The origin story of the 15-acres of underused brownfield land now called Highfield Farm.
In 2019, 15 acres of land in Mohkínstsis (otherwise known as Calgary) was designated for an urban agriculture pilot project. An effort of The City of Calgary and the Compost Council of Canada. But what was here before Highfield Farm??
We would like to start off by acknowledging that Highfield Regenerative Farm is located on the traditional territories of the Blackfoot Confederacy (Siksika, Kainai, Piikani), the Tsuut’ina, the Îyâxe Nakoda Nations, the Métis Nation (Region 3). Since time immemorial, these peoples had been caring for the land of Mohkínstsis in a regenerative manner. The 15-acres that Highfield currently occupies sits between the Bow and Elbow Rivers and would have been majorly grassland in nature- an important ecosystem for grazing animals such as buffalo and deer. These animals grazed here in natural cycles, and those hunting them harvested what they required to thrive without having a negative impact on their environment (Alberta Aboriginal Relations, 2013). Just as those who were here for generations before us, we are now stewards of this land. We honour and acknowledge the contributions of Indigenous peoples in maintaining this land, and to the regenerative agriculture movement.
The Highfield Farm Project site is now physically determined by lease borders, roadways, wastewater protection areas, and land uses. Regardless, from native grassland to farm, the project site's roots in agroecology run deep:
For over 10,000 years First Nations people have utilized the Bow River and its wetland and riparian regions to provide essential sustenance, as a natural strategic base, and as an important transportation route (Bow River Basin Council, n.d.).
1877 Treaty 7 is signed. This Treaty is repeatedly broken and great swaths of land are stolen from Indigenous Peoples (Tesar, 2016)
1884 Town of Calgary is Incorporated at which point the farm site was located just a ways out of town. (City of Calgary, 2021) The City continued to develop around the Highfield Farm Project site, accumulating land as it grew.
March 31, 1888 Farmer James Sproule received land title (Stantec Consulting Ltd., 2018). He ranched alongside other settler people in the area. (Bussard, 1935)
Dec 5, 1894 Her Majesty the Queen in Right of the Dominion of Canada receives the land title (Stantec Consulting Ltd., 2018).
Oct 13, 1939 His Majesty the King in Right of the Dominion of Canada receives the land title (Stantec Consulting Ltd., 2018).
1959 zoned as "Agricultural (Future Industrial) Districts" although The City of Calgary didn't yet own this piece of land, it was zoned on a map from the Planning Department as Agricultural, with the potential to become Industrial. ("City of Calgary : generalized zoning map", 1959)
September 26, 1968 Highfield and surrounding area is acquired by The City of Calgary (Stantec Consulting Ltd., 2018).
1970's Leased by Charlie Gow. Sometime in the 1970's the Highfield Farm site was leased by a local business man who built up the swampy area. (Doering, 2021)
1983 Opening of Farmers' Own Farmers Market Blackfoot Farmers Market. Charlie Gow started one of Calgary's first Farmers' Markets on this piece of land and it continued steadily for 20 years. The Farmers' Market housed several buildings and a petting zoo. (Gilchrist, 2014)
2004 Farmers' Own Farmers Market closed as many vendors split off to form the Calgary Farmers' Market moved to Currie Barracks. (Gilchrist, 2014)
2004-2009 the land sat mostly vacant, with the occasional pop-up garden center hosted by local Hutterite families.
2009 Chuck Gow re-opened the market - Chuck, the son of Charlie Gow, re-opened his fathers market under the new name the Calgary Swap Meet Farmers' Market.
2012 a wind storm devastated the Farmers' Market site, which garnered a generous amount of media attention and led to a Grand Reopening. Unfortunately this didn't last long...
2013 The market was closed.
2013-2017 The City of Calgary Roads Department occasionally used the land for storage, but it mainly remained empty, and at the mercy of illegal dumpers.
2017 A Call for proposals was made by The City of Calgary with a focus on agricultural projects. The Highfield Regenerative Farm project was awarded the lease.
2019 Compost Council of Canada signs lease with The City of Calgary. Although it took a couple years of paperwork and meetings, the lease was signed and the Highfield Farm Project took root.
So it seems as though this piece of "forgotten" land has always had it's roots in agriculture, even as a city developed around it. From the original animals who grazed here, it's first recorded settler use of ranching, through the 70's 80's and 90's when it hosted an authentic Farmers' Market, to now, as it is being revitalized to continue to serve as a community farm hub.
As the current stewards for this land, we strive to honour it's history as we gather and farm here. Please get in touch if you have further information or stories about the Highfield Farm site!
*Much of the information about the site from 1970-2013 was discovered through a blog post, and associated comments cited as (Doering, 2021) we reached out via Facebook message to the commenting individuals to get their first hand stories about the site.
Alberta Aboriginal Relations. (2013). Aboriginal Peoples of Alberta; Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. Government of Alberta. https://open.alberta.ca/dataset/9a704cab-7510-4796-9301-f373cbc27e30/resource/e7e90b67-7308-4f98-a67b-140bf65c7666/download/6429770-2013-aboriginal-peoples-alberta-2013-11-18.pdf
Blackfoot Farmers Market | Calgary Wiki | Fandom. (n.d.). Calgary Wiki. Retrieved December 22, 2021, from https://calgary.fandom.com/wiki/Blackfoot_Farmers_Market
Bow River Basin Council. (n.d.). State of the Watershed. Bow River Basin State of the Watershed. Retrieved December 22, 2021, from https://www.brbc.ab.ca/ecr/
Bussard, L. H. (1935, April). Early History of Calgary. Department of History, University of Alberta. https://www.electriccanadian.com/history/alberta/earlyhistoryofcalgery.pdf
City of Calgary. (2021). City Council - a brief history. Retrieved December 22, 2021, from https://www.calgary.ca/citycouncil/city-council-brief-history.html
Doering, C. (2021, October 26). Blackfoot Farmer’s Market » Off the Beaten Path with Chris & Connie. Off the Beaten Path with Chris & Connie. Retrieved December 22, 2021, from https://www.bigdoer.com/14892/exploring-history/blackfoot-farmers-market/
Gilchrist, J. (2014, October 2). A Brief Recent History of Calgary’s Big Farmers’ Markets. Avenue Calgary. Retrieved December 22, 2021, from https://www.avenuecalgary.com/restaurants-food/a-brief-recent-history-of-calgarys-big-farmers-markets/
Stantec Consulting Ltd. (2018, January). FINAL - Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (No. 123512732). City of Calgary.
Tesar, A. (2016, August 9). Treaty 7. The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved December 22, 2021, from https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/treaty-7
"Plan of township No. 23, range 1 west of the fifth meridian", 1883, (CU14014923) by . Courtesy of Collection, Libraries and Cultural Resources Digital Collections, University of Calgary.
"City of Calgary : generalized zoning map", 1959, (CU14015487) by Calgary (Alta.). Planning Department. Courtesy of Historical Maps Collection, Libraries and Cultural Resources Digital Collections, University of Calgary.
Images 1, 3-6: Stantec Consulting Ltd. (2018, January). FINAL - Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (No. 123512732). City of Calgary.
Image 2: "Aerial view looking west of Highfield area, Calgary, Alberta.", 1958-11-06, (CU1132001) by Rosettis Studio. Courtesy of Libraries and Cultural Resources Digital Collections, University of Calgary.
Image 7: Calgary Herald. (2015, August 13). John Bouchard of J.G. Mini Donuts [Photograph]. Blackfoot Market’s Remains Remind Us of Produce Past. https://calgaryherald.com/life/swerve/blackfoot-market-barely-stands-to-remind-us-of-produce-past
Image 8: Calgary Swap Meet Farmer’s Market. (n.d.). [Photograph]. Calgary Swap Market. http://calgaryswapmarket.foodpages.ca/
Images 9-17: Highfield Farm Photo Library