The motivations of the Provincial government in building the Southwest Calgary Ring Road (like the City before it) are clear; to provide a transportation corridor for better access to and from the Southwest quadrant of the city, and to allow for transportation of goods around the city and avoiding busier inner-city roads.
The southwest has a number of natural and political obstacles that restrict the kind of transportation infrastructure found elsewhere in the City. These include the Reservoir and the Elbow river, the Weaselhead, the Fish Creek and the Fish Creek Provincial park, and the Tsuut’ina reserve. The negotiations with the Tsuut’ina, and the 2013 agreement, navigated all of those obstacles to provide only the second fully north-south corridor in the Southwest quadrant, the other being Macleod Trail.
But what’s in it for the Nation?
At different points in the relationship between the Tsuut’ina and the City and Province, there has been differing attitudes to negotiate and sell land. While in the past there had been an apparent willingness by the Tsuut’ina Nation to sell reserve land providing there was a clear benefit (the Weaselhead in 1931, the Highway 22 corridor in the 1930s and again in the 1950s, though even these sales are contentious) by the time the first road plans were drawn up that identified the reserve as a potential route, the Nation was cool to the idea of providing land for a road. In 1978, Tsuut’ina Chief Clifford Big Plume stated “We are not going to benefit from a highway through our reserve” (See below)
While offers of money was of course part of any approach by the City when offering to buy land, there were other benefits available to the Nation. While less tangible, these benefits potentially offered a larger motivation for selling part of the reserve. This motivation was access to their land, and the ability to develop that land for the benefit of the Nation. While this was integral to future negotiations, it was overlooked (or purposefully excluded) in these initial discussions.
In 1977 the City of Calgary took delivery of its ‘Sarcee Trail South Route Location Study‘, a study which for the first time concluded with a potential route crossing the Tsuut’ina reserve (though in 1970 a Provincial Study, the ‘Calgary Area Study Outline Plan for Roads and Highways’ did explore a Tsuut’ina crossing as an alternative to the proposed route, and earlier potential routes would have required some reserve land to accommodate interchanges). While there was little in the way of specifics in the report about access to the road, the Board of Commissioners and Planning Department of the City of Calgary were clear that they were not willing to service the adjoining lands with utilities. By the Nation’s assessment, the plans drawn up by the City considered only City requirements (including access and servicing), without adequately addressing the needs of the Nation.
So what changed?
In 1978 the Nation wanted to undertake their own study to assess their requirements for a road plan, and while that study was never completed, in 1982 the Nation agreed to participate in (and co-finance) a study with the City and Province. This study was not only to look at the physical route of the road, but also at the environmental and social impacts the road would bring to the Tsuut’ina Nation and the reserve lands. The study also had a mandate to explore the economic potential for the Nation that a road could provide. In a press conference to explain their involvement in the study, the Tsuut’ina stated that the Nation might build a shopping centre in conjunction with road development, and that a road ‘could provide the impetus for economic development projects and jobs for native people.’
The 1984 Study
In December of 1984, the Province, City and Nation released their tripartite study. While the study spent much of it’s time on the route of the road, one section was devoted to the potential for development of Tsuut’ina land. At this time, the area north of the Elbow river, ‘the 940’, was still owned by the Canadian Military, so was not included in the economic section of the study. Instead, the study identified an area that they was most suited to commercial and residential development. This area was south of the reservoir, west of 37th street, and located around 90th avenue SW and Southland Drive SW.
While many economic scenarios were presented, they all focused on the ability to develop the land with residential or commercial developments; from single-family homes to campgrounds to hotels to shopping centres. Following the release of this report, the Nation voted to agree in principle to begin negotiations for the SW Ring Road to cross their land, and it was clear that negotiations hinged on the ability of the Nation to develop the land adjoining the road. In 2005, Special Projects Consultant Peter Manywounds said: “That is the difference between any previous discussion of this highway between Tsuut’ina, Calgary, and the province of Alberta. We now have property through which this road would service the (Tsuut’ina Masterplan) development.”
In the decade that followed the release of the 1984 report, the Canadian Military returned the Harvey Barracks land, to the Tsuut’ina. At that point, development plans by the Nation had begun to shift to that land. (While plans did seem to shift north, the 2009 ring road design had plenty of access built in for areas south of the reservoir in the original development area. 90th Avenue and Southland Drive had no less than seven intersections that lead to Tsuut’ina land, and presumably, future developments).
When development plans shifted towards the former Harvey Barracks site, the type of development shifted too. While the economic portion of the 1984 study had residential development as a key point, later plans seemed to abandon that aspect. Instead, commercial and retail developments were the focus of development plans going forward.
In 2004 the Tsuut’ina Nation produced a leaflet to inform residents of nearby communities of their plans for development on the 940 site, and in 2005 they hosted a meeting with the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples to address their development Masterplan.
The plan contained these key points:
- Largest business park development in Canada
- 50 acres for a Casino, Hotel and Entertainment complex
- 150 acres of Office and Institutional/Educational facilities (Including the potential for a private, for-profit health clinic or hospital)
- 290 acres of Retail, Commercial and Hospitality areas (‘Big Box’ retail, high end retail stores etc)
- 40 acres for a Heritage Centre (Including museum and Eco-Tourism opportunities)
- 315 acres of open space
- Anticipated 15,000-20,000 people employed on the site
In June of 1994, a Vice President of the B.C. Pension Fund, in association with Great-West Life, stated that they would be prepared to commit $1 billion as an investment in the Tsuut’ina Masterplan.
To date, the $40-million casino is the only part of the plan that has been constructed, as the casino and hotel project the one component of the plan that the Tsuut’ina felt could be supported by current infrastructure, irrespective of the state of the ring road.
Where does it go from here?
Apart from the casino and associated facilities, the Masterplan currently appears to be on hold; the full development would require access from a ring road situated on Tsuut’ina land in order to function. This is part of what makes me believe that a deal with the Tsuut’ina for the ring road will ultimately be successful: Economically, it would appear that the Nation will benefit from the road as much as Alberta and Calgary will, and that the benefit that would flow from the access provided will be instrumental in seeing a deal reached.
Chief Sanford Big Plume stated in a 2005 address to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce “We have made a decision to leverage the land… to welcome planned and controlled development that adheres to the traditional respect that we have for our land… We believe that we can best preserve our culture by ensuring the prosperity of our children and grandchildren”
EDIT: May 11 2015
Following the 2013 approval of the ring road agreement between the Nation and the Province, development planning is once again underway. The Tsuut’ina Development Corporation has displayed some maps of lands adjacent to the Southwest Ring Road. These maps appear to be exploratory or conceptual only, and are unlikely to represent real planning efforts, though they may show potential options that are being explored including retail centres and ‘big-box’ developments.
(Source: tsuutinanation.com/DEVCO. retrieved May 8 2015)