Quietly Stolen Land: The Piece of Calgary Owned by the Tsuut’ina Nation

One day you may find yourself taking a walk in Calgary’s North Glenmore Park, along a pathway that connects a small parking lot to an expansive overlook of the Elbow river valley. Along that walk you would be forgiven for thinking that you were still within Calgary city limits, and that the land you were crossing was owned by the City. It’s an easy mistake to make, and it is one that has been made in one form or another for over 100 years. This unassuming land, measuring only half a hectare or 1.25 acres in area, was quietly taken from the Tsuut’ina Nation over a century ago, but continues to be claimed by the City.

The disputed parcel highlighted in red above. Located adjacent to 37th Street SW and 66th Avenue SW, in North Glenmore Park just south of the Tsuut’ina Nation reserve. Source: Google Maps. Retrieved November 22, 2020.

A close look at the history of this ‘disputed parcel’ shows an unusually complex past, and reveals the improper dealings that led to the land being removed from the Tsuut’ina Nation reserve. By exploring this story we can see the understandable, yet shaky, assumptions on which Calgary claims of ownership this land, and perhaps recognize that it may be time for it to be returned.

To understand how the City of Calgary came to ‘own’ this land, we first have to look at the history of this part of the world, and the surprising use of this disputed parcel as part of an old Provincial highway.

Back to the Beginning

In the early years of European settlement of western Canada, homesteaders living in the Priddis and Millarville area, in what was then the North West Territories of Canada, relied on an old trail to access Calgary. This trail headed southwest from the city and crossed the Tsuut’ina Nation (Sarcee) reserve, and was reportedly in use since before the reserve was established in 1883.01 This dirt trail was not formally constructed or maintained, and suffered from chronically poor drainage; in wet years it often proved impassible for significant periods of time. As local ranchers and homesteaders relied on this route to access Calgary and bring their produce to market, the old trail was a vital link in a growing ranching district. (Read more on the history of the Priddis Trail)

The unreliability of the road was a chronic problem, and the Government of the Northwest Territories was pressed by local politicians and residents to improve the road.02 As the trail was an organically-created path that was located on Federal land reserved for the Tsuut’ina Nation, the Territorial Government wanted to acquire the right-of-way for the road before it expended any public money on improving and maintaining the road as a public highway.

1894 map showing the route of the Priddis Trail. Highlights by the Author. Source: “Preliminary map of a portion of the District of Alberta showing Canadian irrigation surveys during 1894″. University of Alberta Libraries, Peel Map 747.

Initially the matter was intended to be pursued as an expropriation of the land under the terms of Treaty 7 and the Indian Act, but the Territorial Government decided that it would be easier to instead secure a transfer agreement rather than acting unilaterally in order to take possession of the land.03

The Government of the Northwest Territories instructed its Department of Public Works to survey the road, and reached out to the Department of Indian Affairs in the spring of 1899 to seek consent for “…the transfer of the area therein contained after the survey is completed so that it may be declared a public highway.”04 That request was forwarded to the local Indian Agent to see if the Tsuut’ina Nation had any objection to the opening of the road. After discussions with Tsuut’ina Chief Bullhead, the matter was put to a meeting of the male citizens of the Nation. Informal permission was granted not only for the survey to take place, but also for the Government to improve and open the old trail as a public highway.05

“The Chief informed me the trail marked in the plan was in use by the Indians before the treaty was made with them.”

Indian Agent, Sarcee Agency. May 16, 1899.1

Securing a Surrender

In Canada, First Nation reserve land is owned by the Federal Government and reserved for a specific First Nation. Under the Indian Act, this land cannot be sold or transferred (outside of an expropriation) without the interested Nation first ‘surrendering’ their interests in that Federal land. Once surrendered, the land remains in the hands of the Federal Government until sold or otherwise disposed of in accordance with any conditions.

Over the remainder of the year 1899, the Department of Indian Affairs negotiated a formal surrender of the road corridor with the Nation. No money was offered for the land, and the Nation ultimately agreed to the Territorial Government building a road across the reserve with just two conditions.06 First, that a bridge be built over the Elbow river at the trail’s existing ‘Weaselhead Crossing’, and second was that if the Nation required the corridor to be fenced, they would not be asked to cover those costs. These conditions were agreed to by the Territorial Government, and on January 3, 1900 a surrender of their interest in the land was approved by the voting members of the Tsuut’ina Nation, a total of 21 citizens.07

When the surrender was agreed to by the Tsuut’ina Nation, the documentation did not contain a legal description of the land being surrendered, nor did it contain a formal survey of the route. Instead, the land being surrendered was indicated on an attached sketch showing the ‘approximate’ location of the existing trail.08

Portion of ‘Sketch showing approximately a proposed road, 66 feet wide, across the Sarcee I.R..N.W.T.’ 7th Dec. 1899. Plan T192-CLSR-AB, Canada Lands Survey Records. Note that this original plan held by the Canada Lands Survey Records has been modified with a hand-written reference to the later Plan 876 completed in 1907.

The surrender of the nation’s interests in the land was soon ratified by the Privy Council of Canada, who noted that the land was to be “…surveyed and opened up by the Government of the North West Territories as a public highway…”, though interestingly no mention of a sale was made.09 A survey would be an important step in the process, as it would serve as the legal description for the land that was surrendered for the road. In fact a proper survey of the trail had already been undertaken, but a plan showing the route had not yet been prepared by the surveyor at the time of the surrender’s ratification, and was therefore not included in the documentation.

The lack of a legal land description in the surrender documentation would cause problems for those researching and transacting with this land in the future. Anyone looking to understand what specific land was surrendered in this agreement would be forced to refer to separate survey records, as the surrender itself did not contain sufficient information to determine the extent of the surrendered lands. The ‘decoupling’ of the land description from the surrender documents would create the conditions for the original agreed-upon corridor to one day be ‘lost’ and replaced with an altered route that was not part of the original agreement.

Continue reading “Quietly Stolen Land: The Piece of Calgary Owned by the Tsuut’ina Nation”

A Brief History of 37 Street SW

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.

1883-small

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.

1883-survey-close

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.

1894_map_small

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.

1926-PT-H22

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.

weaselhead-bridge-damage-1959-2001-004-cala-910724025

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.

1960-calgary.jpg

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.

1959-major

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.

66th ave 1970ish

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.

1970-traffic

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.

37-1967

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.

37-2010

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.

37th-NEW

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.

The Rise and Fall of the Priddis Trail – Part 3: Closure

This is the third in a five-part series looking at the history of the Priddis Trail. The first part, which examined the establishment of the road can be found here. while part two, focusing on the early years of the road is here. I acknowledge that the resources that inform this work are largely that of non-First Nations sources, and in particular this article will focus on a non-indigenous perspective on the decline of the Priddis Trail. The next article will look more at the Military’s use of the Priddis Trail, while the final part looks at the problematic legacy of this road, and will begin to address the perspective not covered in this section.


Three decades after beginning life as a Government highway, the Priddis Trail was in 1930 a well-used main road that served a growing agricultural district, a burgeoning oil industry, a First Nation and an important Military training camp.

The establishment in 1900 of the road, built along the route of an old trail that crossed the Tsuut’ina Nation reserve, was originally done in order to provide reliable access to lands located southwest of Calgary. The original trail between the city and the Priddis area was notorious for its chronically poor, often impassable condition, and it was expected that upon acquiring the corridor for the road from the Tsuut’ina Nation, the Government would create and maintain a modern and reliable road. It was this desire for better access that led homesteaders to petition the government to acquire the road in the first place, and yet three decades later, this objective remained largely unfulfilled; although a road had certainly been built, it was proving far from suitable.

1926-pt(The route of the Priddis Trail (magenta) between Calgary and Millarville through the Tsuut’ina Reserve (outlined in light-pink). Source: Topographical Survey of Canada, Department of the Interior. Calgary District, Alberta. Ottawa: Department of the Interior, 1926. Peel’s Prairie Provinces Archives, University of Alberta. Map 17. Highlight added.)

The new road suffered from the same wet, periodically impassible conditions that plagued the original wagon trail. The condition of the road was exacerbated in the 1920s` by an influx of traffic brought on by an oil boom in the Turner Valley, which the Priddis Trail increasingly served. In 1930 the Province of Alberta recognized that improving the road with proper drainage and a gravelled surface would benefit both residents and industry alike, and secured funding to improve and reconstruct the road in order to make the Priddis Trail into what would soon be known as Highway 22. Continue reading “The Rise and Fall of the Priddis Trail – Part 3: Closure”