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”

The Road to Development, part 1

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.

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District map of a development area on the Tsuut’ina reserve near Glenmore Trail, part of the Taza development. Image courtesy of the Tsuut’ina – Canderel Land Development Partnership.

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.

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Photo of Reg One Spot and Arnold Crowchild. Michael Burn. Calgary Herald. October 17, 1970.

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’

reserve-plans-1971
Map showing five development areas on the Tsuut’ina Reserve. Source: ‘Sarcee Development Company Seeks Funds for Ambitious Project’ Kainai News. December 15, 1971. Base map: Google Maps

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”

Tsuut’ina Trail Officially Named

Today, a new name was unveiled for the Southwest portion of Calgary’s Ring Road, between Glenmore Trail and the Fish Creek park. Tsuut’ina Nation Chief Lee Crowchild, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, Alberta Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Brian Mason and Canada Minister of Veteran’s Affairs Kent Hehr were on hand at an official ceremony to announce that the road would be known as ‘Tsuut’ina Trail’. The ring road is currently named ‘Stoney Trail’ around the rest of the city.

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L-R: Kent Hehr, Naheed Nenshi, Lee Crowchild, Brian Mason.

The ceremony began after an opening prayer by Tsuut’ina elder Gerald Meguinis. The prayer spoke of safety and prosperity not just for the Nation, but for the assembled guests, and for the travellers who would soon be using the road.

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Tsuut’ina Nation Elder Gerald Meguinis, giving the opening prayer.

While the Province is officially embracing ‘Tsuut’ina Trail’ as the name for one segment of the ring road, Chief Crowchild suggested taking the renaming one step further. He stated “We believe that the entire ring road can, and should, be named Tsuut’ina (Trail)” and noted the significant role that the Nation has played in helping to get the road finished.

Transportation Minister Mason was reportedly only made aware of the idea to rename the entire road within the last day or so, and was cautious, yet willing to explore the idea. “It doesn’t take a political science graduate to see the difficulty, but certainly I’m prepared to talk to the chief and if necessary, to talk to the three chiefs and the Stoney Nation as well and if they can reach some sort of agreement, I think we can too.” he said.1

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Tsuut’ina Nation Chief and Council. L-R: Darrell Crowchild, LeeRoy Meguinis, Andrew Onespot, Chief Lee Crowchild, Lyle Dodginghorse, Vincent Crowchild, Leon Littlelight, Kelsey Big Plume.

Regarding the official renaming, Mayor Nenshi stated “I can’t think of a better name for this important piece of infrastructure than Tsuut’ina Trail. It is a reminder of our common path as neighbours and fellow citizens,”.2

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Calgary’s ring road was first officially named ‘Stoney Trail’ in January of 1981, by Calgary’s City Council when the road project still fell under the City’s remit.3 Previous working-names for the southwest section of the road have included the West Bypass (1959), the Sarcee Trail Extension (1970) and the Southwest Connector (2003).

Continue reading “Tsuut’ina Trail Officially Named”

A day on the Tsuut’ina Nation reserve

On May 3rd, 2017, I was fortunate enough to accompany Hal Eagletail on a tour of the Tsuut’ina Nation reserve. Hal is a well respected cultural leader of the Tsuut’ina, and the Lakeview Community Association’s Tsuut’ina Nation Relations Committee had invited him to speak to residents about the history and culture of the Nation. Hal wanted to show certain areas of the reserve in his presentation, and as chairman of the committee, I was asked if I was interested in seeing more of the land and to take photos. I was treated to an incredible day, listening to some of the stories and walking the land of the Tsuut’ina Nation.

Any mistakes in the stories recounted in this post are mine and not Hal’s. While the post below covers some of what was presented in Hal’s talk, I recommend watching the video of the presentation, which is shown at the end of this post.

DSC_0931 Da ni t'a da

‘Danit’ada’ is the traditional Tsuut’ina greeting.

DSC_0887 cairn other angle
Rock Cairn

On the signing of Treaty 7 in 1877, the Tsuut’ina Nation was allocated a reserve adjacent to the Siksika Nation, near what is now Bassano, Alberta. After negotiating with the Federal Government for their own land, the area around Fish Creek (known as Wolf Creek to the Tsuut’ina) was selected by Tsuut’ina scouts. The scouts created a pile of rocks on a hill overlooking the creek in order to mark the land, and in 1883 when the new reserve was established, Chief Bullhead placed a rock on the pile and told all of his people to place their own rock. To this day, every Nation member continues to place a rock on the pile when they come of age, and as the Nation grows, so to does the pile.

A marker stone telling the story of the cairn was unveiled by Prince Charles in 1977.

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New Tsuut’ina Museum

Near the rock cairn is the new Tsuut’ina Nation museum. The previous museum was established in the early 1980s, and was located in the old Seven Chiefs sportsplex building. When the sportplex was torn down a few years ago to make way for the Southwest Calgary Ring Road, the museum’s collection was put into storage to await a new home. The new museum is located just south of Chief Bullhead’s old house (built in 1909) is slated to open on Treaty Day, June 28 2017.

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Indian Agent’s House

For decades, Federal employees known as Indian Agents were sent to oversee nearly every aspect of a First Nation’s business. The agent would typically live on the reserve they were sent to manage, in a house provided by the Government. This hundred-year-old Agent’s house, with its three fireplaces, was considerably larger than any other residence on the Tsuut’ina Nation reserve including the Chief’s house.

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Residential School Site

The lone spruce tree just to the right of the centre of the photograph above grows on the site of the old Tsuut’ina Nation reserve residential school (the Anglican St. Barnabas School). In the foreground is a thicket of yellow lilac bushes planted by the children who lived at the school.

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Anglican Church

Pictured is the third Anglican Church built on the reserve. The foundations of the second church lie to the left of the church in this photograph. The first church, established in the late 1880s, was a sod building.

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Southwest Calgary Ring Road Corridor

This view, looking north, shows the new Southwest Calgary Ring Road corridor along the eastern edge of the Tsuut’ina Nation reserve. The Wolf Creek/Fish Creek valley is in the foreground, and the fence-line to the right of centre of this photo denotes the previous boundary of the reserve, adjacent to 37th street SW and the community of Woodbine. The Nation’s Administration building is visible at the left of the photo.

Hal recounted that in the 1800s a man named Eaglerib had a vision: that the land chosen for the Tsuut’ina Nation reserve would one day be surrounded by boxes, and that these boxes would allow the Nation to prosper. Over a hundred years later, the houses of Calgarians will soon surround the reserve on three sides. With the new ring road being built to provide access to future commercial developments, the growth and proximity of the City of Calgary is seen to be fulfilling Eaglerib’s vision of a coming prosperity for the Nation. Continue reading “A day on the Tsuut’ina Nation reserve”

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”

SW Ring Road Work Set To Begin

Update September 15 2016: A $1.42 billion contract (adjusted to 2016 dollars) has been signed between the Province of Alberta and Mountain View Partners for the construction of the Southwest Calgary Ring Road project. Click here for details.


 

Mountain View Partners have been selected to begin initial work on the Southwest Calgary Ring Road project under an interim agreement. While the full contract will not be entered into until September 13, this interim agreement will allow work to begin along the road corridor, including the relocation of utilities. The Alberta Government expects to see crews and equipment on the project site by mid-July.

Mountain View Partners is a consortium consisting of:

  • Project Lead:  Meridiam Infrastructure North America Fund II, as managed by Meridiam Infrastructure North America Corp.
  • Financing Lead:  Meridiam Infrastructure North America Fund II, as managed by Meridiam Infrastructure North America Corp.
  • Design-Construction Lead:  Kiewit Management Co.
  • Operation and Maintenance Lead:  Alberta Highway Services Ltd.

 

Click Here for maps of the full Southwest Calgary Ring Road Project.


Source: “Southwest Calgary Ring Road construction begins” July 8 2016. Government of Alberta.

2015 Southwest Calgary Ring Road Maps

The following maps were released to the public in October of 2015 by the Province of Alberta, and rather than relying on older or historical maps of the project, I wanted to ensure that the most up-to-date information was available to readers. These are likely to remain the most current views of the road until a contractor is selected in September of this year.

Please click on the maps for larger versions.

Southwest Calgary Ring Road Route

From North to South, the following maps show the full route of the Southwest Calgary Ring Road project as it currently stands:

1) While not part of the Southwest Calgary Ring Road, Highway 8 from Lott Creek Boulevard to the Calgary City Limits at 101st Street SW will be twinned as part of the project, including a new bridge over the Elbow river.

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2) The Southwest Ring Road begins at the Highway 8 Corridor, from Calgary City Limits at 101st Street SW, to the interchange at 69th Street SW.

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3) Interchange of Glenmore Trail SW and Sarcee Trail SW, including Glenmore Trail upgrades between Sarcee Trail SW and the 37th Street SW interchange. Also shown are the interchanges with Westhills Way SW and Strathcona Street.

SW-CRR - Sarcee Tr SW / Glenmore Tr SW / 37 Street SW / Westhill Continue reading “2015 Southwest Calgary Ring Road Maps”

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.

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

Continue reading “The Southwest Ring Road: 60 Years in the Making”

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)
Continue reading “Highway 8 and the Ring Road”

Utility relocation open house

Today, February 24 2015, the Government of Alberta is hosting its latest ring road public information session. The focus will be on the relocation of utilities in preparation of the Southwest Calgary Ring Road project.

In addition to Alberta Transportation and the City of Calgary (who will be presenting the City’s proposed ring road connections and the 37th street SW storm trunk relocation) there will be representatives from AltaLink, ENMAX, ATCO and the Alberta Utilities Commission who will be available to answer questions.

Tuesday, February 24 2015
4 – 8 p.m.
Glamorgan Community Association, 4207 41 ave SW
View Google Map