Yellowhead Highway Pt. 3 – Ring Around the Heart

My throat and my heart!
Pictured: The ring around the heart.

Highway 16 was routed along city streets running through the heart of downtown. In 1963, the Metropolitan Edmonton Transportation Study (METS) identified the need for an expanded freeway system to handle the growing urban population. The study was published in 1969 and featured an overall transit plan in store for the provincial capital, the most infamous part being the downtown freeway loop – a tight, roughly 8 km loop of freeways that would encircle downtown and connect to a multitude of radial freeways to each corner of the city. Sounds like a Robert Moses pipe dream, yet with the automobile becoming the most dominant form of transportation, this was fairly standard for urban planners at the time.

During the 70’s era of freeway development, a growing backlash from the public was beginning to bubble over the surface. Known as the Freeway Revolts, many major cities in North America (including New York, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, etc.) became wary of unchecked freeway development throughout the heart of their downtown cores. Many planned freeways suddenly became unfashionable, as these routes would effectively bulldoze through sections of town where many of its poorest residents live, cited as ‘run-down’ or ‘blighted’. Learning the lessons from previous freeway construction through downtowns, the cost was far beyond financial. Historic neighbourhoods, many of which included areas where minorities had formed thriving communities, had been razed. The displacement of so many residents caused great alarm, especially with federal and state contractors buying up properties for right-of-ways, or otherwise using eminent domain to claim such properties. Grassroots movements from residents who were potentially affected by these acquisitions successfully stopped these planned freeways. Fortunately for Edmonton, the downtown loop was deemed unfeasible and the METS plan was scrapped in favour of a Light Rail Transit system.

Though these freeway proposals were eventually rescinded, there are vestiges of the METS plan that exist today. If you drive around the area south of downtown near the interchange at 98 Ave and Connors Rd, you’ll notice a tangled mess of flyover ramps and exits. This was part of the planned downtown freeway stretching east and west down River Valley Rd, with a connection to Groat Rd. East of Downtown on 101 Ave/Baseline Rd, the carriageway going through Refinery Row seems much wider than an arterial needs to be. This would have been the eastern section of the freeway connecting to what is now Anthony Henday Drive. On the west side through what was Jasper Place, the freeway’s western section would have been where Stony Plain Rd and 100 Ave make their one-way couplet.

Map of a part of the METS plan freeway network in Downtown Edmonton.

Had the METS plan been approved and built, Edmonton would be a very different city today, especially considering the multitude of historically registered buildings in where these freeways would have gone. Development of the downtown core would have been much more difficult compared with the current state it is in. With the opening of the Edmonton International Airport in Leduc and the decommissioning of the downtown airport, I’d think that there would have been some freeway removals to facilitate the current growth of Edmonton’s downtown. With the continual cycle of construction and maintenance, imagine having to remove old freeways to that as well!

Yellowhead Highway pt. 1 – Who is ‘Tay John?’

For those who live in the Western Provinces, the Yellowhead Highway is a vital link between British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. Acting as a northern alternative to the Trans-Canada Highway, the Yellowhead provides a 2960 km route from Haida Gwaii to Winnipeg. So, where does the name Yellowhead come from?

The highway was named after the Yellowhead Pass, located in the Canadian Rockies near Jasper, AB and Tête Jaune Cache, B.C. The pass was named after an Iroquois Métis fur trapper and explorer who worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company and the Northwest Company during the 18th and 19th centuries. He was also known to the First Nations people as Pierre Bostonais, as a probable reference to his mixed American heritage. Pierre Bostonais was given the nickname Tête Jaune (lit. “Yellow Head”) by French fur traders, referring to the blond streaks in his hair.

Illustration of Tête Jaune

Tête Jaune led a company of Hudson’s Bay workers through the very pass that would later bear his name during December of 1819. Here he encountered the Secwepemc people and established a cache on the grand fork of the Fraser River, in which the village of Tête Jaune Cache was named after him in 1902. Tragically during 1828, Tête Jaune and his family were killed by the Dunneza tribe in retaliation for encroaching into their territory near the headwaters of the Smoky River.

Though Tête Jaune was only one of many explorers travelling through Western Canada, The Yellowhead Highway seems to be a fitting moniker for the trails that exemplified the reach of the fur trading companies which helped shape the economy and culture of the west.

High River – Flood of Memories

Though I am a relative newcomer to Alberta, I’m no stranger to floods. Having grown up in the Portland area, there have been significant flood events I’ve lived through. Recalling the 1996 flood of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers, I remember visiting the sandbagged banks lining along the riverfront and watching everyone pitch in to help keep the downtown core from flooding, as it has in the city’s history. Now that I’m living in Edmonton, I haven’t too much to worry about when it comes to flooding of the North Saskatchewan. However, Edmonton is not the only river city in the province. Nestled near the foot of the Rocky Mountains, residents of High River in Southern Alberta have seen their fair share of floods, much more catastrophic than what I’ve experienced.

View of the Highwood River from Alberta Highway 40

High River gets its name from the Highwood River (and not named after an event as I originally thought). Unusually heavy rains during June of 2013 caused the, Bow, Little Bow, Elbow, Highwood, Red Deer, Sheep, and South Saskatchewan Rivers to inundate the cities and communities along their banks. Remaining snowpack from the Rockies further saturated the rivers and tributaries affected. Situated in the floodplain at the confluence of the Highwood River and the Little Bow River, the entire town of 13,000 residents was evacuated and left uninhabited for nearly one week. One neighbourhood – Beechwood Estates – was completely washed away, and following the aftermath any remaining homes were purchased by the province and demolished to restore the natural state of the floodplain.

In total, the estimated damage caused by such severe flooding amounted to over $5 billion. Over thirty states of emergency were declared in the areas of Calgary, Lethbridge, and Medicine Hat. Once flood waters receded and residents returned to their homes, residents of High River were advised not to return until another week later due to the presence of E. Coli in the standing water. Though Southern Alberta recovered from the 2013 floods, survivors of the year’s floods in High River has left an indelible mark on both the town and its residents.

Here on the floodplain map, I first generated a river channel network based on elevation point data provided by the Government of Alberta. The point files were interpolated into a complete raster with 10m resolution. The channel network was then used to calculate the difference between the channel network base and the vertical elevation of each point. The new raster generated by this process now shows the vertical difference between the elevation and the base height of the channel network, which I then clipped out 1m, 2m, and 3m heights. You can see that even 1 meter above the channel base can spread out over a good swath of High River’s area. At 3m difference, over half of the town has the potential to be inundated by flood waters.

While flood events have the potential to be catastrophic, the ways in which people adapt and live in flood-prone areas show how communities can band together and help one another. The use of social media throughout the flood event showed how much support came from both volunteers and officials, both local and provincial, to help out those displaced by the floods.