Lethbridge’s Early Cycling History
One of the first organized sports to be established in Lethbridge was cycling. The first bicycles appeared on the prairies when young professional men moved west to seek their fortunes. These men brought their bicycles and also an understanding of how cycling as a sport should be organized and administered. The bicycle also provided these men the opportunity to demonstrate their manly abilities and competitiveness. Bicycle races were popular events that often took place during holiday sporting celebrations. In 1892 bicycle and horse races along with a lacrosse match were held as part of the “Queen’s Birthday Celebration.” At this event, F. R. Godwin won a bicycle race of two and a quarter miles, even though he started one hundred and seventy five yards behind the rest of the field. For this victory he received a cup valued at twenty dollars that may have been donated by the recently constituted Chinook Bicycle Club of Lethbridge.
In 1893 the Chinook Bicycle Club officially associated with the Canadian Wheelmen’s Association (CWA), the sports national governing body. The club boasted twenty-four members each of whom had paid their membership dues of two dollars for season including a fifty-cent fee to the CWA. The Chinook club’s “Cash Book” provides information on how a traditional late nineteenth century Canadian bicycle club would have operated. When the Chinook Bicycle Club reorganized in April 1894, elections were held for the club’s committee positions. Additionally, a schedule of weekly Wednesday night runs (riding local roads) and bi-weekly races was established. The club offered prizes for achieving the most victories during the season, for attending the weekly runs regularly, and achieving the best time on a pre-determined road course. All ladies who attended club events were declared honorary members.
In September of 1894 Lethbridge’s then premier bicycle racer, Mr. J.H. Wrigley, had the opportunity to prove his mettle against Manitoba champion J. K. McCulloch. McCulloch had accepted invitations from the Lethbridge and Medicine Hat clubs to compete in their local meets. Wrigley and McCulloch’s first track duel took place at the “Medicine Hat Races” where Wrigley lost in the open half-mile race. The following weekend at “The Fall Races” in Lethbridge, McCulloch and Wrigley both won their individual races, not competing head-to-head until the final race of the day. It was during this three-mile team race that controversy crept into the competition when McCulloch was ruled to have fouled Wrigley down the final stretch leading to his disqualification. Whether the hometown official ruled against the Manitoba champion to ensure the local rider’s victory will never be known, but what this incident does demonstrate is the growing local interest in bicycle racing.
Cycling’s popularity in Lethbridge continued through the late 1890s, although available evidence suggests the Chinook Bicycle Club ceased operations. However, in June of 1899 a new club, the Lethbridge Bicycle Club, formed. One of the new club’s first decisions was to submit an application to hold a cycling meet in the fall. To this end, a request was made to the Agricultural Society to arrange the resizing of the racetrack located on their grounds. In early September a two days of cycling races were held. On the final day of the event 300 spectators witnessed Lethbridge racers win the marquee half and one mile championship events.
Considering the variety of competitive and recreational activities engaged in by cycling clubs in Lethbridge during the 1890s, it is evident that bicycle racing and bicycle club involvement garnered considerable local interest. Even with the arrival of the automobile in the early 1900s, cycling persisted as part of the broader sporting landscape. However, it can be argued that the local interest cycling generated in these very early years represented the golden age of the sport in the city.