Although construction of the Southwest Calgary Ring Road has been ongoing for the past few years by the KGL Constructors partnership, it is not always easy to see what progress is being made. A large portion of the road is located on former Tsuut’ina Nation reserve land which isn’t accessible or visible to the average Calgarian, and as such, getting a sense of the work being done on this project can sometimes be difficult.
Last fall, Reddit user ‘Craftyshrew’ flew over Southwest Calgary and captured an image of the ring road project from the air. The cleared land along the route carves a visible corridor through the former reserve land, where the scale of the project, and the progress of construction, can be seen.
(Image looking north from about Highway 22x. Click image for larger version)
At this stage in the project, construction has begun to some degree on all 14 of the interchanges along the Southwest Calgary Ring Road route, and grading for the mainline ring road lanes is approximately 45% completed. Bridge pilings have been started on many of the interchanges, with the rest commencing as the 2019 construction season begins.
Construction of all interchanges will continue into 2020, when the majority of the paving will be undertaken. The southwest portion of the ring road is scheduled to be open to the public in the fall of 2021.
Thank you to Craftyshrew on reddit for their kind permission to publish their photo, and to Adam Johnson and Rizwan Hussain from Alberta Transportation.
Building the Southwest Calgary Ring Road project is a massive enterprise, and includes the construction of hundreds of kilometre-lanes of roads, 49 bridges and 14 interchanges, but the project involves more than just a freeway. One of the first projects to be undertaken in preparation for the construction of the ring road involves the relocation of an electrical transmission line; one that not only crosses the ring road corridor, but also bisects the Northeast corner of the Tsuut’ina Nation reserve.
AltaLink, the company that owns the bulk of Alberta’s electrical transmission network, is currently in the process of installing a new underground transmission line within the right-of-ways for Glenmore Trail and 37th street SW. This work is being done in advance of the decommissioning and salvage of the portion of the existing line that crosses the reserve, and the story of how the existing line ended up on reserve land, and why it is now being removed, is an interesting one that dates back almost 100 years.
The Start of the Line
In 1924 the Calgary Power Company Ltd. planned an electric transmission line to connect their hydroelectric operations at horseshoe falls on the Bow river to south Calgary. Transmission Line No. 3 was to split off from an existing line at Jumping Pound, then head south and east for 35 kilometres to Macleod Trail at 50th avenue SW.1 Despite a few alterations over the years, this route remains largely intact and in service today.
The route for the new line was surveyed, and a corridor of between 30 and 100 feet in width was allocated to the utility, including a small section that ran through the Tsuut’ina Nation reserve (then known as the Sarcee reserve). A 3.7 km portion of the line was earmarked along the northern boundary of the Nation’s land, adjacent to what is now Glenmore Trail between about 69th street SW and 37th street SW. The 100-foot-wide corridor comprised 31.6 acres of reserve land, through an area known as Sarcee Camp or The 940.2
At the time of the survey, this part of the Tsuut’ina reserve was under lease to the Department of National Defence. Known as Sarcee Camp, the land had been turned into a training camp in 1915 in the midst of the First World War. When permission to cross this land was sought by the Calgary Power Company, the request was handled by the department of Indian Affairs, and no record of the involvement or approval of the members of the Tsuut’ina Nation are on file with the Federal Government.
The Federal Indian Commissioner valued a corridor agreement at $1000, which the Calgary Power Company paid in order to secure a perpetual easement for the power lines.3 On December 8 1924, the Superintendent General of Indian Affairs and representatives of the Calgary Power Company ratified the agreement, with the Department of National Defence signing off on a clause that would not hold the Military liable for “damage or injury done to the… transmission line… which may result from the use of the said Sarcee Camp for Military training…” and which would also compensate the Military for any damage caused by the operation of the line.4
With the survey in place and permissions acquired from other landowners along the entire route, the line was soon under construction. In 1926 the line was energized, and began to serve the increasing electricity needs of a growing modern city.
War and (Electrical) Power
Throughout the late 1920s and 1930s Transmission Line No. 3 operated unobtrusively side-by-side with Sarcee Camp. The camp was in regular use for peace-time training, but the outbreak of another war would change much on the Tsuut’ina reserve, including the transmission line.
In 1939 Canada became embroiled in World War 2, and military installations across Canada, including Sarcee Camp and the newer Currie Barracks to the north, were seeing increased use.
As part of the war effort, the Canadian Government earmarked Calgary as the site of a new air school. Service Flying Training School No. 3 was to be established on land directly northeast of Sarcee Camp as part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan,5 a scheme that would see tens of thousands of airmen trained across Canada and the world during the war. The land selected for the new air school had already seen use as an airfield for a number of years as Currie Airfield, but formal runways hadn’t been constructed up to that point.
Transmission Line No. 3 crossed directly through the chosen location for the new triangular runway of the flight school, and this overlap meant that the power lines had to move. A slight relocation of the line would not suffice as the raised power lines posed a threat to taking-off and landing aircraft,6 so a more significant move was required.
In June of 1940 the Acting Deputy Minister (Air Service) of the Department of National Defence asked for permission to move the transmission line further south into the reserve, bisecting the Sarcee Camp lands. Within a few days, the Deputy Minister of the Indian Affairs Branch replied with an approval of the idea, in part because the cost of the relocation would not be charged to the Nation, and also because “…this proposed diversion will not in any way interfere with the activities of the Sarcee Indians…”.7
There is no record of any approval of the relocation by Tsuut’ina Nation members, nor of the Nation being notified of the potential move. Since the Department’s approval was granted less than a week after receiving the request, there would have been insufficient time for a formal surrender to have been granted by the Nation. As this was a case of one Federal department communicating directly with another, it appears unlikely that the request ever left Ottawa.
The same week that the Department granted permission for the transmission line move, the Tsuut’ina Nation’s Chief and Council made a related approval of their own. On June 19 1940, the Nation passed a Band Council Resolution approving the sale of gravel from the reserve to Dutton Brothers contractors, for use in constructing the new runways.8 Following a survey of the newly-altered power line corridor, the runways were under construction and nearly 5 km of the transmission line was shifted 1.6km south of its original corridor. The transmission line now diagonally crossed Sarcee Camp, and headed east through what would later become the community of Lakeview, only returning to its original route once it was clear of the airspace of the new air school.9
On the morning of October 28 1940, only 132 days after receiving permission to move the transmission lines, the flight school was officially opened. With the airspace clear and the runways built, the air school was ready to begin training new pilots and airmen. Continue reading “Electric Transmission Line Relocation”
On May 3rd, 2017, I was fortunate enough to accompany Hal Eagletail on a tour of the Tsuut’ina Nation reserve. Hal is a well respected cultural leader of the Tsuut’ina, and the Lakeview Community Association’s Tsuut’ina Nation Relations Committee had invited him to speak to residents about the history and culture of the Nation. Hal wanted to show certain areas of the reserve in his presentation, and as chairman of the committee, I was asked if I was interested in seeing more of the land and to take photos. I was treated to an incredible day, listening to some of the stories and walking the land of the Tsuut’ina Nation.
Any mistakes in the stories recounted in this post are mine and not Hal’s. While the post below covers some of what was presented in Hal’s talk, I recommend watching the video of the presentation, which is shown at the end of this post.
‘Danit’ada’ is the traditional Tsuut’ina greeting.
On the signing of Treaty 7 in 1877, the Tsuut’ina Nation was allocated a reserve adjacent to the Siksika Nation, near what is now Bassano, Alberta. After negotiating with the Federal Government for their own land, the area around Fish Creek (known as Wolf Creek to the Tsuut’ina) was selected by Tsuut’ina scouts. The scouts created a pile of rocks on a hill overlooking the creek in order to mark the land, and in 1883 when the new reserve was established, Chief Bullhead placed a rock on the pile and told all of his people to place their own rock. To this day, every Nation member continues to place a rock on the pile when they come of age, and as the Nation grows, so to does the pile.
A marker stone telling the story of the cairn was unveiled by Prince Charles in 1977.
Near the rock cairn is the new Tsuut’ina Nation museum. The previous museum was established in the early 1980s, and was located in the old Seven Chiefs sportsplex building. When the sportplex was torn down a few years ago to make way for the Southwest Calgary Ring Road, the museum’s collection was put into storage to await a new home. The new museum is located just south of Chief Bullhead’s old house (built in 1909) is slated to open on Treaty Day, June 28 2017.
For decades, Federal employees known as Indian Agents were sent to oversee nearly every aspect of a First Nation’s business. The agent would typically live on the reserve they were sent to manage, in a house provided by the Government. This hundred-year-old Agent’s house, with its three fireplaces, was considerably larger than any other residence on the Tsuut’ina Nation reserve including the Chief’s house.
The lone spruce tree just to the right of the centre of the photograph above grows on the site of the old Tsuut’ina Nation reserve residential school (the Anglican St. Barnabas School). In the foreground is a thicket of yellow lilac bushes planted by the children who lived at the school.
Pictured is the third Anglican Church built on the reserve. The foundations of the second church lie to the left of the church in this photograph. The first church, established in the late 1880s, was a sod building.
This view, looking north, shows the new Southwest Calgary Ring Road corridor along the eastern edge of the Tsuut’ina Nation reserve. The Wolf Creek/Fish Creek valley is in the foreground, and the fence-line to the right of centre of this photo denotes the previous boundary of the reserve, adjacent to 37th street SW and the community of Woodbine. The Nation’s Administration building is visible at the left of the photo.
Hal recounted that in the 1800s a man named Eaglerib had a vision: that the land chosen for the Tsuut’ina Nation reserve would one day be surrounded by boxes, and that these boxes would allow the Nation to prosper. Over a hundred years later, the houses of Calgarians will soon surround the reserve on three sides. With the new ring road being built to provide access to future commercial developments, the growth and proximity of the City of Calgary is seen to be fulfilling Eaglerib’s vision of a coming prosperity for the Nation. Continue reading “A day on the Tsuut’ina Nation reserve”
Update September 15 2016: A $1.42 billion contract (adjusted to 2016 dollars) has been signed between the Province of Alberta and Mountain View Partners for the construction of the Southwest Calgary Ring Road project. Click here for details.
Mountain View Partners have been selected to begin initial work on the Southwest Calgary Ring Road project under an interim agreement. While the full contract will not be entered into until September 13, this interim agreement will allow work to begin along the road corridor, including the relocation of utilities. The Alberta Government expects to see crews and equipment on the project site by mid-July.
Mountain View Partners is a consortium consisting of:
Project Lead: Meridiam Infrastructure North America Fund II, as managed by Meridiam Infrastructure North America Corp.
Financing Lead: Meridiam Infrastructure North America Fund II, as managed by Meridiam Infrastructure North America Corp.
Design-Construction Lead: Kiewit Management Co.
Operation and Maintenance Lead: Alberta Highway Services Ltd.
Click Here for maps of the full Southwest Calgary Ring Road Project.
The following maps were released to the public in October of 2015 by the Province of Alberta, and rather than relying on older or historical maps of the project, I wanted to ensure that the most up-to-date information was available to readers. These are likely to remain the most current views of the road until a contractor is selected in September of this year.
Please click on the maps for larger versions.
Southwest Calgary Ring Road Route
From North to South, the following maps show the full route of the Southwest Calgary Ring Road project as it currently stands:
1) While not part of the Southwest Calgary Ring Road, Highway 8 from Lott Creek Boulevard to the Calgary City Limits at 101st Street SW will be twinned as part of the project, including a new bridge over the Elbow river.
2) The Southwest Ring Road begins at the Highway 8 Corridor, from Calgary City Limits at 101st Street SW, to the interchange at 69th Street SW.
3) Interchange of Glenmore Trail SW and Sarcee Trail SW, including Glenmore Trail upgrades between Sarcee Trail SW and the 37th Street SW interchange. Also shown are the interchanges with Westhills Way SW and Strathcona Street.
This article was originally published on April 15 2015. It was updated on March 5 2016 to reflect newly found information about the City’s earliest plans for bypass routes in 1952 and 1953.
The City of Calgary and the Province of Alberta variously point to planning and studies from 1959 or the 1970s as the origin of the Southwest Ring Road.1 While these studies mark important milestones in the history of this road, particularly around planning for the current iteration, the truth is that the concept is a much older one than that.
(Township plan of Bowness, Mongomery, and what would eventually become west Calgary, 1953)
Early efforts had been undertaken to plan for roads encircling Calgary’s downtown area, notably the town plan by Thomas Mawson in 1914, though these were not acted upon at the time. It wasn’t until a post-world war two explosion in population growth and vehicle ownership in Calgary had occurred that the issue of bypass roads would again be brought to the fore.
The 11-year period between 1952 and 1963 constitute the practical origin of Calgary’s bypass road system, and would see incredible effort and progress on this issue: from outright rejection, to intensive planning, and finally to construction of Calgary’s first southwest bypass route.
The Earliest Southwest Ring Road Plans
In order to address the rapid growth experienced in the post-war years, the City of Calgary began the process of creating a General Plan for the city in the late 1940s. By 1951, an interim report on the General Plan was produced, which included descriptions of primary roads planned for Calgary. A major route following 50th avenue SW across the Elbow river along the City’s southern edge and 14th street SW heading north across the Bow river2 was noted, and was intended to connect the Macleod and Banff trails and act as a bypass around the City’s core.
This interim report was followed by a preliminary major roads plan that was presented to City Council in the winter of 1952. The plan contained many of the same routes as the earlier General Plan interim report, though the southwest bypass was now envisioned along 24th street SW/Crowchild Trail, rather that 14th street SW, as the north-south portion of the route.3
(A depiction of Calgary’s Major Roads Plan as presented to City Council. Source: Traffic Problem Solution Seen. Nigel Dunn. Calgary Herald. December 19, 1952. Highlight added.)
Although these initial planning efforts focused on routes contained within the City’s limits, plans were simultaneously being prepared on a wider scale; the City’s major road plan was not intended as a final document, but was intended to be continually updated and expanded as conditions demanded.
The City’s planning department had earlier drafted a different map in 1952 that for the first time described the series of planned bypass roads as a ‘Ring Road System’, and indicates, though does not fully depict, a southwest bypass located on 37th street SW.4 This was an internal working document that was not intended for the public, and shows how the City had begun to look outside of it’s city limits at more regional roads.
In late 1953 a further revision was completed, which for the first time fully detailed a Southwest Ring Road route around the west edge of the Glenmore reservoir.5 Comprising of 90th avenue SW on the south and 53rd street SW/Sarcee Trail on the west, this version of the Southwest Ring Road shares little in common with the modern route, though the use of the Sarcee Trail right-of-way and a crossing through the Weaselhead would remain part of the Southwest Ring Road plans for decades to follow.
(Source: Untitled Map. December 1953. City of Calgary Corporate Records, Archives. Board of Commissioners S. IV box 189 F. 39.)
By the early 1950s the City had a defined, though extremely fluid, ring road plan. Work on the plan by the City of Calgary would continue for a number of years yet, though putting the scheme into action could not be done by the City alone; implementation would require a partner in the form of the Provincial government.
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.
(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 can be found here while Part three 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.
(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
(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.
Today, the City of Calgary’s Transportation Department will present to the Transportation and Transit Committee on issues related to the yet-to-be-constructed West and Southwest Ring Road projects. As it happens, today also marks an important date in the history of the ring road. It was exactly 60 years ago that the Province of Alberta first announced plans for what would eventually become the Southwest Calgary Ring Road.
On Friday, November 18, 1955, the Calgary Chamber of Commerce held a meeting at the Palliser Hotel in downtown Calgary. Speaking at the event was Social Credit MLA and Minister of Highways Gordon Taylor, who provided a summary of the Province’s 12-month plan for highway projects in the Calgary area.
(The Hon. Gordon Taylor, Minister of Highways (Centre) shown here opening the Mewata Bridge, Calgary, 1954. Glenbow Archives NA-5600-7844a)
On Thursday July 30 2015, Federal Minister for National Defence and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney, along with Alberta Minister for Transportation Brian Mason, announced Federal funding for the Southwest Calgary Ring Road project.
At the announcement, also attended by Tsuut’ina Chief Roy Whitney-Onespot, Kenney detailed a commitment of $582.9 million, which represents one quarter of the estimated $2.8 billion cost for construction of this leg of the road. The funds are being earmarked from the National Infrastructure Component of the New Building Canada Fund, which ‘provides funding for projects of national significance’1.
(Map showing the newly revised route of the Southwest ring road; from Macleod trail in the south, to west of 101st street SW in the west.)
This month, the Government of Alberta revised the plans for the Southwest Calgary Ring Road Project by extending the western portion of the road into the Highway 8 corridor. This section of the ring road, what is currently Highway 8 from Sarcee trail to just west of the Calgary city limits and highlighted below in blue, had until recently been a part of the West Calgary Ring Road Project. This change shifts approximately 5km of roadway to the Southwest ring road, adds one additional interchange (69th street SW) and a new crossing over the Elbow River to the project, while removing the same from the West leg of the road.1
(The previous Southwest ring road route in green, with the addition of a portion of Highway 8 in blue, making up the most recent Southwest ring road alignment.2)
This section of Highway 8, between Sarcee trail and 101st street, has played an important role in the history of the ring road, not only recently, but for many years before.
South Morley Trail, Springbank Trail, Richmond Road and Highway 8
The modern Highway 8 partially follows the route of one of the oldest roads on Calgary’s west side. Richmond road, first known as South Morley Trail, was a key trail west of the city in the 19th century, and originally connected Calgary to the Stoney Nakoda First Nation Reserve via Springbank.3