Calgary's history on display in annual Jane's Walks

Annual Jane’s Walks in Calgary are becoming as much a part of spring as sunny skies and budding flowers.

Nearly 80 free, citizen-guided tours are available Friday through Sunday

Retired Maj. Lloyd Northcott will lead one of nearly 80 Jane's Walks in Calgary this weekend. (Ellis Choe/CBC)

Annual Jane's Walks are becoming as much a part of spring in Calgary as sunny skies and budding flowers.

Happening free of charge Friday through Sunday all across the city, nearly 80 citizen-guided tours are being offered this year by the Calgary Foundation on topics ranging from the city's history to its economy, arts and entertainment, food and architecture.

Held in cities across the country, the walks are inspired by writer and urban activist Jane Jacobs, who passed away in 2006.

An ardent supporter of community, Jacobs encouraged people to learn more about their neighbourhoods and get connected with their neighbours through exploration.

One Jane's Walk — starting at 2 p.m. Saturday in the lobby of the Military Museums — will be led by retired Maj. Lloyd Northcott, who will share stories behind some of the 14 plaques and monuments dedicated to the First World War that can be found in the community of Garrison Woods, which was built on a former Canadian Forces base.

"It will start with a bit of information about the First World War, an overview, and some of the effects of the war upon us today," Northcott told The Homestretch.

"For example, the first time Canadian women ever voted was in the context of the war."

The 2.5-kilometre tour will make its first stop at a plaque dedicated to battles in the Flanders region, made famous in the historic poem penned by Lt.-Col. John McCrae.

"It introduces us to the key geography where Canadians fought," said Northcott. "It's on the north coast of Belgium. The Belgian army flooded the first 30 kilometres and at the base of that there's some low hills and Passchendaele is right on the top and Ypres is right at the bottom."

Another monument the tour will stop at honours Vimy Ridge.

"It was 1917, it's a great Canadian victory, it's the first time all four divisions of the Canadian Corps. fought together," said Northcott, whose grandfather fought in the battle of Passchendaele.

Weaselhead, southwest ring road

While it's a huge, 600-acre park in southwest Calgary today, it had a very different past and there are interesting ties to the future ring road.

Amateur historian Jesse Salus says this weekend's Jane's Walk of the southwest ring road and Weaselhead will connect all the dots.

Jesse Salus says the Weaselhead Jane's Walk this weekend will surprise some people with interesting historical elements. (Ellis Choe/CBC)

"It was part of a military base around the First World War," Salus told The Homestretch on Thursday.

"It was Western Canada's largest training ground. Later on it was purchased by the City of Calgary as part of the reservoir project to protect the lands they were flooding. More recently it was turned into a park."

All along it's been the home of the Tsuut'ina First Nation.

In the late 1800s, early 1900s, the territorial government of the time (as Alberta wasn't formed as a province until 1905) arranged with Tsuut'ina to build a highway through what is now the Weaselhead.

"When the province wanted to use it, they didn't pay for any of it. They took the land, built the road but only 30 years later in 1930 the road was effectively closed," Salus said.

"At that point the Nation said, 'If it's closed we'd like the land back' and the province said no. It took until the 1980s for the majority of the road to be returned and even now there is portion that has not been returned. When you look at the current ring road deal, there is a clause in there that says, if the new ring road is ever closed, the land will be returned. Every 'i' is dotted and 't' is crossed. Those perhaps mistakes of the past by various parties are not going to be repeated in the current ring road."

With files from CBC's Ellis Choe and The Homestretch