The Southwest Ring Road: 60 Years in the Making

Today, the City of Calgary’s Transportation Department will present to the Transportation and Transit Committee on issues related to the yet-to-be-constructed West and Southwest Ring Road projects. As it happens, today also marks an important date in the history of the ring road. It was exactly 60 years ago that the Province of Alberta first announced plans for what would eventually become the Southwest Calgary Ring Road.

On Friday, November 18, 1955, the Calgary Chamber of Commerce held a meeting at the Palliser Hotel in downtown Calgary. Speaking at the event was Social Credit MLA and Minister of Highways Gordon Taylor, who provided a summary of the Province’s 12-month plan for highway projects in the Calgary area.


(The Hon. Gordon Taylor, Minister of Highways (Centre) shown here opening the Mewata Bridge, Calgary, 1954. Glenbow Archives NA-5600-7844a)

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Three Groups Shortlisted to Bid on the Southwest Calgary Ring Road

The Government of Alberta has shortlisted three consortia to bid on the Southwest Calgary Ring Road project, following the completion of the Request for Qualification (RFQ) process in August. Five groups in total responded to the request, with Mountain View Partners, Southwest Connect and Valley Link Partners having been selected.1


The Province is proceeding with the Southwest Calgary Ring Road as a 30-year Design-Build-Finance-Operate P3 (Public/Private Partnership) project, and is anticipating to contribute partial funding of between 50%-70% of the capital cost of the project.2 The selected groups will now submit proposals for the project in a Request for Proposal (RFP) process that should last about nine months.3

The RFP process includes:

  • “Outlining preliminary details of the design, including the roadway, bridges and other elements of the project”
  • “Outlining their management plan and schedule for the construction of the project”
  • “Detailing how they plan to provide partial financing for the construction of the project; and”
  • “Outlining their management plan to operate, maintain and rehabilitate this segment of the Calgary Ring Road over the 30-year operations period.3

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Federal Funding Announcement

On Thursday July 30 2015, Federal Minister for National Defence and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney, along with Alberta Minister for Transportation Brian Mason, announced Federal funding for the Southwest Calgary Ring Road project.

At the announcement, also attended by Tsuut’ina Chief Roy Whitney-Onespot, Kenney detailed a commitment of $582.9 million, which represents one quarter of the estimated $2.8 billion cost for construction of this leg of the road. The funds are being earmarked from the National Infrastructure Component of the New Building Canada Fund, which ‘provides funding for projects of national significance’1.


(Map showing the newly revised route of the Southwest ring road; from Macleod trail in the south, to west of 101st street SW in the west.)

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Highway 8 and the Ring Road

This month, the Government of Alberta revised the plans for the Southwest Calgary Ring Road Project by extending the western portion of the road into the Highway 8 corridor. This section of the ring road, what is currently Highway 8 from Sarcee trail to just west of the Calgary city limits and highlighted below in blue, had until recently been a part of the West Calgary Ring Road Project. This change shifts approximately 5km of roadway to the Southwest ring road, adds one additional interchange (69th street SW) and a new crossing over the Elbow River to the project, while removing the same from the West leg of the road.1

July_2015_update_new(The previous Southwest ring road route in green, with the addition of a portion of Highway 8 in blue, making up the most recent Southwest ring road alignment.2)

This section of Highway 8, between Sarcee trail and 101st street, has played an important role in the history of the ring road, not only recently, but for many years before.

South Morley Trail, Springbank Trail, Richmond Road and Highway 8

The modern Highway 8 partially follows the route of one of the oldest roads on Calgary’s west side. Richmond road, first known as South Morley Trail, was a key trail west of the city in the 19th century, and originally connected Calgary to the Stoney Nakoda First Nation Reserve via Springbank.3

1894_Richmond_Road(The Richmond road corridor highlighted in pink, 1894.3)
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Treaty Day

Yesterday, June 26 2015, the Tsuut’ina Nation celebrated Treaty Day, a day of celebrations capped off with a firework finale at the Grey Eagle Entertainment Centre. The day marks the establishment of the Tsuut’ina reserve with the signing of a Treaty 132 years ago.


(Articles of Surrender and Treaty – the Sarcee’s of Treaty 7 to Her Majesty – IT 332. Docket Title Page portion. 1883. Library and Archives Canada (R216-79-6-E))

Treaties and Reserves

The Tsuut’ina Nation first entered into a Treaty with the British Crown in 1877 with the signing of Treaty 7 in September of that year. This Treaty initially created a reserve at Blackfoot Crossing, near Gleichen Alberta, that was to be jointly shared between the Tsuut’ina, the Siksika and the Kainai Nations1. Following the disappearance of the Buffalo from the Alberta plains in the following years, and unrest with the shared reserve, the Nation moved near Fort Calgary in 1880. The Nation endured further hardships in the years follwing the signing of Treaty 7, and in the summer of 1881 discussions began with representatives of the Canadian Government for the creation of a new and separate reserve. After scouting potential locations, the Tsuut’ina settled along the Fish Creek that fall, on land that would soon be formally granted as a reserve.2

On June 27 1883, a new Treaty, as a supplement to Treaty 7, was agreed to by Chief Bull Head, Many Horses, Eagle Robe, Big Plume and Painted Otter. The new Treaty established the Tsuut’ina Nation reserve that we know today, having been surveyed the year before, and consisting of 108 square miles of land between Calgary and Bragg Creek.3


(Tsuut’ina reserve, surveyed 1882. Descriptions and Plans of Certain Indian Reserves in the Province of Manitoba and the North-West Territories, 1889. Nelson.)

Despite several surrenders and land sales over the years, the reserve borders have remained largely the same as was first granted in 1883. The only addition of land (above the initial allocation) happened this year, as a result of the Southwest Ring Road land swap; the additional lands that were added to the reserve in May of 2015 marked the first net-increase to the reserve since its establishment.


For an oral account of the events leading up to the establishment of the Tsuu T’ina reserve in 1883, you can view the excellent discussion with Tsuu T’ina elder Hal Eagletail: (beginning at 11:52). Also see the article “The ‘Sarcee War’: Fragmented Citizenship and the City” by Patricia K. Wood.



1) Treaty No. 7 (Copy of Treaty and Supplementary Treaty No. 7 between Her Majesty the Queen and the Blackfeet and Other Indian Tribes, at the Blackfoot Crossing of Bow River and Fort Macleod). 1877. Retrieved June 27 2015

2) The ‘Sarcee War’: Fragmented Citizenship and the City. Patricia K. Wood. 2006.

3) Articles of Surrender and Treaty – the Sarcee’s of Treaty 7 to Her Majesty. 1883. Library and Archives Canada – IT 332 (R216-79-6-E)

SW Ring Road Land Transfer Approved

On May 1 2015 the Privy Council of Canada passed order 2015-0556, which authorizes the transfer of the proposed Southwest Ring Road corridor to the Province of Alberta. The same day, the Council passed a separate order, 2015-0557, which adds and incorporates former Alberta Crown lands into the Tsuut’ina reserve. With these two documents the land acquisition required for the Southwest Calgary Ring Road is approved.

The Province transferred $275,000,000 to the federal government in April of this year. The payment for the land will only be forwarded to the Tsuut’ina Nation, and the land title will only be assigned to the Province, once the Federal Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada signs off on the transfer.

(Source: Canada Lands Survey Records (CLSR) 103661 January 21, 2015 and CLSR 103574-1 December 17, 2014. Image: Google Maps)

The Image above shows the new boundaries of the Tsuut’ina reserve. The original reserve (created in 1883) is shown in blue, while the newly added land (2015) is shown in magenta. The Weaselhead (1931), the Highway 22 corridor (1957) and the Southwest Ring Road corridor (2015) have been removed from the original reserve.

Moving Forward

The 2013 referendum of Tsuut’ina members, and the subsequent ratification of the agreement, meant that the Nation approved the sale and exchange of lands in order for the Province to acquire the corridor needed to build the Southwest Calgary Ring Road. Over the past 18 months, both the Province and the Nation have worked to fulfill their obligations under the agreement, in order to ensure that the land transfers would be approved by the Federal Government. Once the transfer has been enacted, which provincial representatives expect soon, the Province will have seven years in which to construct the road.

The commitment to construct the road was recently reaffirmed by former Premier Jim Prentice in the Progressive Conservative’s 2015 Provincial Budget, with construction of this leg of the ring road planned to begin as early as 2016. Though a new government is now in place, a finalized transfer of the corridor will oblige the Province to construct the road as agreed, or face the loss of the land and the money already paid.

Premier-designate Rachel Notley did not take a definitive stance on the Calgary Ring Road in the course of the 2015 election campaign, though she is quoted in relation to the ring road project as saying “In principle we are adopting the capital funding envelope and the vast majority of the commitments that the [Progressive] Conservatives have already adopted so you’d see us being in line with what’s already in the budget.” (Calgary Herald, April 29 2015, ‘Wildrose Leader Brian Jean promises to finish Calgary ring road by 2021′)

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The Origins of the Southwest Ring Road

The City of Calgary and the Province of Alberta variously point to planning and studies from 1959 or the 1970s as the origin of the Southwest Ring Road.1 While these studies mark important milestones in the history of this road, particularly around planning for the current iteration, the truth is that the concept is a much older one than that.


(Township plan of Bowness, Mongomery, and what would eventually become west Calgary, 1953)

Though early efforts to plan for roads that encircled Calgary’s downtown area were undertaken, including some dating back to 1914, these were not acted upon in their time. It wasn’t until a post-war explosion of vehicle ownership and population growth in Calgary had occurred that the issue of bypass roads would again be brought to the fore.

The 11-year period between 1952 and 1963 constitute the practical origin of Calgary’s bypass road system, and would see incredible effort and progress on this issue: from outright rejection, to intensive planning, and finally to construction of key portions of Calgary’s first southwest bypass route.

Early Bypass Proposal

In early 1953, Calgary M.L.A. Fred Colborne wrote a memorandum on the benefits of building a bypass road between the Old Banff Coach Road (now Bow Trail) and the Shouldice bridge in Bowness. This memorandum was sent to the Minister of Highways Gordon Taylor in an effort to advocate for such a road; the first rural bypass road envisioned for the west side of Calgary.

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