The Weaselhead: A Shared History

The Weaselhead is one of the local amenities that makes Lakeview such a wonderful community, but its a part of the city that could not always be claimed by Calgarians as their own.

The Weaselhead area in the Elbow river valley was originally part of the Tsuut’ina reserve when the reserve was established in 1883, and was reportedly an important camping area for the Nation for half a century. The earliest recorded mention of the name in relation to the area was in 1890, when the Calgary Daily Herald noted the ‘Weasel Head crossing’ of the river in a local news story.

Being the closest portion of the reserve to the City of Calgary, the N.E. corner of the Tsuut’ina reserve, now bounded by Glenmore Trail, 37th street and the Elbow river and including part of the Weaselhead area, was coveted by many non-indigenous individuals and groups. At the turn of the century, repeated attempts were made to pressure the Nation into selling large portions of their reserve, and in 1910 the City of Calgary sought to purchase the entire 1,000+ acres of the N.E. corner of the reserve for a park. The Nation rejected the City’s offer, and although the Federal Government continued negotiations for a number of years, the City’s attempt to purchase the land was unsuccessful at that time.

After years of their own attempts to secure the same land for a permanent camp, the Canadian Military established a training camp on the N.E. corner of the reserve in 1915 without the knowledge of the Nation. The camp was western Canada’s largest World War I training facility, and included the northern portion of the Weaselhead within its boundaries. The area continued to host training exercises after the war, and further leases of Tsuut’ina lands in the 1920s expanded the Military’s use of the Weaselhead to the south side of the river.

Around the same time, Calgary was looking to establish a reliable water supply for the city, and in 1929 planning began for what is now the Glenmore dam and reservoir. The reservoir would flood the Elbow river valley westwards into a portion of the Weaselhead area, and the City needed to secure the affected land. Although very little of the Weaselhead would end up flooded by the reservoir, the City looked to purchase nearly 600 acres of land from the Tsuut’ina. In 1931 the City negotiated a contentious deal, paying just $29,675 for the land; the lowest price-per-acre paid to any land owner in the Elbow valley. (The handling of the purchase of the Weaselhead led to a land claim by the Nation in 1996, which was partially settled by the Federal Government in 2013. A legal action over the sale of the northern portion of the Weaselhead, as well as the former Military camp adjacent to Lakeview, is still outstanding.)

Although the City took ownership of the land, it had been acquired by the water department in order to be used as part of a waterworks facility, and as such, it remained officially closed to the public for decades. This restriction was more strictly enforced in the 1940s while the Military used the reservoir and the City’s portion of the Weaselhead area for extensive training during World War II, as the entire area was fenced-off and patrolled by soldiers. Following the end of the war, there was increased pressure to turn the reservoir area into a large park, though it would take another decade before the City began to seriously plan to open the area to the public.

A Glenmore Park masterplan was prepared by the City of Calgary’s planning department in 1956, which included the Weaselhead area. Among the plans for the reservoir’s west end was the inclusion of picnic areas, a boat harbour, a sunbathing and swimming area, the Southwest Ring Road and an ‘Indian Village’. The Calgary Herald reported on Mayor Mackay’s vision of this last amenity, who stated “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 site.”

The development of Glenmore Park didn’t begin in earnest until the 1960s, although revised plans meant that the Weaselhead area was largely untouched by efforts to manicure the rest of the park. The Weaselhead was left in a more natural state, though the expansion of trails and the addition of foot-bridges in the 1970s more fully opened the new Weaselhead park for the enjoyment of the public. By the 1990s the park had been granted the City’s highest level of classification for a natural area, and today the area is regarded as one of the jewels of Calgary’s park system.

Nature and geography do not respect political boundaries, and the full Weaselhead area, which originates upstream along the Elbow river valley, is not confined by the City limits. The Weaselhead lives in both the City of Calgary and in the Tsuut’ina Nation reserve; it is part of the fabric of our two neighbouring communities and continues to play a role in our common history.