Alberta, Canada

History of Weaselhead

By Joey Karen Temple

The Elbow River Post was built two miles west of the present day reservoir in 1871. Sam Livingston arrived to the area in 1876. He remained in the area as the first European settler until his death in 1897. The south escarpment still housed active buffalo runs until 1887.

The City of Calgary purchased the lands in 1931 in order to protect the headwaters of the planned reservoir. The Sam Livingston house was moved to what is now the corner of 14th and Heritage in 1932 before the river valley was flooded The dam construction was completed in 1933 and the reservoir was flooded. Many years of public and political controversies over the area began in 1956. Then alderman, Grant McEwan, began the process towards protective status for the Weaselhead area by initiating the steps for creating a natural park.

Young people of Calgary built the first walking bridge over the river in 1971. After that bridge was flooded and washed away in 1996, the new bridge was brought in the improve the access through the cycle path.. This bridge had been built as a highway pedestrian overpass, but has become an integral part of the Calgary pathway system.

Background Information:

Sam Livingston, whose house is now part of Calgary’s Heritage Park, was the original European Settler to the Elbow River Valley in the region that is now known as the Weaselhead. However, the area is named after Chief Weaselhead who held authority over the Tsuu T'ina people of the river valley at the time of early European contact.

Today, the Weaselhead Natural Area covers an area of approximately 404 hectares and receives the highest level of protection available to a Calgary natural area. The area consists of the Elbow River, the north and south escarpments of the river valley, the river floodplains and delta. A walk through the area will give the keen observer insight into the geological, anthropological and natural history of the area.

The river was formed by the melt waters from the glaciers at the end of the last glaciation, approximately 100 thousand years ago. Today’s floodplains hold many clues to the past. We can see previous routes taken by the river by looking at the cutbanks, pointbars, and oxbow wetlands.

Fossils dating back 35 million years can be seen in the sandstone deposits along the cliffs of the river valley. There are numerous indigenous archeological sites, including buffalo kills and hunting campsites that can be dated as recently as the buffalo runs that existed in 1887.

The natural history of the area is extensive. Coniferous forests of white spruce can be found next of deciduous riverine forests of balsam poplar mixed with shrubs such as Red-osier dogwood and wolf willow (silver-berry) and stands of trembling aspen. During the warm seasons wildflowers bloom in the grassland areas. There are numerous aquatic habitats ranging from riverine wetlands, to beaver ponds, to the river itself. All supporting a variety of aquatic plantlife. The flora of the area is made up of some 480+ species. Some of these species are endangered or threatened such as the western wood lily.

The varied plant life supports a variety of wildlife forms. There are untold numbers of invertebrates both aquatic and terrestrial. At least ten species of fish are known in the area, with several being sought by sport fishers. Although there have been no recent recorded sightings of the endangered northern leopard frog it was once found in this area. There are other amphibians found in the area the tiger salamander, the boreal chorus frog and the wood frog. Few reptiles inhabit Alberta, but the garter snake is sometimes seen in the area. Over 200 species of birds, from waterfowl, to song birds, to raptors, can be found in the region. Some of these use the region as a stop-over during fall and spring migrations, others nest in the Weaselhead during the summer months, still others live here all year round. For mammals like the shrews, hares, deer, and beaver, the Weaselhead Natural Area provides a permanent home. Other species, including moose, black bear, and lynx are known to use the region on a seasonal basis. Nocturnal habits and human disturbance make the mammal life harder for human Weaselhead visitors to find.