Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Broadacre City: A Comparative Analysis of Three Utopian Planning Concepts, further confirms the linkage between these planning movements. Stanley Buder’s book, Visionaries and Planners: The Garden City Movement and the Modern Community, supports this link as well.

The relationship between untamed nature, pastoral life and urban development has always been linked to movement across the land and the relationship to water. The well-known historian and scholar, Hugh Nibley, once said that in the ancient world the existence of irrigation—in Babylonia, the Nile Delta, and elsewhere—was generally seen as the taming of chaos, as an evidence of divine favour, having profound settlement, civilizing and urban historical implications.

Canada’s Mormon Trail

Canada’s Mormon Trail is a regional tourism initiative supported by Alberta Culture, Travel Alberta, and other departments of the Government of Alberta. It is also being aggressively promoted by the Canadian Badlands regional tourism organization which represents over 60 municipalities in Southern Alberta. The Mormon Trail and the Magrath Trail are considered important brands assets by these groups.

The Mormon Trail currently extends from the Village of Stirling through the communities of Raymond, Magrath and Cardston, terminating at Waterton Lakes National Park. It showcases the unique history of the settlement of Southern Alberta by Mormon pioneers. (Nineteen communities were established as part of this settlement effort.) It also promotes annual events and tourism-oriented initiatives.

Cultural and educationally-oriented tourism is becoming increasingly popular throughout the world. The unique natural history, scenic beauty, and cultural history of Magrath and its neighbouring communities is expected to draw many visitors to the Magrath Trail and its associated interpretive sites and landscapes.

Irrigation Builders Memorial Park

As mentioned previously, the planned communities of Magrath and Stirling were built as part of a major irrigation-based colonizing effort which occurred in Southern Alberta in the late 19th century. The entire Village of Stirling was recently designated as a National Historic Site to commemorate this distinctive settlement pattern called the ‘Plat of Zion.’ The Town of Magrath was built under contract based on this same pattern. (Five hundred communities of this type were established in the United States and Canada in the 19th and early 20th century.)

[Include a photograph here of the original plaque and text clearly visible.]

The plans for Irrigation Builders Memorial Park were prepared in in 1979 and the site has been developed progressively ever since. It serves as the Magrath Trail’s major staging point and interpretive area. A Trail side loop showcases numerous exhibits and historic markers commemorating the unique industrial history, pioneering past and unique history of Magrath. Charles Ora Card, John W. Taylor, and the family of Sir Alexander Galt—primarily his son, Elliott Galt, and his son-in-law, Charles Magrath—played an important role in the early settlement and agricultural history of the Province of Alberta.

Features include:

  • An Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada Marker
  • The J. A. Spencer Memorial Park Plaque
  • An Official Historic Marker (Including QR Code) of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
  • An Historic Canal Dredge
  • An Historic Sleigh
  • Other Markers and Artifacts Commemorating the Irrigation and Model Community Roots of Magrath

Pavilion and Interpretive Signage

The major parking and staging area for the Magrath Trail is being located on the southern edge of the Galt Canal within Irrigation Builders Memorial Park. It will include handicap-accessible restroom facilities, a parking and picnicking area, and the Trail’s main interpretive pavilion and shelter. Among other things, this facility will serve as a staging area for Trail-based competitive, recreational, educational, tourist, and other events.

Other features of this Interpretive Pavilion Area include:

  • A Magrath Trail Contributors Donor Wall
  • A Map Describing the Current and Future Extent of the Magrath Trail
  • Individual Vehicle and Bus Parking
  • Picnic Shelters in Adjacent Jubilee Park
  • Group Fire Pits in this Location and in Adjacent Jubilee Park
  • Provincial and Magrath and District Interpretive Signage
  • Overnight Campsites and Picnic Areas in Adjacent Jubilee Park
  • Children’s Fish Pond and Playground in Adjacent Jubilee Park
  • Ball Field and Historic Sites in Adjacent Jubilee Park
  • Further Parking in Adjacent Jubilee Park

Recreation Activities and Trail Entrance Points

From a best practices perspective, one of the most important purposes of the Magrath Trail is to provide as many points of access to this community-surrounding trail and open space corridor to as many Magrath and Cardston County residents as possible. To achieve this, major access points—which will include parking on Town-owned property—are currently planned at the points marked by an asterisk on the adjacent projected trail loop drawing. Many residents are also expected to locate their residences and businesses adjacent to or in close proximity to the Trail. Our goal is to provide ready access to as many urban and rural residents and visitors as possible.

The major interpretive areas and most segments of the trail will be fully handicap-accessible.

Activities that will occur along and adjacent to the trail include:

  • Walking and Jogging
  • Bicycling
  • Skateboarding
  • Competitive Bicycle and Running Events
  • Bird Watching and Photography
  • Fishing and Canoeing
  • Leopard Frog Re-Instatement and Other Eco-Tourism
  • Post-Secondary School Field Trips
  • Educational and Historical Tours
  • Canada’s Mormon Trail Galt Museum and other Regional Bus Tours
  • Geocaching Activities

Project Features, Segments and Financial Support Opportunities for the Magrath Trail

Trail Paving and Development

Major segments of the Magrath Trail that have been excavated, based with gravel, and paved to date have been funded through private contributions, local fundraisers, and support from the Town of Magrath, Cardston County, and the Province of Alberta. The Magrath and District Recreation Committee and its Magrath Trail Sub-Committee have played a leadership role in the organization, planning and start-up stages of this groundbreaking intermunicipal recreational, historic and community-building initiative.

Most of the current and future Magrath Trail corridor follows rights-of-way that either belong to the Town or have been negotiated and committed by supportive groups and landowners. The Municipal Planning Commissions and Intermunicipal Development Committee of both municipalities will also be involved in coordinating the final layout and arrangements required to complete the loop around the community from a land use planning and right-of-way perspective.


Based on current planning, four bridges spanning Pothole Creek will be required at separate locations along the Trail as shown on the attached aerial photograph. They include:

  • An approximate 20 meter span crossing at the southwest corner of Magrath just north of the Magrath Golf Club
  • An approximate 20 meter span crossing near the junction of 2nd Avenue South and 1st Street East
  • An approximate 10 meter span crossing near the junction of 3rd Avenue South and 3rd Street East
  • An approximate 10 meter span crossing on the eastern edge of Magrath in Cardston County

The two smaller bridges would be portable and designed for removal for short periods during major flood events. The two longer bridges would be fixed in place and designed to survive any foreseeable flooding.

A small arched 5 meter span red oriental bridge is also being considered for a minor sideloop of the Magrath Trail near the Town of Magrath’s original swimming hole along the Galt Canal near Irrigation Builders Memorial Park.


Many new benches will be located in prominent and sheltered spots along the Trail. Trail-related fundraising will focus on contributions to these and other features throughout the Trail corridor, providing places to view the diversity of landscapes, animal life and vistas throughout the southern and eastern sections of the Trail particularly. Interpretive signage will also centre around many of these bench locations.

Gated Entrances

A gated entrance to some of the major points of entrance are also being considered along the Trail. The design of these entrances will be consistent with the branding-oriented graphic design, materials and signage strategy that will be employed throughout the Trail.


Attractively designed bollards will also be strategically placed along the major entrance points of the Trail in order to restrict vehicular access to the Trail.


Paved and graveled parking areas will be provided at strategic points throughout the Trail corridor. These areas will be attractively and consistently landscaped to complement the naturalistic visual quality of the Trail.


One or more gazebos may eventually be established at strategic park and entrance locations along the Magrath Trail. Similar structures may also be located in other community parks to match those on the Trail.

Interpretive Trail Signage

Similar signage materials and graphic design will characterize all of the interpretive and donor signage throughout the Magrath Trail system. QR code or other internet-based media links will also be assigned to plant, fish and wildlife, and ecological (The Town’s leopard frog reinstatement program, for instance.) signage. Similarly designed historic and community-building interpretive signage will also be provided at sites throughout the Trail corridor.

Trash Receptacles

Another fundraising target will be consistently animal-proof trash receptacles throughout the Trail corridor. Doggie bags will be associated with many of these locations at Trail entrance and exit points particularly.

Head-Gates Restoration

A recent historic site restoration study identifies a number of important upgrades to preserve the existing historic head-gates area. These project types and associated cost estimates are included here.

Historical Artifact Restoration

There are many important existing and potential irrigation and Magrath history-oriented artifacts in need of interpretation and restoration at Irrigation Builders Memorial Park. Other sites along the Trail corridor may also be considered to showcase some of the unique irrigation and wider history of this culturally diverse region.

Donor Recognition

The Magrath Trail is a legacy project commemorating the past and future history of Magrath and its surrounding rural region.

All of the abovementioned features and segments will be added to the Trail progressively as donor support and public sector funding allows. Recognition for these contributions will be prominently displayed near the main Trail Pavilion on its Donor Wall. Major contributions of segments of trail, benches, bridges, interpretive signage and other features will also be recognized with consistently-designed freestanding signs or plaques attached to the respective features.

Multi-media QR codes or other links to online information may also be included in the case of major contributions to provide information and to showcase the history of the individuals, families, companies and organizations making larger contributions to the completing of the Trail.

Future Trails Development

A master plan is being prepared to coordinate the stage-by-stage development of the Trail as it extends in coming years. Ultimately, the success of the success and extent of the Magrath Trail will depend on its value to past and future residents, as well as to corporate, private, local and wider government, and institutional supporters that appreciate the community and wider goals, values, narratives and benefits that this trail represents.

Media Material

The Magrath Trail and its progressive phases will be prominently showcased on the Town of Magrath website, as well as on its social media pages. The Trail is an important part of the Magrath brand. Consequently, it is important that its graphic and descriptive materials and the Trail itself be promoted in a graphically consistently as well as in a current and timely matter.

Trail-based and related events like the Magrath Triathalon will also be profiled on the Town’s website calendar. The Trail will also be consistently profiled in its printed Leisure Guide, newsletters, and in online recreational postings.

Timeline and Budget

The Magrath Trail will be developed in the following stages based on the budget projections in 2014 dollars in the attached chart:


The Magrath Trail is a ground breaking educational, recreational and community-building project based on the unique opportunities, interests, history, fitness orientation, and location of the Town of Magrath. It is a legacy project at the end of the day, and we believe it will one day be recognized as an extraordinary and pioneering achievement.

Working in close cooperation with our rural neighbours, corporate partners, institutions, private contributors, and many levels of government, we are confident that this project (in successive stages) can and will be realized. To this end, we welcome and encourage your current and continuing support.

Magrath was built by individuals and families from many different backgrounds and from many parts of the world. They came here hoping for a better life and—though they may not have realized it at the time—to participate in building this community and province.

The Magrath Trail is a vision and investment that will benefit its current residents as well as generations to come. It will also make Magrath—from many different perspectives—a more distinctive, more fit, and even better place to live.