History of Fish Creek Provincial Park
The look of Fish Creek Provincial Park has changed greatly since it was created in the late 1970s. Before this provincial park came into being, the land was used by a variety of owners for ranching, private homes, and even a horse race track.
As the City of Calgary has grown, the park’s neighbours have changed too, from rural to urban. The original master plan or Fish Creek Provincial Park envisioned 400,000 visitors per year. That number was exceeded during the very first year of operation. Visitation now stands at 3 million.
In the early ‘80s, construction commenced on Sikome Lake, picnic areas, parking lots, staging areas, washrooms, and a Visitor Center. A residence was converted into a learning centre geared to young people. Granular pathways were built throughout most of the park, although pavement was used to create the pathways east of Votier’s Flats
After the initial development, the rest of the decade saw very little additional work done in the park. Thankfully, there were no major floods during this period, and this quiet time allowed the ecosystems within the park to recover.
In the late 1980s and early 90s improvements were made to Sikome Lake and to the pathway system, to better manage the increasing use. In 1991 proposals were received for a golf course which resulted in construction of the McKenzie Meadows Golf Course within park boundaries. A new bridge across the Bow River provided access to the golf course, the McKenzie subdivisions, and the new Rotary Chinook Nature Park which was developed south of Hwy #22X.
At this time the Ranche at Fish Creek Restoration Society launched a project to save the original and beautiful home of William Roper Hull. It was restored and now operates as a restaurant. The adjacent lands have become the Artisan Garden, and a smaller building has become a seasonal cafe known as “Annie’s”.
In 1992, the Friends of Fish Creek Provincial Park Society was established to enhance Fish Creek Provincial Park. The Friends have grown to the largest volunteer program in Alberta. They operate out of the little yellow historic “cookhouse”, that dates back to the time when Senator Patrick Burns operated a ranch in the valley.
In 1995, with South Calgary growing rapidly, and increasing demands placed on the park, it was decided to develop a new management plan to direct the development of the park while protecting its natural areas and historic resources.
This plan took 2 years to develop and involved extensive public input. The new strategy reflects a better balance of protection and recreation. Park access through communitylinked pathways decreased the need for extensive vehicle access. Eventurally some parking lots were actually removed, and some of the original expansion plans were cancelled.
In the late 1990s, two major city projects had a significant impact on those areas in the park known as Glennfield and Shaw’s Meadow. The projects were the expansion of the LRT line south of Canyon Meadows Drive, and the construction of the interchange at Canyon Meadows and Macleod Trail. The picnic area and washroom were removed from Shaw’s Meadow, leaving the area in a more natural setting.
In 2000, a study of water quality identified issues with stormwater management. In partnership with the City of Calgary, numerous engineered wetlands were established throughout the valley. These ponds provide water retention, aid in the settling of sediments, and protect Fish Creek from much of the previous untreated direct stormwater discharges.
A major land acquisition took place during the mid 2000s. Once Lafarge finished mining their gravel pit, they sold some of their land to the park for a future engineered wetland. Lafarge Meadows is now a popular day use area, with wetlands, interpretive signage, pathways and some of the newest areas of the McInnis and Holloway Memorial Forest.
The next area in the park to change was Shannon Terrace. Historically, this western portion of the park was a sleepy area, but use spiked sharply as the communities south of Fish Creek grew rapidly. As a result, the 37th Street roadway and bridge were expanded and a pedestrian bridge was constructed over the creek connecting the new community of Evergreen with the pathway system in the park. The horse concession was closed, the single-track trail system was developed, and close to $4 million dollars were invested in the renovation of the Fish Creek Environmental Learning Centre.
Construction of these projects was just being finished when the flood of 2005 hit Calgary. Damage to the infrastructure throughout the park was estimated at $7.5 million. The bridges and pathways that were washed out were rebuilt using new designs that incorporated standards that would prevent or certainly limit this kind of flood damage in the future. Fish Creek Provincial Park has changed significantly over the past 40 years and it will continue to evolve in the future, but it will always remain a sanctuary where we can quickly get away from the stresses of city life.