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”
Building the Southwest Calgary Ring Road project is a massive enterprise, and includes the construction of hundreds of kilometre-lanes of roads, 49 bridges and 14 interchanges, but the project involves more than just a freeway. One of the first projects to be undertaken in preparation for the construction of the ring road involves the relocation of an electrical transmission line; one that not only crosses the ring road corridor, but also bisects the Northeast corner of the Tsuut’ina Nation reserve.
AltaLink, the company that owns the bulk of Alberta’s electrical transmission network, is currently in the process of installing a new underground transmission line within the right-of-ways for Glenmore Trail and 37th street SW. This work is being done in advance of the decommissioning and salvage of the portion of the existing line that crosses the reserve, and the story of how the existing line ended up on reserve land, and why it is now being removed, is an interesting one that dates back almost 100 years.
The Start of the Line
In 1924 the Calgary Power Company Ltd. planned an electric transmission line to connect their hydroelectric operations at horseshoe falls on the Bow river to south Calgary. Transmission Line No. 3 was to split off from an existing line at Jumping Pound, then head south and east for 35 kilometres to Macleod Trail at 50th avenue SW.1 Despite a few alterations over the years, this route remains largely intact and in service today.
The route for the new line was surveyed, and a corridor of between 30 and 100 feet in width was allocated to the utility, including a small section that ran through the Tsuut’ina Nation reserve (then known as the Sarcee reserve). A 3.7 km portion of the line was earmarked along the northern boundary of the Nation’s land, adjacent to what is now Glenmore Trail between about 69th street SW and 37th street SW. The 100-foot-wide corridor comprised 31.6 acres of reserve land, through an area known as Sarcee Camp or The 940.2
At the time of the survey, this part of the Tsuut’ina reserve was under lease to the Department of National Defence. Known as Sarcee Camp, the land had been turned into a training camp in 1915 in the midst of the First World War. When permission to cross this land was sought by the Calgary Power Company, the request was handled by the department of Indian Affairs, and no record of the involvement or approval of the members of the Tsuut’ina Nation are on file with the Federal Government.
The Federal Indian Commissioner valued a corridor agreement at $1000, which the Calgary Power Company paid in order to secure a perpetual easement for the power lines.3 On December 8 1924, the Superintendent General of Indian Affairs and representatives of the Calgary Power Company ratified the agreement, with the Department of National Defence signing off on a clause that would not hold the Military liable for “damage or injury done to the… transmission line… which may result from the use of the said Sarcee Camp for Military training…” and which would also compensate the Military for any damage caused by the operation of the line.4
With the survey in place and permissions acquired from other landowners along the entire route, the line was soon under construction. In 1926 the line was energized, and began to serve the increasing electricity needs of a growing modern city.
War and (Electrical) Power
Throughout the late 1920s and 1930s Transmission Line No. 3 operated unobtrusively side-by-side with Sarcee Camp. The camp was in regular use for peace-time training, but the outbreak of another war would change much on the Tsuut’ina reserve, including the transmission line.
In 1939 Canada became embroiled in World War 2, and military installations across Canada, including Sarcee Camp and the newer Currie Barracks to the north, were seeing increased use.
As part of the war effort, the Canadian Government earmarked Calgary as the site of a new air school. Service Flying Training School No. 3 was to be established on land directly northeast of Sarcee Camp as part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan,5 a scheme that would see tens of thousands of airmen trained across Canada and the world during the war. The land selected for the new air school had already seen use as an airfield for a number of years as Currie Airfield, but formal runways hadn’t been constructed up to that point.
Transmission Line No. 3 crossed directly through the chosen location for the new triangular runway of the flight school, and this overlap meant that the power lines had to move. A slight relocation of the line would not suffice as the raised power lines posed a threat to taking-off and landing aircraft,6 so a more significant move was required.
In June of 1940 the Acting Deputy Minister (Air Service) of the Department of National Defence asked for permission to move the transmission line further south into the reserve, bisecting the Sarcee Camp lands. Within a few days, the Deputy Minister of the Indian Affairs Branch replied with an approval of the idea, in part because the cost of the relocation would not be charged to the Nation, and also because “…this proposed diversion will not in any way interfere with the activities of the Sarcee Indians…”.7
There is no record of any approval of the relocation by Tsuut’ina Nation members, nor of the Nation being notified of the potential move. Since the Department’s approval was granted less than a week after receiving the request, there would have been insufficient time for a formal surrender to have been granted by the Nation. As this was a case of one Federal department communicating directly with another, it appears unlikely that the request ever left Ottawa.
The same week that the Department granted permission for the transmission line move, the Tsuut’ina Nation’s Chief and Council made a related approval of their own. On June 19 1940, the Nation passed a Band Council Resolution approving the sale of gravel from the reserve to Dutton Brothers contractors, for use in constructing the new runways.8 Following a survey of the newly-altered power line corridor, the runways were under construction and nearly 5 km of the transmission line was shifted 1.6km south of its original corridor. The transmission line now diagonally crossed Sarcee Camp, and headed east through what would later become the community of Lakeview, only returning to its original route once it was clear of the airspace of the new air school.9
On the morning of October 28 1940, only 132 days after receiving permission to move the transmission lines, the flight school was officially opened. With the airspace clear and the runways built, the air school was ready to begin training new pilots and airmen. Continue reading “Electric Transmission Line Relocation”
Why was the SW ring road planned through a First Nations 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 on this year’s Jane’s Walk through a beautiful and historic part of Calgary, and learn about the soon-to-be-built SW ring road, 60+ years in the making.
The turn out for the last year’s walk was fantastic, and I will be leading it again for the third time this year. The walk will be a chance to talk, to look at the history of the SW Ring Road, and to explore the past, present, and future of the Weaselhead; one of the most historically rich areas 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 adjacent to where the SW Ring Road is planned to be built, see where previous plans would have located the road through the valley, and look at the role that future economic development has played getting the road approved.
Date: Sunday May 7, 2017 Time: 1:00 pm Duration: about 2 hours Meeting Place: North Weaselhead Parking Lot (at the corner of 37th street SW and 66th avenue SW in Lakeview)
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.
(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”
THE HISTORY OF THE SW RING ROAD AND THE WEASELHEAD WALK
Why was the SW ring road planned through a First Nations 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, and learn about the soon-to-be-built SW ring road, 60+ years in the making.
The turn-out for last year’s walk was fantastic, and I will be leading it again this year. The walk will be a look at the history of the SW Ring Road, and will give anyone who is interested the chance to explore the past, present, and future of the Weaselhead; one of the most historically rich areas of Calgary.
This is the second 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, and part three 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 and working with Tsuut’ina sources will reveal other equally valid perspectives on this story in the future.
From Governor-Generals, Tsuut’ina Chiefs and Colonels, to Ranchers, Homesteaders and Boy Scouts, the Priddis Trail was important to a great many people for a great number of reasons. The establishment of the Tsuut’ina reserve and an early influx of Homesteaders in the late 1800s, followed not long after by the Military and a growing oil industry, meant that reliable access to a growing district was vital to the region.
(Map of the route between Calgary and Millarville through the Tsuut’ina Reserve in 1899. Source: ‘Plan Shewing survey of Old Trail and New Road from N.E. Cor. Sarcee Indian Reserve to Millarville P.O.’ A. P. Patrick. 1899. Plan 1119i, Alberta Land Titles, Southern Alberta Land Registration District )
BEFORE THE HIGHWAY, A TRAIL
When first formed, the route that would become the Priddis Trail was a modest dirt track used by members of the Tsuut’ina Nation and by Homesteaders living in the Priddis and Millarville districts of Alberta. Suitable for horse-and-wagon travel, the trail provided a much needed connection between these southern areas and Fort Calgary, including the burgeoning town that had begun to grow around it. In its earliest days, the land that the trail passed through had not yet been designated as the Tsuut’ina reserve1, and when the reserve was established in 1883, the use of the trail continued unabated by Tsuut’ina members and non-Indigenous settlers alike.
(‘Group of visitors in wagon on the way to Sarcee (Tsuu T’ina) reserve, Alberta.’ Glenbow Archives PA-3516-7. ca. 1899)
The earliest record of the Priddis Trail comes not from the path itself, but of the trail’s crossing of the Elbow river, known as the ‘Weasel Head Crossing’. In December of 1890 a newspaper article noted the Weasel Head Crossing as the site of the butchering of stolen cattle,2 making this the first mention, albeit indirectly, of both the trail and of the ‘Weaselhead’ name that this part of the Elbow river valley would later become known by.
By 1894 the first map of the route was made by the Department of the Interior3, and soon the trail was showing up regularly in newspaper accounts and official documents. In response to questions about the trail in 1899, the acting Agent of the Sarcee Agency stated: “(Chief Bull Head) informed me the trail marked in the plan was in use by the Indians before the treaty was made with them.”4, an indication of the long use of this important connection.
(A map from 1897 [with added highlights] 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.)
For users of the road, whether Nation members or Homesteaders, the trail enabled sustainability and economic activity by providing access to the marketplaces of Calgary. In 1893, for instance, a “comfortable dwelling house, with a good stable and corral” was built at the Weasel Head Crossing so that Tsuut’ina members had a place to stay when harvesting timber destined for sale in the City5. Former Tsuut’ina Nation Chief Sanford Big Plume also noted the use of the old trail in the Nation’s economic and cultural activities: “In the late 1800s… Once a year, Foxtail would cut small evergreens, load them on a wagon led by horses, and drive them down the Priddis Trail to Fort Calgary. There, they were sold as Christmas trees. With the proceeds of those trees, Foxtail would help fund a meal for our people, so we could also celebrate Christmas.”6
In a similar way, Homesteaders relied on the trail to bring produce and stock to market, and to access the services that the City offered.
(Postcard showing a wagon on the Priddis Trail. ‘Weaselhead district, Calgary, Alberta.’ Glenbow Archive PA-1004-18. ca. 1908.)
Besides being functional, the trail was also noted to offer access to some of the more beautiful country in the area, and the use of the trail for pleasure would increase in popularity over the years. In the summer of 1895 the Governor-General of Canada Lord Aberdeen was touring the country, and by the summer of that year he had arrived in Calgary. On a morning in August, Lord and Lady Aberdeen were driven in the vice-regal carriage to a meeting with members of the Tsuut’ina Nation via the trail; the journey having been noted in the Calgary Daily Herald as “one of the prettiest drives in the N.W.T.”7. Forty years later, noted homesteader A.M. Stewart mirrored that sentiment in stating “…this road constitutes about the prettiest drive out of Calgary.”8 and the route was included in maps of automobile pleasure tours for the Calgary region.9
The still-nameless trail was increasingly well-used, and this usage would soon outstrip the ability of the trail to comfortably accommodate the traffic. By the end of the 1890s, muddy conditions on the primitive trail, ruts caused by wagon wheels and a lack of a bridge over the Elbow river would cause problems for travelers looking for unimpeded access. The un-maintained dirt track was proving to no longer be suitable for the use it was expected to accommodate, and Homesteaders living in the area soon lobbied to correct the situation. Continue reading “The Rise and Fall of the Priddis Trail – Part 2: A Road In Use”
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.
(Photo of a remnant portion of the Priddis Trail, 2015. Source: Author’s own.)
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.
(Map of the Calgary area, showing the Tsuut’ina reserve and the Priddis area. Source: Google Maps.)
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.