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”

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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”

Jane’s Walk – The SW Ring Road and the Weaselhead

Join me on a ‘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.

Weaselhead Janes Walk wide

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?

I will be leading a walk that will look at the history of the SW Ring Road, and 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.

Travel along the first Provincial highway that was built through the Tsuut’ina Nation reserve over 100 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. 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. Experience one of the quietest corners of the city to see where the SW Ring Road is planned to be built, see where previous plans would have located the road, and look at the role that future economic development played getting the road approved.

Details

Date: May 3, 2015
Time: 1:00 pm
Duration: about 2 hours
Meeting Place: Weaselhead Parking Lot (West side of the corner of 37th street SW and 66th avenue SW in Lakeview)

Jane’s Walk in Calgary

Click here to visit the Jane’s Walk description for this walk
and
Cllick here to see all of the Jane’s Walks that will be happening this year (more will be added over the coming weeks)

Jane's-Walk-graphic-photo

UPDATE

I wanted to thank everyone who came to my ‘History of the SW Ring Road and the Weaselhead’ Jane’s Walk. More than 75 people came out to journey through a beautiful corner of Calgary, and were hopefully informed and entertained along the way.

I will be doing the walk again next year, so please look out for it next May!

IMG_2262 IMG_2249 IMG_2243 IMG_2237 IMG_2225

Crossing the Elbow River – 1956 to 1986

The release of a ‘virtual tour’ video of the Southwest Calgary Ring Road this past week has given the public a chance to view the proposed plans for this road in a way that maps have not been able to. The detail and context provided by the video has raised concerns over the impacts the road will have on southwest Calgary, including the Elbow River, Fish Creek and the Weaselhead. The nature, size and proximity of the cut-and-fill river crossing, combined with a realignment of the rivers, appear to be at the heart of these concerns.

2014_elbow

(Source: Alberta Transportation)

The crossing of the Elbow river is arguably the most important link in the Southwest Calgary Ring Road project. This new crossing of the Elbow river in southwest Calgary, the first since the Glenmore causeway opened in 1963, is projected as being the single most utilized portion of the new road. Establishing this crossing has seen numerous proposals over the years; from a low-level bridge in the 1950s to a dam in the 1980s (creating a new reservoir upstream from the Weaselhead) to a consideration of a high-level bridge, and even talk of a tunnel, in the 2000s. A new crossing of the Elbow river is an idea that has undergone many revisions and alternatives in the decades since it was first proposed.

The first part of this story looks at the early proposals and the history of the crossing of the Elbow River, from the first proposal in 1956 to the project’s (temporary) cancellation in 1986. Part two, which looks at the modern river crossing plans and alternatives from 2000 to 2014, will follow.

Early plans: models and maps

In 1955 the Province of Alberta made public its desire to establish a bypass highway in Calgary’s southwest, and by the following year, the City had drafted initial plans for this road. Around the same time the City was also developing plans for the Glenmore Reservoir parks, and these two proposals would converge in the form of the first publicly released concept for the Southwest Ring Road, then known as the West Bypass, and its crossing of the Elbow river.

The ambitious plan for the proposed Glenmore Parks, containing an aquarium, a solarium, botanical gardens, an ‘Indian Village’ and more, was estimated to cost $3 million and would take upwards of 25 years to implement. When the City’s planning department was seeking approval from both the public and the City Council for the proposed park system surrounding the Glenmore Reservoir, they created a model of their proposed ideas. Along the western portion of the model lay the West Bypass, and its crossing of the Elbow river was presented to the public for the first time.

na-5600-8138a

(Glenbow Archives NA-5600-8138a. Click for an enlargement of the Elbow River crossing)

The crossing, depicted as a 4-lane low-level bridge of about 180m in length with some amount of cut-and-fill on the north bank of the valley, was only conceptual at this stage. Detailed work on the entire development had yet to be carried out at the time of the model’s creation, and no engineering had gone into the designs at this point. (The road is shown along the bottom of the photograph above). Continue reading “Crossing the Elbow River – 1956 to 1986”

Road Purchases and Surrenders

The October 2013 ring road agreement between the Province of Alberta and the Tsuut’ina Nation has recently been heralded by the Province and the media as a historic agreement between these two parties. While the scale, compensation and long-term impacts of this deal are indeed unique, representing the largest ever land purchase from the Tsuut’ina reserve and the potential opening of the reserve for unprecedented development, it is not the first time a road corridor has been acquired by the Province through the reserve. The ring road agreement actually represents the seventh time that a Provincial road corridor has been secured through Tsuut’ina lands.

all_corridors_1900-20131. Priddis Trail, 1900
2. 37th Street SW, 1910
3. Priddis Trail Diversion, 1916
4. Highway 22/Bragg Creek Road, 1922
5. Balsam Avenue Bridge Approach, 1934
6. Highway 22 Widening, 1955
7. Southwest Calgary Ring Road, 2013

Continue reading “Road Purchases and Surrenders”

Unexploded Ordnance in Southwest Calgary

The 2013 southern Alberta floods did more to Calgary than damage houses and severely interrupt lives; the floods unearthed and highlighted a problem that has caused concern, and worse, for decades. In July, two unexploded military shells were found on the shores of the Elbow river in the Weaselhead area, exposing a legacy of unexploded ordnances (UXO) that lie just beneath the surface of a portion of southwest Calgary, including the potential route of the southwest ring road.

weaselhead_uxo

(Image of shell found in the Weaselhead area, July 2 2013. Courtesy Mark Langenbacher) Continue reading “Unexploded Ordnance in Southwest Calgary”

The Priddis Trail and the Weaselhead Bridge

A growing population south of Fish Creek are demanding a road through the Tsuu T’ina reserve to be able to get to central Calgary easier. The Government has approached the Nation about routing a road through the reservation and crossing the Elbow River at the Weaselhead. If this sounds familiar, the next part probably will not: The Tsuu T’ina agree to the road, the land is surrendered at no cost, and the road is built. The year is 1900, and a road through the Weaselhead and the reserve is open to the public.

(Photo by Alison Jackson of the Priddis Trail near what is now the Weaselhead parking lot, September 29 1963. Courtesy of the Calgary Public Library, Community Heritage and Family History Digital Library.)

Continue reading “The Priddis Trail and the Weaselhead Bridge”