Home to over 75,000 calgary residents, the development area of Midnapore (not to be confused with the singular community of Midnapore) has become an integral part of the story of the Southwest Calgary Ring Road. Hemmed in by several geographic and political obstacles, transportation in the area has been problematic, and has always been at the forefront of planning. Despite early efforts to ensure that the area developed within the means of the transportation system in the area, this considered planning has been recently ignored, and housing development has been allowed to surpass the capacity of the road network. The pressure on (and the occasional failure of) the transportation network has prompted increasing calls for new links to the area, specifically the ring road.
The area of Midnapore is defined by Fish Creek provincial park to the North and East, Highway 22x to the South, and 37th street SW to the West.
Calgary’s First Settled Area
The area was first settled in the 1873 by a pioneer named John Glenn who farmed and set up a trading post there. It was the first time a European had settled in the Calgary area. Originally called Fish Creek, the area’s name was changed in 1883 when Glenn, then the local postmaster, along with friend and neighbour Samuel William Shaw found a letter addressed to the postmaster of Midnapore, India. Shaw’s son later recalled “One day a letter arrived that was addressed to the ‘Postmaster, Midnapore’, Glenn handed the letter to Shaw, remarked ‘Here, that’s for you’. He then walked off the job and my Father became postmaster”. In 1910 the Canadian Pacific railway built a short-lived station in the hamlet of Midnapore, closing in 1918.
The northern part of the Midnapore area was annexed by the City of Calgary in 1961, with the southern portion later annexed in 1979.
(With thanks to Maureen Marshall and her website johnglenn.ca for notes on the early history of Midnapore.)
In 1974, the City of Calgary approved a motion to develop the Midnapore area. This development was to be done in a phased approach, necessitated by the state of the transportation infrastructure in place at the time. In essence, the amount of developable land was greater than the transportation infrastructure at the time could accomodate, so the development phases were to be co-ordinated with the development of new roads and transit options. Once certain roads or rail projects were in place, new phases of development could begin. The development of transportation around the Midnapore area is heavily constrained by a number of obstacles, notably Fish Creek Provincial Park to the north and east, the Tsuu T’ina reservation to the west and the Glenmore Reservoir/Weaselhead Natural Area further north. This has severely limited the number of transportation corridors available to service the area with regards to connecting the area to the rest of Calgary to the north. In fact, there is only a single crossing of Fish Creek Park; Macleod Trail.
The area of Midnapore was divided into three sections (including additional lands incorporated in 1979):
- Midnapore 1 is East of Macleod Trail, north of 162 avenue south (The community of Midnapore)
- Midnapore 2 is generally West of Macleod Trail but East of 14th Street SW/James McKevitt Road, plus the area south of Midnapore 1 (The communities of Shawnee Slopes, Millrise, Shawnessy, Somerset and Sundance)
- Midnapore 3 (officially known as Midnapore III) is East of 14th Street SW/James McKevitt Road but west of the proposed Sarcee Trail extention/37th street SW (The communities of Evergreen Estates, Evergreen and Bridlewood)
- Futher to the geographic divisions, the 1974 decision placed a maximum population of 42,000 for the entire Midnapore area, to be expanded only when the LRT was extended south of the Fish Creek.
(It’s worth noting that the original 1974 division of Midnapore extended only as far south as 162 avenue south. After the city annexed land as far south as Highway 22x in 1979, the divisions were extended accordingly. The land occupied by the communities of Sundance, Somerset and Bridlewood were not part of the original 1974 plans.)
When the original area plan was developed in the mid 1970s, the existing transportation network (at the time consisting mainly of Macleod Trail) was deemed largely suitable for developing the area known as Midnapore 1, only requiring some upgrades to Macleod Trail before development could begin. It was felt that this development was the most that Macleod trail could handle alone. The original Midnapore community is home to 6,861 residents, according to the 2012 Calgary Census.
The next area, Midnapore 2, needed certain transportation conditions to be met in order to commence with development. The main condition was the approval of construction of the Deerfoot Trail south of Fish Creek. This is an interesting point, and one that might begin to explain why, even with all of the foresight and planning involved in Midnapore and the transportation of the area, there is still congestion and a transportation network that is considered by some to be unsuitable for the number of residents in the area.
The original plan for the Deerfoot Trail had the road continue south from Anderson Road, via the corridor now occupied by Bow Bottom Trail, over Fish Creek and connecting to Highway 22x just east of Sundance. However, in the 1970s there was dissatisfaction with routing the Deerfoot Trail through the newly-formed Fish Creek Provincial Park, including by the Provincial government, and the routing was changed. Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed stated “We think the park would be hurt by the road going through it. I think there are five or six good alternative routes where the road could go around it.” This resulted in the Deerfoot being moved further East, through what is now the McKenzie communities. In fact, you can still see evidence of the original alignment. The right-of-way through which Bow Bottom Trail travels is abnormally wide for a road of its size, and is in fact the original right of way for Deerfoot Trail
While the building of the Deerfoot Trail was a condition on which Midnapore 2 was to be built upon, the original proposal envisaged a Deerfoot Trail that directly serviced the Midnapore area. The new road alignment, however, met Highway 22x approximately 3.5km further east, and did not connect with the Midnapore area directly, nor did it reach ‘the area south of Fish Creek’. Regardless of this, once the revised Deerfoot Trail south of Glenmore Trail was approved, Midnapore 2 was commenced. It is made up of the comunities of Shawnee Slopes, Millrise, Shawnessy, Somerset and Sundance, and is home to 36,881 residents, according to the 2012 Calgary Census.
On April 14 1997, the City of Calgary approved the Midnapore III Community Plan, which called for approximately 10,000 housing units to be built. The document goes on to state that development would be capped at an initial 3,000 units, and that further development would only be approved when the single-lane 37th street bridge over the Fish Creek was upgraded to handle increased traffic. By October of 1999, Land Use applications for the first 3,000 units had been approved by the council, and the development cap was instituted for the area. It is important to note that there is no requirement of needing the Sarcee Trail extension to be build before developing this area. This approval of development before a Sarcee Trail extension was built goes against the original requirements of the Midnapore development guidelines set out in 1974.
Housing Cap Lifted
The LRT was finally extended south of Fish Creek in 2001, and the 37th street/Fish Creek bridge was approved in 2002, triggering the housing cap to be lifted in July of that year. A 15 year plan calling for 500-600 units to be built per year was approved, with a final completion date estimated for 2017. There are currently 11,161 housing units in Midnapore 3, and a total of 31,945 residents, according to the 2012 Calgary census.
The story that surrounds the 37th street/Fish Creek bridge is covered in much more detailed in this article.
It appears that the development requirement of a Sarcee Trail extension before Midnapore 3 was to be developed had been ignored or discarded. At some point the discussion seems to have switched from a focus on a required Sarcee Trail extension (which would have provided for a crossing of both Fish Creek and the Elbow River) to a focus on a 37th street bridge (which would have provided for a crossing of Fish Creek only). While the original requirement would have allowed for no development at all without a Sarcee Trail extension, the new guidelines allowed for 3,000 units to be developed without any changes to the existing road infrastructure, and a further 7,000+ units would be approved even without additional transportation capacity to cross north of the Elbow River.
Pictured Above is the old single-lane 37th street SW bridge. Built in 1907, it was Calgary’s oldest bridge at the time of its replacement.
Aggravating the Problem
The exclusion of transportation improvements further north seems to ignore the needs of the majority of drivers in the area; apart from the Rockyview Hospital there are no major employment or commercial centres between Fish Creek and the Elbow River. Journeys from south of Fish Creek would likely continue north across the Elbow River/Reservoir on their way towards downtown, Westhills, Mount Royal University, and to the north of the city (something later alluded to by the Province’s own data in regards to their 2011 planning for a ‘Plan B’ route). The only route north of the Elbow River from this new Fish Creek bridge is 14th street SW, which was already highly congested at this time. Making a single crossing of Fish Creek a requirement for development with no onward accommodations to the north simply moved the bottleneck, and added to the congestion further north.
Calgary Herald transportation columnist Allan Connery summed this up on August 8 2002. “Extending 37th street only as far as Anderson (road) to pile more traffic onto 14th street SW strikes me as a lousy idea”.
In fact, not only did the new crossing not reduce overall congestion, it actually helped increase it. While the crossing might have seemed to relieve some of the congestion in the immediate Midnapore 3 area (though even this is debatable), the approval of the new crossing triggered the increased development of Midnapore 3, allowing for an additional 25,000 or so residents. Rather than reducing congestion, the bridge actually brought more people into the deep south, which further added to the congestion of the transportation network.
In 2002, Ward 13 alderman Diane Colley-Urquhart was happy with the plan, stating “Today is a big step forward. It’s a good example of building roads before houses…” and “…now we have a 15 year plan in place that will work.” While then alderman Dale Hodges disagreed. “I believe this land can be developed but it’s premature at this point. The road infrastructure isn’t in place for this kind of massive development.”
Foresight and Planning
It is common to hear complaints about the traffic in the Midnapore area. In 2002, a coalition of nine of the Midnapore community associations issued a statement that read in part “The quality of life of the citizens of South Fish Creek is being severely degraded by the extreme traffic congestion in south Calgary”, and went on to call for a road that crosses not only Fish Creek, but also the Elbow River along the 37th street alignment.
“We can’t all go down Macleod Trail and other existing roads, it just won’t work.” South Fish Creek Transportation Action Committee spokesman Dave Fryett stated. “If we’re spending $30 million to build a new bridge over Fish Creek, in order to make it really work, we need to extend the access roads to it.”
plans showing Midnapore 3 being bounded on the east by the Sarcee Trail extension.
While lack of foresight is often sited, that isn’t really the case here. The conditions and planning that City Council and City planners had devised early in the development of the deep south was in fact very well thought out. The following are extracts from some of the original requirements that would have restricted increased housing and population until the transportation network could support it.
From the Midnapore Phase 2 Area Structure Plan, 1991
“The Revised Midnapore II Policy Report (1978) recommends a series of major transportation improvements be made in step with the growing population of the area to prevent traffic congestion on major roads. It includes a policy, subsequently incorporated into the Midnapore II Area Structure Plan, approved July 1979, that no development be allowed west of 14 Street SW until the LRT line is extended south to 146 Avenue SW and/or Sarcee Trail is extended south to Marquis of Lorne Trail.”
From the Chaparral Area Structure Plan 1988:
1.3.11 Development Approvals. Bylaw 5P2006
1. When deciding upon a land use or outline plan application, the Approving Authority shall consider the probable impact it will have upon the road system having regard to the timing of the following proposed transportation improvements to accommodate development south of Fish Creek:
ii) To accommodate further increases in the area population to 64,000, Sarcee Trail should be extended to Marquis of Lorne Trail…
As it is, the decision to build out Midnapore 3 in deference to the original plans and requirements has seen an additional 32,000 residents added onto a transportation network that is seen by some as being unable to cope with the demand.
With populations south of Fish Creek continuing to increase, the demand for new and upgraded transportation options to travel north are only getting more strident. This pressure in turn seems to be causing the Province of Alberta to explore once-unpopular options that it previously had written off, including traversing the Weaselhead in order to service the southwest quadrant of the city. As ever, with negotiations over the ring road still ongoing with the Tsuu T’ina nation, the direction that will be taken to provide these much needed transportation options has yet to be decided.