The approval of a ring road agreement between the Tsuu T’ina and the Province of Alberta in October of 2013 has opened the door for the long-planned Southwest Calgary Ring Road to be built through what is currently the Tsuu T’ina Nation reserve. By any measure, the vote to accept the deal was overwhelmingly in favour, but the idea of selling reserve land for the freeway has not always been a popular one amongst Nation members.
With a deal now agreed to locate the ring road through the reserve, a once formidable divide between the idea of retaining reserve land and selling it has seemingly been bridged, but what changed? Why has that idea of selling the land, once thoroughly rejected by Tsuu T’ina members and leadership, now been embraced?
Ring Road Planning
Although Calgary had planned for a ring road from as early as the mid-1950s, the early designs would have seen limited, or at times non-existent, incursions into the Tsuu T’ina reserve. Early designs were proposed to be largely located within Calgary’s city limits, and while there have been sporadic discussions between the City and the Nation regarding the acquisition of land for a road, in the early days these talks would appear to be perfunctory.
It wasn’t until the 1970s that more considered thought was given to planning the Southwest Calgary Ring Road through the Tsuu T’ina reserve in a substantial way.
Though the route of the southwest ring road through the Tsuu T’ina reserve has in recent years garnered the most attention of the unfinished portions of Calgary’s bypass network, there are actually two additional pieces of infrastructure needed to complete the ring. Aside from the south leg, which extends the road to Macleod Trail in the south, there is also the West Calgary Ring Road, defined as the portion of the road that connects the Trans Canada Highway to Highway 8. This is the piece that I will cover here.
Early West Side Planning
The earliest complete plans for a ring road around Calgary, dating from 1956, plotted much of the western leg of the circuit along the 53rd avenue corridor, better known today as Sarcee Trail. While the route to the north and south of this leg would undergo revisions, this western portion would remain largely unchanged for nearly 30 years, and the road would continue to be planned along the Sarcee Trail corridor until the mid 1980s. Continue reading →
The opening of the southeast Calgary ring road in November marked not only the completion of over three years of construction, but also of the fulfillment of a goal first set out by the Province of Alberta nearly 60 years earlier.
(A progression of bypass proposals for East Calgary is shown above)
In the 1950s, when bypass plans were first considered for the Calgary area, the city’s main arterial roads radiated from the core, and the primary bridges over the City’s rivers were largely located downtown. To access the industrial southeast, residents living in the new suburbs of the northwest and southwest would have to drive through or near the increasingly congested core. In order to allow drivers not bound for downtown to bypass central Calgary, and in order to allow long-range travelers to connect between major highways without adding to the congestion of the city, several bypass roads would be proposed that would avoid the city centre. These early bypass plans would include such a facility along the city’s southeastern edge.
The October 2013 ring road agreement between the Province of Alberta and the Tsuu T’ina Nation has recently been heralded by the Province and the media as a historic agreement between these two parties. While the scale, compensation and long-term impacts of this deal are indeed unique, representing the largest ever land purchase from the Tsuu T’ina reserve and the potential opening of the reserve for unprecedented development, it is not the first time a road corridor has been acquired by the Province through the reserve. The ring road agreement actually represents the seventh time that a Provincial road corridor has been secured through Tsuu T’ina lands.
Several media outlets are reporting that in a vote held on Thursday, October 24 2013, the Tsuu T’ina Nation voted in favour of accepting a deal to sell and trade reserve land to the Province of Alberta for the Southwest Ring Road. While the results will not be officially announced until midday on Friday, at a press conference to be held by Chief Roy Whitney, the agreement is reported to have been accepted with around 68% of the vote.
The details of the deal have yet to be revealed, though a separate press conference set to be held at 2pm Friday afternoon by Transportation Minister Rick McIver and Premier Alison Redford may contain more information about the agreement. The acceptance of this deal marks a historic agreement between the Province and the Tsuu T’ina Nation, on a project first detailed to the public nearly 60 years ago.
On Friday, November 18 1955 Minister of Highways Gordon Taylor addressed the Calgary Chamber of Commerce at the Palliser Hotel with an update of the highways program for upcoming year. Amongst the talk of highways and interchanges was mention of a bypass road that would connect the Macleod Trail with the still-under-construction Trans Canada Highway. This road had two proposed routes, including an ambitious long-range plan that would have seen the road travel west along Anderson Road, then north across the Elbow River west of the reservoir. While the route would change and the City would grow, the first public seeds of the Southwest Ring Road were sewn on that day.
Much work will be required over the next few years before a Southwest Ring Road is completed, but it would seem that the groundwork has been laid for both the road itself and future developments on the reserve that will follow.
Details about the road design and the agreement will be covered when they are released.
On the day of a vote by the Tsuu T’ina Nation on a potential deal to sell and trade land for the Southwest Calgary Ring Road, it’s worth looking at the history of the negotiations for this road.
Many commentators have made statements to the effect that the City of Calgary or the Province of Alberta have been negotiating with the Nation over land for the ring road for upwards of 60 years. While it’s true that designs for the road, even from the very beginning, have shown the road on reserve land, it cannot be said that true negotiations have been underway since that time. Though conversations have certainly taken place for decades, the current negotiations can be traced back to about 2004, with modern negotiations starting in 1998, and prior to 1984 the Nation were largely opposed to the entire notion of running a major freeway through their land.
The earliest ring road plans are revealed to the public. Mayor Don Mackay states that a small portion of the road, particularly the interchange with what would become 90th avenue, would cross the Tsuu T’ina reserve. Mayor Mackay said “Think of the possibilities for a great tourist attraction this would provide for the Indians… They could line the road, as it crosses their territory, with teepees and provide a wonderful sight.”
Soon the proposed road would be altered from these early plans, and the officially approved route in 1959 was not noted to require land from the reserve. No formal discussions are known to have taken place with the Nation regarding the purchase of land at this time.
In July of 2009, Calgary Mayor Dave Bronconnier stated “One thing is for sure. The legal access to the First Nation’s land is off of Anderson Road. And so we will have to accommodate and work with our neighbours as we always do… At the end of the day, we need to build an interchange at 37th Street SW and Glenmore (trail) and, most importantly, Calgarians just want us to get on with it.” Over the next few days, Bronconier indicated that while access to the reserve would always be maintained at Anderson Road, the access to the reserve and the Tsuu T’ina’s Grey Eagle Casino at Glenmore Trail and 37th street SW was only ‘considered temporary’. This was disputed by the Nation, and soon legal threats were issued over potential limits to reserve access.
The concept of a single, legally required access point between the City of Calgary and the Tsuu T’ina reserve has been raised in recent years by politicians and the media. So too has the suggestion that the access road to the Grey Eagle Casino is only temporary in nature. However, is this really the case? Is the City only required to provide a single connection? Is the entrance to the reserve near the casino provided as a courtesy, or does that access exist as a right of the Nation? The issue around this access point is highly charged, politically sensitive, and like most aspects of this story, comes with a long history behind it. Continue reading →
The 2013 southern Alberta floods did more to Calgary than damage houses and severely interrupt lives; the floods unearthed and highlighted a problem that has caused concern, and worse, for decades. In July, two unexploded military shells were found on the shores of the Elbow river in the Weaselhead area, exposing a legacy of unexploded ordnances (UXO) that lie just beneath the surface of a portion of southwest Calgary, including the potential route of the southwest ring road.
(Image of shell found in the Weaselhead area, July 2 2013. Courtesy Mark Langenbacher) Continue reading →
The Southwest Calgary Ring Road may be the best known provincial road designed to cross Tsuu T’ina land, but it wasn’t the first road sought through the reserve. In fact, it is at least the fourth road, either built or not, that the Province planned to cross the reserve. The three previous road plans, of which only one is operating today (and one never built), are also related in another way; they were all earmarked at one time or another to be the route of Highway 22.
The Priddis Trail and the Original Highway 22
The road known as the Priddis Trail was not only the first road to be considered for the role of Highway 22, it actually predates the building of that highway by many years. The road was officially established by the Province in 1900 after being surveyed for the first time in 1899. However, the route is even older than that. The Priddis Trail was set out along a much older trail that had been in use by local First Nations for decades, if not centuries. The trail is shown below in 1897.
On June 6 2013 the Canadian government ratified a settlement agreement with the Tsuu T’ina Nation that was reached this past April regarding three specific land claims. These claims, known collectively as the Glenmore Reservoir land claims, were the result of actions taken in the 1930s regarding land in the Weaselhead area.
The $20.8 million settlement has now concluded claim negotiations that had been ongoing since 1996. With the potential for the largest ever sale of Tsuu T’ina land for the still under negotiations for the ring road, it is important to understand the context of historic land deals, and the problems and sensitivities that arose from them. Continue reading →