Though the Southwest Calgary Ring Road is perhaps the best known Provincial road to be planned through the Tsuut’ina Nation reserve, it is not the first; over a hundred years ago another Provincial road was sought, and built, across the Nation’s land. The story of the Priddis Trail, as the early road was known, may provide some much-needed context with which to view the long negotiations for the ring road project, and perhaps to understand how the legacy of previous land agreements may have influenced the current process.
In this five-part series, I will look at the establishment of the old road through the Tsuut’ina reserve, the use and decline of the route as a public highway, and the problems surrounding the ownership and the handling of the land and the deal. Part Two: The Use of the Road, can be found here while Part 3 can be found here. I acknowledge that the resources that inform this work are largely that of non-First Nations sources, and while this is intended to be a factual look at the history of the road, it must be noted that the perspective is largely non-indigenous. I hope that further research, working with Tsuut’ina sources, will reveal other equally valid perspectives on this story in the future.
THE NEED FOR GOOD ROADS
At the turn of the century, settlers of the Priddis and Millarville areas of southern Alberta relied on well established, though informal and unmaintained, wagon trails in order to access Calgary and other areas and ranches of the region.
The provision of useful roads in the North West Territories was a constant battle for the Government, and many districts in the Territories, including Alberta, chronically suffered from poor or impassable routes. In 1900, the Department of Public Works noted this problem in its annual report:
“…so long as we have earth roads we must expect bad roads during wet seasons, and as the conditions in the Territories will not permit the construction of any other kinds of roads for many years to come it must be understood now that during certain years good roads will be an impossibility.” 1
In the midst of 1899, a notably wet year, local settlers and homesteaders called upon the Government of the North West Territories to improve and maintain a reliable road to the Priddis area. There already existed a well-used old trail between Priddis and Calgary, known locally as the Priddis Trail, or Gunawaspa Tina in Tsuut’ina, and it was this route that the locals wanted improved.2 Much like the case of the Southwest Calgary Ring Road, it was an alignment through the Tsuut’ina reserve that was seen by the Government as providing the most efficient route to serve those living south of central Calgary. In this case however, its use was reported to have predated the establishment of the reserve.3
(A map from 1897 showing the route of the Priddis Trail. Source: “Preliminary map of a portion of the District of Alberta showing Canadian irrigation surveys during 1894″. University of Alberta Libraries, Peel Map 747.)
Crossing the eastern portion of the Tsuut’ina reserve (at that time known as the Sarcee reserve) and leading diagonally from what is now the corner of Glenmore Trail and 37th street SW to a point just north of Priddis, the trail had been in use for many years by early European settlers of the area and Nation members. Like many in the North West Territories, the earthen trail suffered from regular periods of muddy and impassable conditions, and despite warnings that roads may not be improvable in the short-term, the Government had recently begun to prioritize important ‘Colonisation Roads’4 which connected newly settled areas and local market centres. Calls for the trail to be opened and improved as a public highway were heeded.
ACQUIRING THE ROAD
The pressure from homesteaders for better access to the Priddis area led the Government to investigate acquiring the land for the Priddis Trail, specifically the portion that crossed the Tsuut’ina reserve. Deputy Commissioner J. S. Dennis of the Department of Public Works wrote to Indian Commissioner David Laird to ask about having the corridor surveyed and transferred to the Territorial Government. In his letter, Dennis noted that while he believed that the trail could be expropriated, it would be a ‘much more simple proceeding’ for the DIA to instead consent to the survey and the transfer of the land.5 Although the Government made no mention of asking for permission from the Tsuut’ina, Laird took the issue up with the local Indian Agent, and asked if the Nation would object to the survey, and if it would be in the Nation’s interest to see the road opened as a public highway.6
Following several meetings between the Acting Indian Agent, Tsuut’ina Chief Bull Head and a minor Tsuut’ina Chief, a council of male Nation members was assembled to discuss the request.7 On May 15 1899, less than three weeks after the issue was first raised with the Nation, Tsuut’ina representatives agreed to allow the Government to build their road along the existing trail. The speed at which this decision was arrived stands in stark contrast to the decades of discussions and negotiations that resulted in the acceptance of the Southwest Calgary Ring Road.
The Priddis Trail agreement came on several conditions: First, that a bridge would be built across the Elbow river at ‘Weaselhead Crossing’, and second; that if the corridor was to be fenced, the Nation would not be called upon to pay for the fencing.8 A third condition, that the Government would compel settlers who grazed their cattle on reserve land without permission to either pay the Nation or be removed from the land, was later dropped.9 Throughout the meeting, the Agent and the Nation members repeatedly referred to the supplied sketch of the existing trail in order to discuss which portion of the reserve the Nation members were being asked to surrender.10
With the Nation seemingly agreed on the transfer of the land, a formal surrender was made on January 3 1900, and was accepted by the Privy Council of Canada on February 5. In the absence of a formal survey of the existing trail and a legal description of the land requirements, the Nation’s surrender noted that the 66-foot-wide corridor was ‘shown coloured in red on attached plan’, and the Order in Council stated that the strip of land was to be ‘surveyed and opened up’ for public use as a road.11
In comparison to the more than $275 million paid and the land exchange of more than 5000 acres for the Southwest Calgary Ring Road corridor, the Government had offered no compensation to the Nation for the Priddis Trail land and none was requested. Perhaps more interesting is that although the Nation surrendered their rights and interests to the land, the Territorial Government took no further steps to transfer the ownership of the corridor from the Crown.12 While the Territorial Government believed that the ownership of the land was theirs, the wording of the surrender makes no mention of the transfer or sale of the land, only that the Federal Government would hold the land in trust so that corridor would ‘be used for road purposes’.13 The ambiguity of the surrender, and of the intentions of the Nation in agreeing to the surrender, would come back to play a role later in the story of this road, which will be discussed further in Part 3.
THE FIRST SURVEY
In 1899, following the positive reception of the Tsuut’ina Nation, noted surveyor A. P. Patrick conducted a survey of the route of the Priddis Trail.14 Patrick compiled a map of the survey by the spring of 1900 (below) which showed the full extent of the corridor; capturing the existing trail’s location and detailing more fully the sketch that accompanied the surrender.15
With an agreement in place, and a survey completed, it appeared that the conditions of the surrender were being fulfilled; the way was clear for the Government of the North West Territories to begin opening up the old trail as a public highway. In fact, the Government wasted no time in beginning the project, and by late 1900 the road and a new bridge over the Elbow river would be under construction. There was an oddity however; despite a sketch, a survey and an existing trail that all agreed on the route, the Department of Public Works went about constructing the road and bridge in a different location than was agreed with the Tsuut’ina Nation and the Federal Government.
A NEW BRIDGE AND A NEW ROAD
In October of 1900, the North West Territories sent its superintendent of bridge construction to Calgary to oversee construction of the new Weaselhead Bridge.16 This 80-foot span with a 100-foot approach was the first steel road bridge constructed over the Elbow river, and was built at a cost of about $20 per foot.17
(Notice of construction of the Weaselhead Bridge, at the ‘Weazel Head Crossing’. Source: Annual Report of the Department of Public Works of the Northwest Territories, 1900. University of Alberta Libraries, Peel 9536.14)
The bridge, however, was not located where it was agreed. The structure was built a kilometre downstream from the original river crossing, and large portions of the narrow dirt road deviated from the path of the original trail. The largest alteration occurred in north-east corner of the reserve closest to Calgary, in the Weaselhead area.
It isn’t entirely clear why the location chosen for the new bridge and road was so dramatically different from the existing trail and the original survey, though there is indication that the practice of altering the routes of old trails wasn’t uncommon.
In 1907, upon returning to Calgary via the Priddis Trail from a season of surveying (including an important re-survey of that very trail), Calgary Area District Engineer and Surveyor John Empey noted that numerous roads were being constructed ‘off the survey’.
“A number of re-surveys with needless loss of time were necessitated through road improvements having been deliberately made off the surveys and upon locations that in the majority of cases were not as suitable for road making as locations surveyed by the engineer and surveyor, and I beg to recommend that a firm stand be taken by the Department to prevent the repetition of this kind of work.”18
Provisions in the North West Territories Act did allow surveyors to alter the paths of old trails in order to improve them when opening them up as public roads, and though appropriate in many parts of the Territories, this would appear to conflict with laws and agreements governing First Nations reserves. While this situation did not apply to the changes made to the Priddis Trail (the alterations not having been made by the surveyor), the law recognized that strictly adhering to pre-existing routes may not yield an alignment as ideal as a properly surveyed right-of-way.
It appears that the southern portions of the route were altered in order to avoid soft land near the Fish Creek which was considered unsuitable for road building20, and it is likely that the change of location for the bridge also lies with the conditions and geography of the Weaselhead area. Prior to the building of the new bridge, travellers would ford the Elbow river on foot at the ‘Weaselhead Crossing’. While this was a suitable place to cross the river by foot, the new crossing may have been chosen as a more appropriate location for a bridge, or perhaps for better navigation of the steep hills of the Elbow river valley.
It is interesting to note that while the original ‘Weaselhead Crossing’ was not used for the modified Priddis Trail, over 100 years later it was selected as the location for where the Southwest Calgary Ring Road will soon cross the Elbow River.
THE SECOND, THIRD, FOURTH, FIFTH AND SIXTH SURVEYS
In the years following the completion of the Patrick survey and the opening of the road, a number of diversions were recorded by a succession of local surveyors. These alterations appear to be a combination of the Government updating their surveys to reflect the road as it was constructed, as well as the road itself being modified over the years, to provide a more suitable route (as far as settlers and the Government was concerned) through the reserve.
(A depiction of the many surveys undertaken on the Priddis Trail between 1899 and 1916, showing the changes made over the years. Source: Plans 1119i, 6411i, 3485az, RD583-CLSR-AB, 876-CLSR-AB, 876A-CLSR-AB )
In 1902 and 1904, surveyor A. C. Talbot recorded two road diversions near the southern boundary of the Tsuut’ina reserve. The newly altered route pushed the road away from Fish Creek and was slightly less direct, requiring additional land to accommodate the changes.21 22
In 1905, five years after the new bridge was constructed, the road over the Elbow river and through the Weaselhead area was surveyed. This ‘Weasel Head Road’ is noted as a distinct branch from the Priddis Trail, and represents the most significant diversion from the original survey and surrender.23 Rather than entering Calgary at the corner of what is now Glenmore Trail and 37th street SW, the road headed east through the Weaselhead and joined 37th street SW in what is now the community of Lakeview. This plan also appears to be the last time the original Patrick route was referred to as the Priddis Trail, and soon the new Weaselhead diversion would be incorporated into the ‘final’ draft of the Priddis Trail route. This route will still look familiar to Weaselhead park users today; the modern cycle path and pedestrian bridge in the park follows the same alignment laid out for the Priddis Trail over 100 years ago.
With an outdated ‘master’ survey and several appended diversions now recording the route of the road, the Government decided to re-survey the entire Priddis Trail in 1907, apparently discarding the Patrick survey once and for all. In fact, while other surveys of the Tsuut’ina reserve are present, the Patrick survey is notably absent from the Canada Lands Survey Records archive of Crown Lands surveys, managed by Natural Resources Canada which has the ‘legislated responsibility to regulate all legal surveys on Canada Lands.’24 Given the Patrick survey’s omission from Federal records, and the lack of even a single reference to it over the following decades, it isn’t clear if the Tsuut’ina Nation was even aware of its existence at the time it was created.
The new survey completed in 1907, known as Plan 876, documented the entire route within the Tsuut’ina reserve, and incorporated another series of small adjustments to the alignment.25 A final round of minor revisions in 1916 known as Plan 876 would be the last survey of the route26, and all significant descriptions of the road after 1916 continue to refer to the either Plan 876 or 876A as the final recognized route(s) of the Priddis Trail, including references by the Nation itself.27 This recognition comes despite the plans being produced as many as 16 years after the opening of the road, and despite no further formal surrenders or land transfers having been negotiated with the Tsuut’ina Nation in order to accommodate the many changes contained therein. An agreement with the Nation appears to have been obtained in early 1916 that would formalize the 1907 survey as the accepted route of the road28, although without a formal surrender, and with the 1900 surrender continuing to be referenced as the authority on which the road was built, it is unclear if this agreement carries any legal weight.
The final recognized route of the road contained 76.48 acres of land, a figure which changed (often increasing) several times over the life of the road.29 Though significant, this figure pales in comparison to the 1058 acres of the Southwest Calgary Ring Road corridor through Tsuut’ina Nation lands.
THE ROAD IN (AND OUT OF) SERVICE
With the road and bridge opened and the route surveyed, the Priddis Trail was officially a Territorial and Provincial public highway. The trail continued to provide much needed access to the Priddis, Millarville, and Turner Valley areas of the Province, though despite the effort in bringing the road to life, it’s utility was not to last. Like a great many things in southern Alberta, the Priddis Trail would see dramatic changes with the discovery of oil in the areas served by this road.
The next four parts of the story will look at the remarkable life and ultimate decline of this road, while the final part will look at the legacy the Priddis Trail has created; a legacy that is still being felt today.
1) Annual Report of the Department of Public Works of the Northwest Territories, 1900. Government of the Northwest Territories. University of Alberta Libraries, Peel 9536.14.
2) Letter from J. S. Dennis, Deputy Commissioner, Department of Public Works of the Northwest Territories to David Laird, Indian Commissioner, April 24 1899. Public Archives Canada, Indian Affairs RG-10, Vol 3556, File 25, pt.17).
3) The acting Indian Agent stated “The Chief informed me the trail marked in the plan was in use by the indians before the treaty was made with them.” Letter from the Acting Indian Agent, Sarcee Agency, to David Laird, Indian Commissioner, May 16 1899. Public Archives Canada, Indian Affairs RG-10, Vol 3556, File 25, pt.17).
4) Annual Report of the Department of Public Works of the Northwest Territories, 1900. Government of the Northwest Territories. University of Alberta Libraries, Peel 9536.14.
5) Letter from J. S. Dennis, Deputy Commissioner, Department of Public Works of the Northwest Territories to David Laird, Indian Commissioner, April 24 1899. Public Archives Canada, Indian Affairs RG-10, Vol 3556, File 25, pt.17).
6) Letter from David Laird, Indian Commissioner, to Indian Agent A. J. McNeill, Sarcee Agency, April 26 1899. Public Archives Canada, Indian Affairs RG-10, Vol 3556, File 25, pt.17).
7) Letter from the Acting Indian Agent, Sarcee Agency, to David Laird, Indian Commissioner, May 16 1899. Public Archives Canada, Indian Affairs RG-10, Vol 3556, File 25, pt.17).
8) ‘Promise of Surrender’ by Tsuut’ina members, May 15 1899. Public Archives Canada, Indian Affairs RG-10, Vol 3556, File 25, pt.17).
9) Letter from Indian Agent A. J. McNeill, Sarcee Agency, to David Laird, Indian Commissioner, June 16 1899. Public Archives Canada, Indian Affairs RG-10, Vol 3556, File 25, pt.17).
10) Letter from the Acting Indian Agent, Sarcee Agency, to David Laird, Indian Commissioner, May 16 1899. Public Archives Canada, Indian Affairs RG-10, Vol 3556, File 25, pt.17).
11) Order in Council P.C. 261, February 4 1900.
12) Letter from D. J. Allan, Superintendent Reserves and Trusts, Department of Indian Affairs to W. M. Cory, Esq., Legal Adviser, Department of Citizenship and Immigration, January 17 1952.
13) “The Sarcee Indian To The Queen Surrender Portion of Land on Sarcee Reserve for a Road” Surrender No. 429. January 3 1900. Appended to Order in Council P.C. 261, February 4 1900.
14) “Field Notes of Survey of Old Trail and New Road. from N.E. Cor. Sarcee Res. to Millarville P.O. by A. P. Patrick D.T.S. 1899.” Provincial Archives of Alberta, GR1983.0199 Box 1, File 20.
15) 1119i. “Plan Shewing Survey of Old Trail and New Road. from N.E. Cor. Sarcee Indian Reserve to Millarville P.O.” May 23 1900. Alberta Land Titles, Southern Alberta Land Registration District.
16) “Local and General” October 2 1900. Calgary Daily Herald.
17) Annual Report of the Department of Public Works of the Northwest Territories, 1900. Government of the Northwest Territories. University of Alberta Libraries, Peel 9536.14.
18) Annual Report of the Department of Public Works of the Province of Alberta, 1907. Government of Alberta. University of Alberta Libraries, Peel 9536.2.
19) “C Battery fording the Elbow River, Sarcee Camp, 1933” http://freepages.family.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~cfgamblesresearch/Charles%20Frederick%20Gambles%201888-1959%20-%20A%20WWI%20Veteran.htm)
20) Letter from F. J. Graham, District Engineer, Department of Public Works, Alberta to J. D. Robertson Esq., Deputy Minister Department of Public Works, Alberta. October 27 1927. Provincial Archives of Alberta, GR1967.303 Box 66, 41.4.45.
21) 6411i. “Plan Showing Survey of a Diversion of a Surveyed Trail in the Sarcee Indian Reserve, Tp.23 Rge.3 West of 5th Mn, By A. C. Talbot D.L.S.”, Dated March 12 1903. Alberta Land Titles, Southern Alberta Land Registration District.
22) 3485az. “Plan Shewing the Survey of a Diversion of the Calgary & Priddis Trail in the Sarcee Indian Reserve, Tp.23 Rge.3 West of 5th Mn, By A. C. Talbot D.L.S., 1904”, Dated April 29 1905. Alberta Land Titles, Southern Alberta Land Registration District.
23) RD583-CLSR-AB “Plan of Weasel Head Road” by H. H. Moore, D. L. S., Dated March 27 1905. Canada Lands Survey System.
24)”Federal Programs – Canada Lands Surveys”, Natural Resources Canada. Retrieved January 2 2016. http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/earth-sciences/geomatics/canada-lands-surveys/federal-programs/10849, and “Aboriginal Land Claim Boundaries”, Natural Resources Canada. Retrieved January 2 2016. http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/the-north/boundaries/aboriginal-land-claims/10714.
25) 876-CLSR-AB. “Plan Shewing Surveyed Road across the Sarcee Indian Reserve” by J. M. Empey D.L.S., 1907, Dated May 4 1908. Canada Lands Survey System.
26) 876A-CLSR-AB. “Plan Shewing Change in Surveyed Road in Sarcee Indian Reserve” by W. H. Young D.L.S., 1916, Dated June 2 1917. Canada Lands Survey System.
27) See for instance Order in Council P.C. 1575 1/2, March 21 1952, and Order in Council P.C. 1985-3599, December 12 1985. The Tsuut’ina Nation itself references 876-CLSR-AB as the accepted route of the Priddis Trail in their 2004 land claim submission to the Federal Government: “Tsuu T’ina Nation 1931 Glenmore Reservoir Surrender” Specific Land Submission, Maurice Law Barristers & Solicitors, August 16, 2004.
28) Agreement, January 25 1916. Appended to Privy Council P. C. 33, January 10 1920, and P. C. 162, January 26 1920.
29) An additional 0.91 acres is noted on the 1902 resurvey ‘6411i’, while an additional 0.02 acres was required for the changes in the ‘876A-CLSR-AB” resurvey. Other resurveys do not note acreage changes, while the original ‘1119i’ plan does not tally the total area required from the Tsuut’ina Nation reserve. The largest diversion, the ‘Weasel Head Road’ shown on survey ‘RD583-CLSR-AB’ is noted to require an additional 13.13 acres, though no acreage is given for the portion of the trail this diversion replaced.