Southwest Ring Road Deal Accepted by Tsuut’ina Nation

Several media outlets are reporting that in a vote held on Thursday, October 24 2013, the Tsuut’ina Nation voted in favour of accepting a deal to sell and trade reserve land to the Province of Alberta for the Southwest Ring Road. While the results will not be officially announced until midday on Friday, at a press conference to be held by Chief Roy Whitney, the agreement is reported to have been accepted with around 68% of the vote.

The details of the deal have yet to be revealed, though a separate press conference set to be held at 2pm Friday afternoon by Transportation Minister Ric McIver and Premier Alison Redford may contain more information about the agreement. The acceptance of this deal marks a historic agreement between the Province and the Tsuut’ina Nation, on a project first detailed to the public nearly 60 years ago.

On Friday, November 18 1955 Minister of Highways Gordon Taylor addressed the Calgary Chamber of Commerce at the Palliser Hotel with an update of the highways program for the upcoming year. Among the talk of highways and interchanges was mention of a bypass road that would connect the Macleod Trail with the still-under-construction Trans Canada Highway. This road had two proposed routes, including an ambitious long-range plan that would have seen the road travel west along Anderson Road, then north across the Elbow River west of the reservoir. While the route would change and the City would grow, the first public seeds of the Southwest Ring Road were sewn on that day.

Much work will be required over the next few years before a Southwest Ring Road is completed, but it would seem that the groundwork has been laid for both the road itself and future developments on the reserve that will follow.

Details about the road design and the agreement will be covered when they are released.

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.

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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.”

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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) Continue reading “The History of Ring Road Negotiations”

Casino Access and Bargaining Chips

In July of 2009, Calgary Mayor Dave Bronconnier stated “One thing is for sure. The legal access to the First Nation’s land is off of Anderson Road. And so we will have to accommodate and work with our neighbours as we always do… At the end of the day, we need to build an interchange at 37th Street SW and Glenmore (trail) and, most importantly, Calgarians just want us to get on with it.” Over the next few days, Bronconier indicated that while access to the reserve would always be maintained at Anderson Road, the access to the reserve and the Tsuu T’ina’s Grey Eagle Casino at Glenmore Trail and 37th street SW was only ‘considered temporary’. This was disputed by the Nation, and soon legal threats were issued over potential limits to reserve access.

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The concept of a single, legally required access point between the City of Calgary and the Tsuu T’ina reserve has been raised in recent years by politicians and the media. So too has the suggestion that the access road to the Grey Eagle Casino is only temporary in nature. However, is this really the case? Is the City only required to provide a single connection? Is the entrance to the reserve near the casino provided as a courtesy, or does that access exist as a right of the Nation? The issue around this access point is highly charged, politically sensitive, and like most aspects of this story, comes with a long history behind it. Continue reading “Casino Access and Bargaining Chips”

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.

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

The Many Crossings of Highway 22

The Southwest Calgary Ring Road may be the best known provincial road designed to cross Tsuu T’ina land, but it wasn’t the first road sought through the reserve. In fact, it is at least the fourth road, either built or not, that the Province planned to cross the reserve. The three previous road plans, of which only one is operating today (and one  never built), are also related in another way; they were all earmarked at one time or another to be the route of Highway 22.

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The Priddis Trail and the Original Highway 22

The road known as the Priddis Trail was not only the first road to be considered for the role of Highway 22, it actually predates the building of that highway by many years. The road was officially established by the Province in 1900 after being surveyed for the first time in 1899. However, the route is even older than that. The Priddis Trail was set out along a much older trail that had been in use by local First Nations for decades, if not centuries. The trail is shown below in 1897.

PriddisTrail_1897 Continue reading “The Many Crossings of Highway 22”

The Glenmore Land Claims

On June 6 2013 the Canadian government ratified a settlement agreement with the Tsuu T’ina Nation that was reached this past April regarding three specific land claims. These claims, known collectively as the Glenmore Reservoir land claims, were the result of actions taken in the 1930s regarding land in the Weaselhead area.

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The $20.8 million settlement has now concluded claim negotiations that had been ongoing since 1996. With the potential for the largest ever sale of Tsuu T’ina land for the still under negotiations for the ring road, it is important to understand the context of historic land deals, and the problems and sensitivities that arose from them. Continue reading “The Glenmore Land Claims”

Water, Sewer and Roads

The issue of extending utility services from the City of Calgary to the Tsuu T’ina reserve has long been a key yet subtle part of ring road negotiations. While on paper these issues have rarely been explicitly linked, they both play a large role in the relationship between these two governments.

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This past week the City of Calgary and the Tsuu T’ina have finalized an arrangement that will see the Nation’s Grey Eagle Casino, including the new hotel and concert venue expansion pictured above, connected to the City’s water and sewer infrastructure. Although not explicitly related to the issue of the ring road, this new agreement can be seen to be the latest step in a long story that is nonetheless interwoven with the fate of the road. Continue reading “Water, Sewer and Roads”

1977 Sarcee Trail South Route Location Study

Though the planning for a Southwest Ring Road had been started in the early-to-mid 1950s, it remained little more than a line on a map for the next few decades. It took the pressures of growth, and the establishment of a new Provincial park, for the City to move the project from long-range thinking to a more detailed phase of planning. By the mid 1970s the planning for the Sarcee Trail extension, as it was then known, had become a priority to the City, even if the need for the road was recognised to still be decades away.

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The study would look at routes that traveled from Glenmore Trail to Highway 22x, though I will focus on the portion that crosses the Elbow River, from Glenmore Trail to Anderson Road. For more on the crossing of the Fish Creek, see here. Continue reading “1977 Sarcee Trail South Route Location Study”

The Railways of the Tsuut’ina reserve

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The concept of a Provincial road crossing Tsuut’ina land is a well established one, with two having been built, another shelved, and the Southwest Calgary Ring Road still under negotiations. However, the idea of a railway through southwest Calgary and the reserve might be a little more surprising. Around 100 years ago no less than three Railways were planned to traverse the reserve, lying as it does between Calgary, the southern Alberta coal and oil fields, and the American northwest beyond.

Though the relationship between the Southwest Calgary Ring Road and these railway projects of another century might not be obvious, their stories of infrastructure development, of planned economic prosperity through the ability to transport goods, and of the reserve’s role in potentially providing a path for these projects illustrate a long history of public and private transportation interests in the Tsuut’ina land. It is also worth noting that the Indian Act, which governs the First Nations reserve system in Canada, was amended in 1911 to allow for the expropriation of reserve land for road and railway projects. The plans shown below would likely not have required the permission of the Tsuut’ina to have been built.

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The above map shows the general location of the three lines that had been planned to cross the Tsuut’ina reserve in the early part of the 20th century: the Calgary and Fernie Railway, the Western Dominion Railway and the Calgary and Southwestern Railway. Continue reading “The Railways of the Tsuut’ina reserve”

Why plan a road through the Tsuut’ina reserve?

Modern plans have for decades shown the Southwest Calgary Ring Road as traveling through the northeast corner of the Tsuut’ina reserve. As these plans for the road had utilised land that cannot be guaranteed to be available, many have wondered why the City allowed communities like Lakeview and Glamorgan to grow right up to the city-limits, leaving no room for a ring road. With no corridor protected for this road, some have openly blamed the City for failing to plan ahead, but is this really the case?

Early Road Planning

Although there were early attempts at planning the major roadways in Calgary, notably Thomas Mawson’s plan of 1914 and the City’s 1930 Major Street & Arterial Highway plan, 1952 marked the first modern road plan for the city of which all subsequent plans are indebted. The 1952 plan (below) was the result of a push in 1948 for a masterplan for Calgary, not just for street layout but for all future growth for the city including land-use and zoning.

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The explosion of car ownership in the post-war era had compounded congestion in the downtown core of Calgary, and the need to design a road network that would accomodate new traffic and allow drivers to avoid downtown was seen as paramount in allowing for the continuing growth of the city. Although the Major Thoroughfare Plan shows improved bypass roadways that avoid the core of the city, the proposed road network was contained within the city-limits of the time, and no regional bypass routes or ring roads feature in the plan. That state of affairs was soon to change, and beginning the following year, the City began the process of planning a ring road system for Calgary. Continue reading “Why plan a road through the Tsuut’ina reserve?”