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 three-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. 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 part 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.

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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)

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Federal Funding Announcement

On Thursday July 30 2015, Federal Minister for National Defence and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney, along with Alberta Minister for Transportation Brian Mason, announced Federal funding for the Southwest Calgary Ring Road project.

At the announcement, also attended by Tsuut’ina Chief Roy Whitney-Onespot, Kenney detailed a commitment of $582.9 million, which represents one quarter of the estimated $2.8 billion cost for construction of this leg of the road. The funds are being earmarked from the National Infrastructure Component of the New Building Canada Fund, which ‘provides funding for projects of national significance’1.

July_2015_update_new

(Map showing the newly revised route of the Southwest ring road; from Macleod trail in the south, to west of 101st street SW in the west.)

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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)
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The Origins of the Southwest Ring Road

The City of Calgary and the Province of Alberta variously point to planning and studies from 1959 or the 1970s as the origin of the Southwest Ring Road.1 While these studies mark important milestones in the history of this road, particularly around planning for the current iteration, the truth is that the concept is a much older one than that.

1953_township

(Township plan of Bowness, Mongomery, and what would eventually become west Calgary, 1953)

Though early efforts to plan for roads that encircled Calgary’s downtown area were undertaken, including some dating back to 1914, these were not acted upon in their time. It wasn’t until a post-war explosion of vehicle ownership and population growth in Calgary had occurred that the issue of bypass roads would again be brought to the fore.

The 11-year period between 1952 and 1963 constitute the practical origin of Calgary’s bypass road system, and would see incredible effort and progress on this issue: from outright rejection, to intensive planning, and finally to construction of key portions of Calgary’s first southwest bypass route.

Early Bypass Proposal

In early 1953, Calgary M.L.A. Fred Colborne wrote a memorandum on the benefits of building a bypass road between the Old Banff Coach Road (now Bow Trail) and the Shouldice bridge in Bowness. This memorandum was sent to the Minister of Highways Gordon Taylor in an effort to advocate for such a road; the first rural bypass road envisioned for the west side of Calgary.

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Storm Trunk Relocation: The first steps to the SW Ring Road

In June of 2015, the City of Calgary will begin to construct some of the first tangible work on the Southwest Calgary Ring Road Project. This work will not be on the road itself, but will be related to utilities that will run under part of the project.

The City and Province of Alberta has agreed to construct a new storm sewer line to replace the existing South Richmond Storm Trunk that currently crosses a portion of the Tsuut’ina Nation reserve known as ‘the 940‘. The new line will be located entirely within the City of Calgary city limits along 37th street SW in Lakeview when completed, while the old line will be abandoned. This abandonment and replacement is not due to the functionality or suitability of the existing infrastructure, rather it is necessary due to reasons that are political and jurisdictional in nature; reasons that go back more than 60 years.

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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