Although construction of the Southwest Calgary Ring Road has been ongoing for the past few years by the KGL Constructors partnership, it is not always easy to see what progress is being made. A large portion of the road is located on former Tsuut’ina Nation reserve land which isn’t accessible or visible to the average Calgarian, and as such, getting a sense of the work being done on this project can sometimes be difficult.
Last fall, Reddit user ‘Craftyshrew’ flew over Southwest Calgary and captured an image of the ring road project from the air. The cleared land along the route carves a visible corridor through the former reserve land, where the scale of the project, and the progress of construction, can be seen.
(Image looking north from about Highway 22x. Click image for larger version)
At this stage in the project, construction has begun to some degree on all 14 of the interchanges along the Southwest Calgary Ring Road route, and grading for the mainline ring road lanes is approximately 45% completed. Bridge pilings have been started on many of the interchanges, with the rest commencing as the 2019 construction season begins.
Construction of all interchanges will continue into 2020, when the majority of the paving will be undertaken. The southwest portion of the ring road is scheduled to be open to the public in the fall of 2021.
Thank you to Craftyshrew on reddit for their kind permission to publish their photo, and to Adam Johnson and Rizwan Hussain from Alberta Transportation.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”
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.
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.
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
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
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).
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.
‘Danit’ada’ is the traditional Tsuut’ina greeting.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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”