Overpasses- An Overview

ShawnessyBlvdUnderside of Shawnessy Boulevard Overpass. Note the arches inspired by The Barn.

Bear with me here, I think I’ve got something.

Is there anything more urban than the overpass? From the multi-layered webs of interstates spinning at the apexes of American cities like Los Angeles and Denver, to the sky-high, seamlessly integrated trails running throughout megadense Tokyo, overpasses seem to be the purest signal of urbanism. Unlike the high-rise, or arguably public transit, there is no grandstanding of wealth, aesthetics or politics with them. Too expensive, too subtle yet disruptive, nobody builds one because they want to; they are a simple admission that there is enough traffic, of automobiles, trains or simply people, that we have to move into a third dimension to handle it adequately. As a sign of urbanism, they also embody all of that philosophy’s flaws and strengths, often at the same time: disrupting communities while also enhancing them; providing plans and amenities that otherwise couldn’t exist, while pissing people off when they fail to meet expectations or leave some people behind.

If the story of Midnapore and The Deep South is largely one of urbanization, then overpasses should be part of that story. There are at least seven in in the area, including those for both cars and pedestrians, and I will be addressing the ones that cross over Macleod Trail at the following: Canyon Meadows Drive, Fish-Creek Lacombe LRT Station, Shawnessy/Midlake Boulevard, Shawnessy Towne Centre/ Sundance Plaza, Stoney Trail, and the newly proposed crossings at 162 Ave/Sunvalley Boulevard and 194 Ave.

Canyon Meadows Drive (1995-1996)
Probably most famous for the tributary “Sandy” drawing , recreated in the snow at its southeast right of way every year, Canyon Meadows Drive, running along the north end of the fish Creek Valley, is really the northern boundary of The Deep South. Though the area north of Fish Creek is normally beyond the scope of this website, it occasionall finds its way into the history of the area, in this case literally: the Canyon Meadows overpass projected into the area with its on and off ramps intruding on Fish Creek Park. These ramps were seen as necessary and in order to build them the City of Calgary did a land swap with the province and Fish Creek Provincial Park; the city got the land needed for its on ramps, as well as additional land that had previously been a parking lot for the park, while Fish Creek got various extra land, including the greenspace at the north end of Fish Creek-Lacombe station along Millrise Boulevard, and actually got more land than it gave up in the process:


Area around Canyon Meadows Drive, Macleod Trail and Fish Creek-Lacombe Station. The parking lot for Fish Creek Park on the west side of Macleod Trail was given to the City of Calgary as part of the land swap for Canyon Meadows Drive, and was later used for an expansion fo Golden Acres/ Greengate Garden Centre. Before being a developed as a garden centre and parking lot, this lot was the site of a café and British American gas station, and previously the Fish Creek Royalite Service Station and Fish Creek Grill, according to a 1969 Henderson’s Directory. This service station was referred to in Winston Parker’s memoir Saddles and Service, which noted that it was initially operated by Joe Fachini and his son Mario circa 1940s. (Left to Right: Aerial photo 1969 from Machair, Aerial Photo 1993 from Foto Flight, Google Maps Satellite Photo 2016).

Fish-Creek Lacombe Pedestrian Bridge (2001)

FCL_OverpassShot of Fish-Creek Lacombe LRT station parking lot, with pedestrian overpass bridge at left side. Note the remnants of the Lacombe Home in the distance at left corner, and historic St. Patrick’s Church and St. Paul’s Anglican Church  at centre and centre right, respectively.

The first overpass built south of Fish Creek, and exclusively for pedestrians, it should be viewed not only in the context of the train station itself, but also in the context of pedestrian-centered Transit-Oriented Development and high-density housing that sprung up around this station. The overpass is no doubt used heavily by students St. Mary’s University, which moved in just before the station opened, at the former site of the Lacombe home which the station was named after. Of course, when FCL was extended to accommodate 4-car trains, the bridge was altered, and the stairway which went directly down to the platform removed, making it less pedestrian friendly since you now have to cross through the parking lot to use the bridge. Being smaller and generally less obtrusive than the others on this list, this overpass had a less disruptive effect on its surroundings. That being said, the bridge crosses awfully close to the most historic sites in the area: St. Paul’s Anglican Church and St. Patrick’s Catholic Church (now St John Chrysostom Russian Church). This naturally obscures and blights some views of them, for example, making it impossible to adequately recreate this photo:

macleodtrail1914Macleod Trail through Midnapore, circa 1914. Note St. Patrick’s Catholic Church at front left and St. Paul’s Anglican Church behind it. Glenbow Archives PD-117-1-378

MacleodTrail2016Macleod Trail circa 2016. Note the overpass cutting through the entire photo, foliage obscuring most of St. Patrick’s (Now St. John Chrysostom) and all of St. Paul’s. Also, since Macleod Trail is now a massive 6-lane highway, I was not going to stand in the middle of it to take the photo, so the angle is slightly different too.

On the other hand, the overpass also creates perhaps the best opportunity to view both sites. Sometimes when I cross the bridge, I think how the original community builders who constructed these never got the chance to view them quite like this.

Shawnessy Boulevard-Midlake Boulevard (2002-2003)

ShawnessyBlvd2Side of Northwest Right of Way of Shawnessy Boulevard overpass. Note the design of rolling foothills in the cement blocks, and the break in the design from where graffitti was painted over.

Then there is this one. While the other overpasses in this list were all relatively unobtrusive,  this here is one which brought tremendouse change to the area. Running through The Deep South, in between Midnapore and Shawnessy, this overpass sticks out not only because of its location at the centre of a community, but its scope, allowing four lanes of cars plus pedestrians to move across it, with Macleod Trail, the CPR, C-train and another pedestrian crossing all underneath. In addition, though the overpass had been planned from the 1970s, the immediate area around it was allowed to be developed in the meantime.

shawnessyboulevard_midlakeboulevardDevelopment of Shawnessy Boulevard, Midlake Boulevard, and the immediate surrounding areas. Note the southern extent of the Midnapore townsite in the first photo and the development north and south of Shawnessy Boulevard in photos three and four. Photo five shows the area as it is today, while photo six shows the original half-cloverleaf plan from 1975. (Photo credits Aerial photo 1959 from Aero Surveys, Aerial Photo 1982 Kenting Earth Sciences Ltd, Aerial Photo 1993 from Foto Flight, Aerial Photo 1997, Google Maps Satellite Photo 2016, Sketch from 1975 Midnapore 1 Design Brief)

While the Midnapore side was largely undeveloped and thus unaffected by the crossing, the Shawnessy and Millrise side had a number of notable businesses in the immediate vicinity of Shawnessy Boulevard and Macleod Trail. On the north side of Shawnessy Boulevard was South Side RV Storage and U-Haul rentals yard (following the overpass and later C-Train extension, the storage yard was reduced in size and ultimately became Storagemart Canada); on the south side were various businesses along Shawnessy Alley (and again I gotta comment that Shawnessy has the best street names). The area was developed in the late 1980s, with some of the following businesses occupying the street at different times: Viceroy Homes Ltd, Cedar Log Buildings Inc, Crawford Manufactured homes, the Full Gospel Church and Tee To Green. The last one is probably most notable to area residents; it seems like everyone I know has fond memories of the mini-golf and driving range. The driving range ran right up to the rail tracks, and I always wondered if Shawnessy residents got a golf ball through their window, a la Happy Gilmore.

shawnessyalley_teetogreen_1993Close up of Shawnessy Alley circa 1993. Note the little greens along the mini golf course at Tee to Green in the top left corner. The golf course closed in 2001 (Aerial Photo 1993 Foto Flight)

FullGospelChurchCross2Remaining column of what appears to be a cross, on the former site of The Full Gospel Church, in 2015.

The Full Gospel Church seems to havelasted a little longer, with remnants of its cross and various signs and banners still there in 2016, a decade and a half after the over overpass began. Shawnessy Alley is no longer officially named, and the remnants of the street, its buildings and their parking lots worked as unofficial overflow parking for the space-challenged Shawnessy Station from 2004 to 2016. The area is currently being excavated for new developments.


Sign noting closure of Shawnessy Alley and the overflow parking lot, March 2016. I don’t care how much they excavate it, I’m sure there’s always gonna be golf balls there.

Even if you never went to any of the businesses on Shawnessy Alley, there is no doubt they had a presence in the area: even beyond visiting them, the little trailer Church with its big white cross and hanging sign, Tee-to-Green’s towering tee and golf ball sign and Southside Self Storage’s spinning red neon sign all engaged strongly and distinctively with Macleod Trail, and their presence is missed. While I like the work done with integrating designs of foothills and barn doors into the underside of the pass, I have to agree with a friend of mine who grew up in Shawnessy and reflected that when this overpass was built the area stopped feeling like its own little town.

162nd ave SW- Sunvalley Boulevard (2016-ongoing)
162overpassConstruction of South Side of Overpass of Macleod Trail at Sunvalley Boulevard/ 162 Avenue, June 2016.

By this point in the Deep south, the design plans were changing from what was done further north closer to the Midnapore townsite. With the rail line so much further away, and very little in the way of pre-existing development hugging Macleod Trail, more space was available and designated for the overpass. On the north side, Safeway and The Wingate hug the road quite a bit, but unlike with Shawnessy Alley, there is no plan to demolish the existing sites to build the overpass. And just like with the former overpass, a full cloverleaf will again not be built. Instead a novel “diverging diamond” design will be implemented. And just like with the former overpass, drivers will probably find themselves asking “who the hell came up with this?”

162_swSouthwest right of way along Macleod Trail and 162 Ave SW in 2015, prior to construction. Note Co-Op building in distance.

On the south side of the road were large right of ways before the Co-Op and Sunpark Plaza that have been mangled for ramps , though with a lack of anything particularly memorable there (the fields full of abandoned Co-Op bags and McDonalds napkins won’t be missed) it doesn’t matter much, and I applaud the landscaping renewal the southwest right of way will get. Though I’m still skeptical they needed to cut down so many trees.

Sundance-Shawnessy Pedestrian crossing (circa 2002)

ShawnessyTowneCentrePedestrian crossing from Shawnessy Side, behind Wal-Mart and Best Buy.

Does anybody remember what was here before? This area was only built out In the late 90s and early 2000s, with the expansion of the Shawnessy Towne Centre on the west side, and the construction of Sundance Plaza on the east, anchored initially with tenant Fluor, who built two large offices in 2000.

shawnessy_sundance_pedArea of eastern Shawnessy and western Sundance, 1959 to 2016 (Photo credits Aerial photo 1959 from Aero Surveys, Aerial Photo 1982 Kenting Earth Sciences Ltd, Aerial Photo 1993 from Foto Flight, Aerial Photo 1997, Google Maps Satellite Photo 2016 ).

It’s strange to consider how long it took for most of the commercial districts of The Deep South to be built; the residential areas had been around for 20 years before the commercial areas were finished. Vacant fields hugged Midnapore, Sundance, Shawnessy and Millrise for a long time, I wonder how many kids went biking and off-roading in them. Before development, the area was pretty sparse too, being rather far from the Midnapore townsite. The west side had some farms, while the east was largely ranchlands for the Burns family. A rock-crushing outfit and gravel pit also operated somewhere near this area.

cfcn1Photo of CFCN Radio transmitter in Midnapore Alberta. Photo taken from post by R. Slobodian on CFVP facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10204111367677512&set=o.156425554405437&type=3

One interesting site here was that of the former CFCN radio tower, which operated roughly where the South Calgary Health Centre is now, from 1947 to 1982 before moving to a location 7 miles east of Calgary. Too bad there’s no trace of it anymore.

Close up of area from 1982; “1” is the transmitter station, with a large radio tower to the right of it; “2” marks a farmhouse that was present into the 1980s; at the top of the picture is Sunvalley Boulevard.

Stoney Trail (formerly 22x, formerly Marquis of Lorne), aka ‘The Ring Road’

StoneyTrailPhoto of overpass across Macleod Trail at Stoney Trail in distance. Bridge was built circa 1980s.

I’m not even gonna touch this one. The history of the Ring Road, is made up of a knotted rat’s nest of 50 years worth of ecological, cultural, sociological clashes between various area residents, intertwined with all three levels of government and an assortment of outside interests. Besides which, there is a whole website devoted to exactly that if you’re interested. The one comment I will make about the long-standing overpass over Macleod Trail pictured above, is that the Alberta government has already widened it once, and should widen it again, so that the ring road doesn’t bottleneck here. Though I wouldn’t blame them if it’s not priority, since the section through the Tsuu T’ina reserve needs to be completed within 5 years and all.

194 Ave (to begin late 2016)

OverpassWorkshopPhotos for area overpass workshops, from 2015.

The city ends after Stoney Trail. I know this isn’t true, and I’ve even talked about the four communities that have been built south of it. You could be forgiven for thinking this however, because of how the city was designed this far south. Coming in on Highway 2/ Macleod Trail, it may take a while to really notice you’ve entered Calgary. Modern highway development is like that. Stoney Trail, a ring road that roughly encircles the city, though mostly within city limits, gives a similar impression of not being in Calgary, and Edmonton’s Anthony Henday is the same way. Unlike the remnants of the Midnapore town in Midnapore and Millrise, or even the west part of Shawnessy/east part of Sundance, the communities of Chaparral, Walden and Legacy don’t really hug the highway, having mostly residential areas facing it, laying low and walled off for privacy and quiet. They simply have no need or desire to be noticed by passersby, unlike the commercial districts north of Stoney. Meanwhile Silverado is still a ways off, on the West side of the Priddis Slough. This planned overpass at 194 Ave might change that, allowing for more west-side development along with better access. It will also serve to demarcate the city a little better, and remind drivers and residents that you are in fact in Calgary. However it is important to remember that while overpasses may be the strongest expression of the city, they alone do not make the city; a web of roads, offramps and bridges are necessary for getting around adequately, but in the process we should not abandon, lose or ignore the places we are trying to get to. Its a fine balancing act, and looking over the history of development in The Deep South, I’d say the city is at least trying to get it right.

194aveWest site of planned overpass from 194 Ave SE to Silverado; note City of Calgary Maintenance Depot at left side.


7 thoughts on “Overpasses- An Overview

  1. I don’t know who you are or how you did it but thanks for posting the picture I took of the cfcn radio transmitter site in Calgary that I took in 1981

    1. Hi Rick,

      I had found the picture on the CFVP facebook page and tried to reach out to you about using it. Thanks for taking the picture, and I am glad you are happy with me using it.

    1. The intersection there was a 4-way, with full traffic lights on each side. I don’t have any photos of it, but the streetlights were probably the copper-coloured, corten steel kind, which the city has started to replace in the last few years.

  2. Cool, I think I figured that out already by looking down from the satellite images.
    Do you know where I can look at the 1959, 1982 and 1993 Satellite images of Calgary? Those are not available on the Calgary satellite website.

  3. The Calgary airphotos site (https://maps.calgary.ca/CalgaryImagery) is pretty impressive, but it has some major gaps. I actually got most of the photos used on the site by scanning raw photos from the University of Calgary’s Spatial and Numeric Data Services (SANDS). Here is their website:


    Some of their photos are posted online, but if you need to go in for something, the staff there can be very helpful.

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