How Calgarians banded together to protect nature and create Nose Hill Park
In the early 1970s, the booming city of Calgary was expanding ever outward.
Developers looking for new areas to build communities cast their eyes upward in the northwest to Nose Hill, which dominated the area landscape.
Nose Hill was prime real estate, untouched by residential development, but it was also viewed by some Calgarians as an important remnant of the fast-vanishing prairie grassland ecosystem.
When a routine proposal to rezone land on Nose Hill for housing development was unveiled, it caused a citizen rebellion.
Residents in nearby communities urged the City to preserve Nose Hill as a park, while groups ranging from the Calgary Council of Women to the Calgary Field Naturalists’ Society touted its importance.
Ian Halladay recalls attending more than a dozen community meetings on behalf of the society with a slide projector to show images highlighting the plant and animal life on Nose Hill.
Halladay says a representative from a developer was also at each meeting to promote their plans, and eventually, they started to help set up each other’s equipment.
“We certainly had opposite views, but it was not an acrimonious thing,” said Halladay. “At the end of the meeting, we asked for a show of hands on which (idea) people supported. And I always said I got more votes than he did.”
After the groundswell of public support for a park on Nose Hill, the development proposal was turned down by the City in 1972.
In 1973, city council restricted development on more than 1,000 hectares of land on Nose Hill and started slowly purchasing land for the park.
“We owe it all to the people back in the ’70s that fought to (protect) that land. And now it’s up to us to maintain it as intended.” – Sheldon David, City of Calgary parks superintendent
During 1979, a company that still owned a parcel of land on the hill sought to have it rezoned, and citizens responded with petitions, marches and appeals to local politicians.
The rezoning was rejected, and in 1989, the province and City together purchased the final parcel of land to complete the 1,129-hectare park.
It was an epic battle, but well worth fighting, according to the newest generation of park advocates.
John McFaul grew up in the shadow of Nose Hill Park and later became a professional naturalist. He is the current president of Nature Calgary.
McFaul says protecting Nose Hill was important because so many of Calgary’s existing parklands were along its rivers, and upland areas were not being protected.
“Nose Hill is the largest grassland environment that we have in the city, which makes it unique,” he said.
He says the area is home to numerous wildflowers – on a short hike he led, a group identified 41 different species. There are grassy slopes, glacial erratics and ravines with aspen groves – all home to a variety of wildlife.
The park also provides stunning views, and its size means people can escape their day-to-day grind “and get a feeling that you’re kind of away from the city.”
McFaul says the timing was right in the early 1970s to save Nose Hill, as “the environmental movement was really catching hold. That was sort of the first wave of being concerned about the environment.”
Anne Burke, president of the Friends of Nose Hill Park Society, agrees.
“That was really the zeitgeist, or the spirit, of that decade,” she said, adding that all the natural parks that exist “are the legacy of those people who made them possible. Without them, we wouldn’t have what we have now.”
Burke says the society advocates for the continued preservation of Nose Hill Park in its natural state, and encourages people who enjoy the park to become society members.
City of Calgary parks superintendent Sheldon David says Nose Hill’s status as a Natural Environment Park is reflected in the developments already in place and improvements being made.
David says the Nose Hill Park Master Plan and Nose Hill Trail and Pathway Plan, each created after extensive public consultation, help guide the City when planning projects in the area.
“Any work we do up there is to preserve and enhance the natural characteristics of the park. It’s one of the last stands for some turf grasses in Canada,” he said.
“We owe it all to the people back in the ’70s that fought to (protect) that land. And now it’s up to us to maintain it as intended.”