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.
At a ceremony today, held at the Tsuu T’ina Seven Chiefs Sportsplex, the 2013 ring road agreement was signed by Tsuu T’ina Chief Roy Whitney, Premier Alison Redford and Transportation Minister Ric McIver.
(Picture courtesy of Parker Hogan, Alberta Transportation)
Noting the agreement signifies the beginning of a long friendship between the Province and the Nation, McIver stated that the name of the road will be chosen by the Tsuu T’ina, and that the project will include Tsuu T’ina motifs. Chief Whitney noted that discussions of the ring road through the Nation have been ongoing for ‘over 60 years’, and that the project will bring benefits for the language, culture and economics of the Nation. He also characterized the agreement as probably the most important modern event in the history of the Tsuu T’ina.
(Picture courtesy of Amy Lonsberry)
The signing of the agreement marks a historic milestone in the development of this road, and has moved the Southwest Calgary Ring Road project forward with the next steps involving the approval of the federal government. McIver stated in a press release “We will work in partnership with the Tsuu T’ina Nation and the federal government to proceed with the land transfer. This work will be guided by a committee with representatives from all parties and we will continue to work together in good faith.”
Once the land transfers have been enacted, the Province will have seven years to complete the opening phase of the southwest ring road.
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.
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 →
On September 19 2013, Transportation Minister Ric McIver confirmed a story published in the Calgary Journal the day before, and announced that the past several years of negotiations between the Tsuu T’ina and the Province regarding the ring road had come to a fruitful conclusion with the finalization of a new ring road deal. According to the Journal, on September 10 the Tsuu T’ina Council had approved a tentative deal regarding the land and compensation required to build the southwest Calgary ring road through the First Nation reserve. With a deal agreed upon by the Province and the Nation’s Council, all that remains is a referendum of Tsuu T’ina members, which has been set for October 24 2013. This marks only the second time that an agreement will come to a referendum of Nation members; the first, in 2009, was rejected.
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.