The Weaselhead Flats park is a 593.5 acre area of the Elbow River valley upstream of the Glenmore Reservoir in Southwest Calgary. The first recorded mention of the name ‘Weaselhead’ in relation to the Elbow river valley dates back to the 1890s, but where did the name originate? Why do we call this park, and the rest of the valley within the Tsuut’ina Nation reserve, ‘Weaselhead’?
There are a number of explanations for the origin of the Weaselhead name, and while some details may never fully be known, we can begin to learn the story of where the name came from, and how the area came to be known as the Weaselhead.
Conflicting Origin Stories
The City of Calgary acknowledges that the origin of the name of the Weaselhead Flats park is unclear, but points to the idea that the area was named after a Tsuut’ina man named Weaselhead. According to the City, the area is “…likely named after the Tsuu T’ina Chief Weaselhead who was in power at the time of European contact.”1
However, this isn’t the only origin story regarding the Weaselhead name; there is an alternative explanation known within the Tsuut’ina Nation which proposes just the opposite. In this version, Weaselhead was not Tsuut’ina, but a con-man from another Nation who was murdered along the banks of the Elbow river when his criminal ways caught up with him. According to this retelling, the name Weaselhead was then given to the area as a cautionary tale against adopting such a lifestyle.2
Clearly both cannot be true, and there is enough evidence that would suggest that perhaps neither is exactly right. Both stories say that Weaselhead was a man, but what do we know about this man, and how did he come to lend his name to this part of the Elbow River? Continue reading “Finding Weaselhead”
UPDATE: This presentation is now fully-booked. Thank you to all who want to come, and I will see if there are other opportunities to present on this topic in the future.
Next month I will be presenting at the new Central Library. The discussion will focus on one particular facet of the history of the broader ring road story; the long history of actions to acquire or assert control over Tsuut’ina Nation reserve lands, from the 1880s to today. Please join me for the talk and a Q &A session after.
Thursday, Sept. 26. 7:00 – 8:30 p.m. Calgary Central Library, 800 3 St SE
Why was the SW ring road planned through a First Nation’s reserve? How did the Weaselhead come to be owned by the City of Calgary? Why are Unexploded Ordnance being found in the Elbow river valley?
Join me again on this year’s Jane’s Walk through a beautiful and historic part of Calgary.
This is the fifth year that I will be leading the walk, and it will be a chance to talk about many of the issues I have covred on this blog; to look at the history of the SW Ring Road and to explore the past, present, and future of the Weaselhead area, one of the most historically rich parts of Calgary.
We’ll travel along the first Provincial highway that was built through the Tsuut’ina Nation reserve over 115 years ago (with origins dating back even before the signing of Treaty 7) and through land that was purchased in the 1930s for the Glenmore Reservoir. We’ll see where the Canadian Military operated the largest WWI training camp in Western Canada, and explore the legacy of disputed land ownership and unexploded ordnance that years of military use has left behind. We’ll experience one of the quietest corners of the city, now adjacent to where the SW Ring Road is being built, and see where previous plans would have located the road through the valley. We’ll look at the role that the Tsuut’ina Nation’s economic development plans have played in getting the road approved, and how Calgary and the Nation can come together as development progresses.
Date: Sunday May 5, 2019 Time: 1:00 pm Duration: about 2.5 hours Meeting Place: North Weaselhead Parking Lot (at the corner of 37th street SW and 66th avenue SW in Lakeview)
Don’t forget to download the handout to your smartphone for the walk! Download here
Although construction of the Southwest Calgary Ring Road has been ongoing for the past few years by the KGL Constructors partnership, it is not always easy to see what progress is being made. A large portion of the road is located on former Tsuut’ina Nation reserve land which isn’t accessible or visible to the average Calgarian, and as such, getting a sense of the work being done on this project can sometimes be difficult.
Last fall, Reddit user ‘Craftyshrew’ flew over Southwest Calgary and captured an image of the ring road project from the air. The cleared land along the route carves a visible corridor through the former reserve land, where the scale of the project, and the progress of construction, can be seen.
(Image looking north from about Highway 22x. Click image for larger version)
At this stage in the project, construction has begun to some degree on all 14 of the interchanges along the Southwest Calgary Ring Road route, and grading for the mainline ring road lanes is approximately 45% completed. Bridge pilings have been started on many of the interchanges, with the rest commencing as the 2019 construction season begins.
Construction of all interchanges will continue into 2020, when the majority of the paving will be undertaken. The southwest portion of the ring road is scheduled to be open to the public in the fall of 2021.
Thank you to Craftyshrew on reddit for their kind permission to publish their photo, and to Adam Johnson and Rizwan Hussain from Alberta Transportation.
I have recently had the opportunity to work with the Tsuut’ina Nation-Canderel Development Partnership on some design and communications work, including the website for their upcoming Taza development. I’m pleased to see the launch of the ExperienceTaza.com website this week, which provides information on this transformative First Nations project, located right on the edge of Calgary.
EDIT February 22, 2020 – The ExperienceTaza website has been replace with the new TogetherAtTaza.com website.
EDIT December 2019 – The first tenant announced for the project is a new Costco, part of “The Shops at Buffalo Run” development located within in the Taza Exchange area near 130th avenue SW.
Taza is a series of three commercial development areas, or ‘villages’, that are located on the eastern edge of the Tsuut’ina Nation reserve. From north to south, Taza Park, Taza Crossing and Taza Exchange are connected along a 9km portion of Calgary’s Southwest Ring Road, known as Tsuut’ina Trail where it crosses the reserve. The name ‘Taza’ is a Tsuut’ina word for an expression of amazement, and the development has adopted the tagline ‘Together at Tsuut’ina’.
The Taza development is a joint-venture between the Tsuut’ina Nation and the development company Canderel, and represents the culmination of nearly 50 years of economic development and planning by the Nation. For the story on the early years of the Nation’s economic planning, click here.
Click on the maps in the following sections for a larger version of each.
Taza Park is a 530-acre parcel of land located on Glenmore Trail that was previously home to the Harvey Barracks Military base. The ring road bisects Taza Park into two parcels, and the development area extends from the community of Lakeview on the east to Discovery Ridge on the west.
Access to the site is provided by three primary interchanges at 37th street SW and Glenmore Trail, at Tsuut’ina Parkway at Tsuut’ina Trail and at the new Westhills Way. Secondary access is also planned at several existing roads along 37th street SW that were originally built to provide access to the former military base.
The area is touted as a “dynamic recreation and entertainment destination” and consists of a mix of retail, dining, residential, recreational and cultural amenities. Taza Park interfaces with the existing community of Lakeview with a new lower-density residential area on the west side of 37 street SW.
The plans also feature a ‘pedestrian-friendly Market Street’, and includes a network of cycle paths, parks and artificial lakes and ponds, much of which is located overlooking the Elbow river valley and the Weaselhead area. Continue reading “Taza Revealed”
What follows is a short historical overview of the history and use of 37 Street SW in the community of Lakeview in Calgary. The road has a surprisingly long and interesting history, with a long tradition of First Nations, Military and Community use of the corridor since it was first set aside as a road.
In 1883 the Tsuut’ina Nation reserve was first surveyed and reserved for the Nation, shown below.
The same year the adjacent township was surveyed, dividing up what is now SW Calgary. This survey laid out the 66-foot-wide 37 Street SW road allowance for the first time. The arrow on the survey below indicates the road.
When the reserve was first created, the Tsuut’ina Nation established a trail through the reserve to access Calgary at what is now 37 Street SW and Glenmore Trail. This route was part of a trail known as the Priddis Trail. The map below from 1897 shows this trail.
In 1900 the government formalized that trail into a highway through the reserve, and moved the reserve entrance to what is now the Weaselhead parking lot at 37 Street SW and 66 Avenue SW. Accessing the reserve meant traversing one mile of 37 Street. Below is a map from 1926 showing route of the Priddis Trail.
For a brief time in 1930 the Priddis Trail, including that portion of 37 Street SW, was earmarked as the route of Highway 22, before ultimately being built from Midnapore.
The Priddis Trail served the Nation and Calgarians for 58 years, until the bridge over the Elbow collapsed in 1958 (pictured below). Nation citizens had already been using the Military’s new bridge, which was constructed around 1950 over the Elbow river, and returned to using the old reserve entrance point at the intersection of Glenmore Trail and 37 Street SW.
The Military built several more roads in 1957-58 that connected to 37 Street SW to allow access to Military housing and a school on the west side of the road. At this point in time, access to the Military base, the Tsuut’ina Nation reserve and a cattle ranch are the primary uses of 37 Street SW, and construction of Lakeview had not yet been started. The map shown below is from 1960.
When planning for the new community of Lakeview began in 1959, the City of Calgary designated 37 Street SW as a ‘Major Thoroughfare’ and added 34 feet to the width of the road’s original corridor.
In 1960, construction began on the neighbourhood. The first houses were built on the east side of the community, near Crowchild Trail. Over the next decade construction moved west, closer to the newly-paved 37 Street SW, and the final phase of Lakeview’s original single-family homes were built in 1968-69. Below is a picture of Lakeview from the 1970s, looking west along 66th Avenue SW.
In 1970, after much of Lakeview is largely completed, traffic maps for the first time show traffic on 37 Street SW. About 5,000 cars per day are shown on the road near Glenmore Trail, with the numbers dwindling lower towards the south end of the road. The change of the road from rural right-of-way into suburban thoroughfare marks the most significant change in the use of 37 St SW in the history of the road. Traffic on 37 Street SW was at its peak in the 1970s, when Military use, Lakeview access, and users of North Glenmore Park constituted the majority of traffic. In the 1990s the Military base was closed, and traffic has declined overall since that time. The City of Calgary’s traffic map from 1970 is shown below.
In 1967 the City of Calgary had already planned for the 37 Street SW – Glenmore trail interchange to be a ‘diamond’ style interchange when conditions warranted it. The plan from the City of Calgary’s 1967 CALTS report is shown below.
In 2010 a new temporary interchange was built at 37 Street SW and Glenmore Trail. The interchange was designed so that the bridge over Glenmore Trail was located away from where a permanent interchange would eventually be built. This would allow the interchange to remain open while a new interchange was being constructed. The current interchange is shown below, looking towards the Southwest.
In 2013 the Province of Alberta and the Tsuut’ina Nation entered into an agreement to sell land for the Southwest Calgary Ring Road. This agreement guaranteed access to the Tsuut’ina Nation reserve at 37 Street SW and Glenmore Trail as part of the ring road project. If this access is not provided, the ownership of the entire ring road corridor through the reserve will revert back to the Nation. The design of the new permanent interchange is shown below.
The contract for construction of the ring road project including the new interchange at 37 Street SW and Glenmore Trail was awarded in 2016, and some initial earthworks has already begun. The interchange is set to open by 2021.
Next year, a new development located on the Tsuut’ina Nation reserve is set to be officially unveiled. The project, the result of a partnership between the Tsuut’ina Nation and the developer Canderel, is located along a 10km portion of the Southwest Calgary Ring Road, and is being touted as a transformative combination of retail, commercial, entertainment, health, residential and tourism amenities on Calgary’s doorstep.
Given that the development relies on access from the ring road, known as Tsuut’ina Trail as it crosses the reserve, it would be easy to see the project as a direct result of the construction of this road. However, it’s more accurate to say that the construction of the road is a direct result of the Nation’s desire to develop reserve land on Calgary’s border.
Although the proposed development is certainly a new undertaking for the Nation, the idea of developing land on the reserve’s eastern edge is one that’s been nearly 50 years in the making. The planning for both the road and the developments were initially done independently of each other, with each involved party willing, or even preferring, to proceed without the other. As time went on it became increasingly clear that neither could be completed without the other, and the two projects eventually became inseparable.
PURSUIT OF SELF-DETERMINATION
The Nation has derived economic benefit from reserve land in different ways over the years, including royalties from oil and gas extraction, land leases, and the sale of surface resources such as timber and gravel. Though important, these sources of income alone have not always provided the growing community with the resources it needed to be prosperous. In the early 1970s the Tsuut’ina Nation sought to create more ambitious economic enterprises, and looked to take advantage of the proximity of the City of Calgary to help make that happen. In recent years those plans have revolved around the Southwest Calgary Ring Road, though this was not always the case.
In 1970, Tsuut’ina citizens Reg One Spot and Arnold Crowchild were appointed to head up a newly-formed economic committee by the Nation’s Chief and Council.1 The committee’s mandate was to explore development opportunities on reserve lands, and to assess the benefits and drawbacks of any such initiatives.
For many years, portions of the Tsuut’ina reserve had generated rent under long-term leases to the Canadian Military. The Nation, however, was now looking beyond land leases. The new committee was not seeking to simply lease empty land to third-party developers, but instead were looking at ways for the Nation itself to become a developer in order to reap rewards larger than rent alone would provide. Arnold Crowchild explained their position in November of 1970; “What the tribe could get from leasing this land out may seem like considerable money, but it is only a drop in the bucket compared to what we could get if we developed it ourselves”.2
Beyond the financial benefits for the Nation as a whole, the ability to develop the land was seen as critical in improving the employment opportunities of Nation members. The Nation’s employment rate was far below that of neighbouring Calgary in the 1970s, with a reported 50-70% of the Nation unemployed, depending on the season3. “The most important thing for us right now is to create jobs for our people. We can only do this by setting up our own enterprises” the economic development team is quoted as saying.4
The east side of the Nation’s reserve, being directly adjacent to Calgary, was seen as an ideal place to explore development opportunities. This portion of the reserve benefits from its close proximity to the city, including access to potential customers and the City’s transportation network, and was viewed as some of the most viable land for commercial development. The relationship between the Nation and local city residents was noted as an important consideration for any potential development, and this relationship was to be maintained by sensitive developments. “[Our developments] would have to be clean industries so we won’t develop bad relations with our City neighbours close-by” said Mr. Crowchild and Mr. One Spot5, a position which would be reiterated by a soon-to-be-released consultant’s report.
AN INITIAL PLAN
In 1971 a $75,000 study was written by Stanley Associates Engineering Ltd.6 in order to help assess the development potential of the reserve. From this report a five-project development plan was created that was intended to unlock the commercial value of the land. This plan called for the development of:
189 acres in the Southeast corner of the reserve along Fish Creek/Wolf Creek for a tent and RV campground, with a golf course and swimming facilities,
16 acres south of Anderson Road/Bull Head Road for a sports and recreation complex, including a hockey arena, tennis courts, football field and swimming pool,
160 acres adjacent to Oakridge and Cedarbrae for a mobile home park,
10 acres for an industrial park, and
1,500 acres near Bragg Creek on the reserve’s west end for a residential ‘cottage community’
The study also recommended the creation of a new legal body through which the Nation could carry out its development projects. In 1971 Sarcee Developments Ltd. was established, a company wholly-owned by the Nation, with Reg One Spot and Arnold Crowchild becoming its founding directors.7
The last proposal on the consultant’s list, the ‘cottage community’ near Bragg Creek, is arguably the most economically successful of the Nations early development plans. However Redwood Meadows, as this residential and golf-course development is known, is located on the reserve’s west side, and is therefore the development least impacted by the Southwest Calgary Ring Road story. Though Redwood Meadows is deserving of its own article delving into its history, I will not be covering that story here, and will instead focus on developments found on the east side of the reserve. Continue reading “The Road to Development, part 1”