The History of Ring Road Negotiations

On the day of a vote by the Tsuu T’ina Nation on a potential deal to sell and trade land for the Southwest Calgary Ring Road, it’s worth looking at the history of the negotiations for this road.

Many commentators have made statements to the effect that the City of Calgary or the Province of Alberta have been negotiating with the Nation over land for the ring road for upwards of 60 years. While it’s true that designs for the road, even from the very beginning, have shown the road on reserve land, it cannot be said that true negotiations have been underway since that time. Though conversations have certainly taken place for decades, the current negotiations can be traced back to about 2004, with modern negotiations starting in 1998, and prior to 1984 the Nation were largely opposed to the entire notion of running a major freeway through their land.

The earliest ring road plans are revealed to the public. Mayor Don Mackay states that a small portion of the road, particularly the interchange with what would become 90th avenue, would cross the Tsuu T’ina reserve. Mayor Mackay said “Think of the possibilities for a great tourist attraction this would provide for the Indians… They could line the road, as it crosses their territory, with teepees and provide a wonderful sight.”


Soon the proposed road would be altered from these early plans, and the officially approved route in 1959 was not noted to require land from the reserve. No formal discussions are known to have taken place with the Nation regarding the purchase of land at this time.

(For more on the early road, click here)

In planning the communities of Oakridge and Cedarbrae, the City noted in 1968 that a 300-foot right-of-way was needed to accommodate the future ring road along 37th street sw south of the reservoir. The Traffic Planning Team agreed that in addition to the existing 66-foot allowance, an additional 117 feet should be taken from both the Oakridge side of the existing allowance, and from the Tsuu T’ina reserve on the opposite side.

A memo circulated a week later called this decision into question, stating “Are we sure that we can obtain 117 feet from (the Tsuu T’ina) when needed?” the memo’s author raised concerns about planning a roadway on land that may not be available to the City. Seeking to avoid a scenario where the City would be forced to implement a ‘restricted R.O.W. design’ the memo recommended setting aside the entire 300 foot right-of-way within the city limits. This advice seems to have been ignored, and by April of that year the plans to locate a part of the Sarcee Trail on the Tsuu T’ina lands was reconfirmed, and the City’s ‘Streets Construction Division’ was instructed to prepare plans for the new communities with this mandate in effect. To this day, the protected corridor for this road narrows to under 200 feet wide in places.

Civic records show no indication that formal talks were entered into regarding these long-range plans, and the tone of the memo indicates that discussions had not been entered into before the decision to plan for the road through the Tsuu T’ina reserve had been made.

(For more on 37th street sw south of the reservoir, click here)

In 1970 the Provincial Government produced a study of all Calgary-area major roads, called the Calgary Area Study, and included in this assessment of future road needs was the Southwest Ring Road, also known as the Sarcee Trail Extension.


Two alignments were considered south of Glenmore Trail; the primary route was contained entirely within the City, while an alternative route (shown in blue above) was located almost entirely through the Tsuu T’ina reserve. The alternate reserve route was ultimately not recommended, and formal discussions with the Nation are not known to have been undertaken.

(For more on the ring road in the early 1970s, click here)

In the 1970s the City had begun to undertake detailed planning of the Sarcee Trail Extension. In a study that lasted 3 years, a dozen routes were assessed for the road, several of which would have crossed the Tsuu T’ina reserve. Although Nation representatives were invited to take part in the ‘Citizen Design Team’, they declined that role for fear of their involvement being construed as an endorsement of whichever route was finally selected. Representatives, including the Chief, did attend two of the meetings as observers, and were available to answer questions and take information back to Nation members.


In 1977 the results of the study was published, which narrowed the routes down to three options; one entirely within the City, and two that would have crossed at least a portion of the Tsuu T’ina reserve (routes A, L and K above). The study noted that without further information and cooperation from the Nation, a final route could not be selected.


Chief Clifford Big Plume stated in 1978 that the Sarcee Trail Extension offered no benefits to the Nation, and that their members would not accept a road through their land.

(For more on the 1977 study, click here)

In 1982 the Nation agreed to participate and co-fund a study that would look at the Sarcee Trail Extension through reserve lands. The study went on to not only look at the route of the road, but also on the benefits and impacts such a road would have on the nation. The study concluded with a single approved alignment for the road, and in July of 1984 the Nation voted ‘Yes’ to the referendum question “Should the Band Council negotiate an Agreement to allow the extension of the Sarcee Trail near the eastern boundary of the Reserve”, marking the first time that the Nation agreed to enter into formal negotiations over the ring road. An economic downturn around the same time as the publication of the study meant that transportation projects, including the Sarcee Trail Extension, were soon sidelined by both the Province and the City, and the negotiations stalled.


(The 1984 study will be covered in more detail in a future article)

In 1991 the City and the Province entered into the Ring Road and Highway Penetrators agreement which set the design standards of the ring road and laid out the roles and responsibilities of each party in regards to these roads. As part of the agreement, both the City and the Province agreed that the City is in the best position to negotiate with the Tsuu T’ina Nation regarding an agreement for land required from the reserve.

The City, Province and Nation begin formal talks for a deal regarding the ring road in 1998, and in June of 1999 the Nation takes a vote and agrees to enter into negotiations. The City, Province and the Nation enter into a Memorandum of Understanding in 2000 for the first time.

(For more on the ring road in the 1990s, click here)

Following the signing of the 2000 Memorandum of Understanding, very little progress is made regarding official talks or negotiations. Frustrated with the City, the Nation approaches the Province directly in order to negotiate a deal. An Agreement in Principle is signed between the Tsuu T’ina and the Province in 2004. The next year a Framework Agreement is signed by both parties, and negotiations begin in earnest.

Following several years of talks, road design and land valuations, a deal is approved by both the Nation’s Chief and Council and the Province. A referendum in June of 2009 is held for the first time ever, and is rejected by the Tsuu T’ina electorate by about 60.5% against. Despite a stated willingness by Chief Big Plume, the Province decides to forgo further negotiations, and moves on to assess alternatives that do not require Tsuu T’ina land.

(For more on the 2009 deal click here)

In 2011, the Nation voted 68.5% in favour of returning to negotiations, and following the response to controversial alternative ring road plans released earlier that year, the Province agrees to resumed negotiations.


Following two years of negotiations based on the 2004-2009 negotiations, the Nation’s Chief and Council voted to tentatively approve a new deal with the Province in September of 2013. A referendum is set for October 24 2013 when Nation members would vote on a ring road deal for only the second time in their history.

Time will tell

It now remains to be seen how these negotiations will fare at the ballot box, and if the Nation will accept a deal or not. Results are expected to be announced on Friday, October 25th 2013.


One thought on “The History of Ring Road Negotiations”

  1. Exciting day after decades of prep work. However the mainstream media seems to have missed this for the most part. Still I expect the Friday announcement will garner appropriate attention.

    As always I’m in awe of the excellent explanation you have provided on this issue. There is so much anger and incorrect information floating about on this subject.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: