A Jail at Chestermere
by Jennifer Peddlesden from files of Chestermere News, Rocky View Five Village Weekly, 1993. And Calgary Herald Sep 16 1954 and November 30th 1954 ( photos of articles ) Story idea from Gordon Soderberg, with information provided by Joyce and Morton McElroy and Linda Stryker.
Without knowledge of residents or local government, a parcel of land located between the Trans Canada Highway and the #1A Highway just north of Chestermere Lake was chosen in 1954 by the provincial government as the best location for a provincial jail. According to Morton McElroy who called the meeting, close to 200 residents attended this public meeting held at the Chestermere Hall on September 15th, 1954 to discuss this development. The local residents raised two concerns; first the purchase price of the land was inflated and the transaction not above board. The land was sold for $92 an acre (less than the crop) by Mr. O’Connor (of Tara Farms) to a Mr. Samuel Diamond of Vancouver and this price “was considered a top price for land in this area.” The Attorney General’s office then paid $145 an acre with the then Attorney General Lucien Maynard stating that he’d received a reduction on the asking price from $160 to $145 an acre. As most land in and around could be obtained for less than $100 an acre those attending this meeting felt that their needed to be an investigation into these dealings, and the minutes of this meeting note a question as to whether Mr. Maynard, Attorney General, had not purchased the land himself! These speculations came from residents concerns about the purchase not going through a “regular agent of the provincial government or through an authorized real \estate dealer” but done directly from the Attorney General’s Department. Fuel was added to the distress of the residents, as no local municipal officials were aware of plans by the province to locate a jail in this area. One attendee at this meeting noted that these dealings smacked of some under-the-table discussions and negotiations as there was so much mystery surrounding the land deal.
And secondly, and most importantly, residents did not want a jail in their district! Reasons given were; no good source of water (8 wells drilled without luck) existing power lines inadequate, this is a farming/residential area–not an industrial area, jail would adversely affect property values and the general undesired of having this institution in the district. A committee was struck to write two resolutions that would be sent to them Premier EC Manning and the Attorney General Lucien Maynard and MLA George Bell of Gleichen. The resolutions stated the opposition of the residents to the jail at this site and asked for an accounting of the manner in which the land was purchased.
The two resolutions were sent to Premier Manning and various ministers and replies were received that did not satisfy the residents. Another meeting was held Dec 2nd 1954 and according to Morton McElroy people felt discouraged that neither had their voice been heard nor their questions answered sufficiently. Mr. Jack Bates stood up to take the stand and insist that the group” support Mort.” This turned the tide and a renewed effort was made to oppose this development. Through local connections to Premier Manning , radio and newspaper coverage the proposed jail site was changed. It was also thought that the” dealing” done during the purchase of this land was unacceptable to Mr. Manning and this spurred action to change the site. A document is on file in the Provincial Archives titles “Chestermere lake Site and Spy Hill District” which documents in 150 pages the evidence before the Public Accounts Committee of the Alberta Legislature session of 1955 about the land deals and the choice of jail site. The suspicions of local residents were right it seems.
Tracking down the official word on where the jail was finally located took some sleuthing. Several people gave assurance that the facility built at Spy Hill was the prison planned for Chestermere and there is evidence to that effect in the Calgary Herald Jan 3rd 1958. A story titled “Spy Hill Jail Plans Settled” reads that the work will soon start on the Spy Hill jail. According to the writer, the land had been purchased two years before with the jail site originally planned for Chestermere but later changed after Chestermere residents objected. The government purchased the Spy Hill property after the owner, the Stryker family (click here for their story), agreed to take over the Chestermere lake property in exchange. So ends a story of what might have been and also a story of residents pulling together to guard their dreams for their community.