Electric Transmission Line Relocation

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.

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A satellite image showing the location of the northeast corner of the Tsuut’ina Nation reserve in relation to southwest Calgary. Source: Google Earth.

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.

Calgary-satelitte-jumpingpound2-wide-small
Map showing the full extend of Transmission Line No. 3, from Jumping Pound to the intersection of 50th Avenue SW and Macleod Trail. Source: Google Earth, ‘Plan showing land required for right-of-way of Transmission Line No. 3 from Jumping Pound to Calgary through Townships 23 & 24 in Ranges 1, 2, 3 & 4 all west of the fifth meridian and through the Sarcee Indian Reserve’ R.V. Heathcott. Calgary Power Company Ltd. Alberta Land Registry Plan RW176. 1924.

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

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Survey showing the route of Transmission Line No. 3 as it crosses the Tsuut’ina Nation reserve. Source: ‘Plan showing land required for right of way of Transmission Line No. 3 in the Sarcee Indian Reserve through Tp.23 Rg.2 W5th Mer.’ R.V. Heathcott. Calgary Power Company Ltd. Canada Lands Survey Plan IRR 2059. 1924.

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.

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Photo of the runways at Currie Field, with the Glenmore reservoir in the background. Source: Richard Brown. Bomber Command Museum of Canada.

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.

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Aerial photo showing the location of Sarcee Camp, and of the Transmission Line No. 3 corridor that ran along the 50th avenue SW road allowance. Source: Photo A13952-6, University of Calgary Alberta Air Photo Collection. National Airphoto Library. 1955.

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.

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Aerial photo showing the position of the relocated transmission line across Sarcee Camp, and the relative location of the Currie Barracks and the air school runways. Source: Photo A13952-6, University of Calgary Alberta Air Photo Collection. National Airphoto Library. 1955.

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

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Article announcing the opening of the Service Flying Training School No. 3. Calgary Herald, October 28 1940.

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”

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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.

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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 1: Establishment

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.

priddis-trail-2015(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.

Calgary_priddis_reserve_area_new(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

PriddisTrail_1897(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.

Continue reading “The Rise and Fall of the Priddis Trail – Part 1: Establishment”

Crossing the Elbow River – 1990 to 1995

This article is the second in a series looking at the history of the crossing of the Elbow river near the Weaselhead. Part 1: 1956 to 1986 can be found here, and parts 3 and 4 will follow.


In the 1970s and 1980s, planning for the Southwest Calgary Ring Road, also known as the Sarcee Trail south extension, was characterized by practical considerations such as route location, land acquisition and functional planning. The period of the 1990s by contrast would be marked by something of a step-back from applied planning, and would include a serious re-examining of priorities.

The continued dominance of the automobile and the crossing of Calgary’s rivers by a network of freeways has often been seen as inevitable. This view, however, would be challenged by a renewed expression of concern over the impacts this situation would have on parks, communities and natural areas.

A New Transportation Bylaw for Calgary

In May of 1990 the City of Calgary released a preliminary look at a proposed bylaw that sought to affirm the city’s future transportation needs. In addition to public transit, bylaw 29M90 also detailed Calgary’s existing road network and plans for future expressways and freeways throughout the city. The plan was composed largely of elements from previous planning efforts, and included a map that showed proposed roads that had long been a part of City plans, including some that dated back to the early 1950s. The bylaw also contained a number of previously proposed, but as-yet unbuilt river crossings, including the southern extension of Sarcee Trail across the Elbow river. It is these crossings that would spark Calgary’s largest public consultation efforts undertaken to that point[1].

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(Source: Calgary bylaw 29M90. City of Calgary, 1990)

The bylaw included the following new river crossings (also shown above):
1. Stoney Trail NW over the Bow river
2. Sarcee Trail north extension over the Bow river
3. Shaganappi Trail south extension over the Bow river
4. South Downtown Bypass over the Elbow river
5. 50th Avenue South over the Elbow river
6. Sarcee Trail south extension over the Elbow river

Public reaction to the proposed bylaw was swift and largely unfavourable, with citizen groups particularly denouncing the negative impact that new river crossings would have on parkland, river valleys, natural areas and local communities[2]. Within a month of the bylaw’s unveiling, several hundred citizens had attended a City Council meeting on the topic, and many more contacted Aldermen, signed petitions and formed action groups to oppose the plan and to call for the process to be opened up to public consultation.

Although the bylaw was approved by Council in July 1990, the response from the public spurred the City to begin a multi-year, multi-million dollar consultation and review of the road network and future transportation needs the very next year. This process was called the GoPlan.

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Continue reading “Crossing the Elbow River – 1990 to 1995”

SW Ring Road Information Sessions Announced

Alberta Transportation has announced the dates and locations for their upcoming information sessions, covering the West and Southwest Calgary Ring Road projects.

W&SW_Ring_Road Continue reading “SW Ring Road Information Sessions Announced”

West and Southwest Calgary Ring Road Virtual Tour

On August 25 2014 the Province of Alberta released 3D Virtual Tour renderings of the West and Southwest Calgary Ring Road projects.

Southwest Calgary Ring Road Project:

West Calgary Ring Road Project:

Click for more information on the 2013 Southwest Ring Road deal (plus updates in March 2014 and June 2014), and the History of the Southwest Ring Road. For more information on the history of the West Calgary Ring Road, Click Here.

Ring Road Update June 2014

The Provincial Government today released the functional design plans for the West and Southwest Calgary Ring Road project. Starting at the Bow river crossing of Stoney trail NW and heading south to Macleod trail at Highway 22x via the Tsuut’ina reserve, this last section of the ring road measures 31km, contains 66 bridges, 20 interchanges and several crossings of the Bow river, the Elbow river and the Fish creek. A full breakdown of the details can be found here, or at the Alberta Transportation website here.

W&SW_Ring_Road

Though the new release contains little new information on the physical road itself, one of the major changes announced involves the staging of construction. While the Province and the Tsuut’ina Nation are still awaiting the Federal Government to approve the land transfer that was agreed upon last year, the Province has stated that rather than build the West leg first, as was previously announced, the Southwest leg of the road would be the first to start construction. The timelines are currently unchanged from earlier estimates, and it is hoped by the Province to have a contractor awarded and construction begun in 2016.

Other key points:

• 80,000-100,000 cars are projected to use certain sections of the road.

• Data from the 2013 flood is being used to evaluate the bridge designs, to ensure they will “accommodate future flooding events of a similar magnitude”.

• A P3 financing model is still being evaluated, and a decision will be made upon the completion of a business case advocating for or against such a model.

• 2 million cubic metres of rock and 5 million cubic metres of dirt will be moved to create a path for the road up the Paskapoo Slopes, beside Canada Olympic Park.

• According to the most recent available plans from 2008, The Elbow river valley at the Weaselhead will be filled from the current width of about 1000 metres wide down to 90 metres wide, with the remaining gap to be bridged. The fill height and road will range from between 5 to 15 metres (16 to 50 feet) above the current valley floor.

• An environmental assessment by the Province is reportedly underway, either in addition to, or as a continuation of, the environmental assessment begun in 2006.

• Public information sessions are planned for the fall or early winter of 2014.

Maps of the West Calgary Ring Road (from North to South)

Highway 1 (Trans Canada Highway), Valley Ridge blvd NW, and the twinning of the existing Stoney Trail bridge over the Bow river:

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Continue reading “Ring Road Update June 2014”