Canmore thrived as a coal mining community from the late 1880’s through to 1979. The announcement that the 1988 Olympic Nordic events would be hosted in Canmore heralded a new era of tourism.
Since 1988 the population of Canmore has more than tripled. In that time the passionate people of Canmore have been pushing for a clear vision for Canmore’s remaining developable lands. Here are just a few key moments from TSMV’s storied history.
After nearly 100 years of mining, the final mining company in the area, Canmore Mines Ltd., shut down.
Calgary hosts the Olympics. Some events are held in Canmore. Tourism is boosted by the media coverage.
Three Sisters Golf Resorts Inc. acquires Three Sisters Mountain Village lands after it was placed in receivership. The group proposed a tourism and recreation project in the Bow Valley and Wind Valley that would include residential, accommodation and commercial space—including retail, convention, restaurants, hotels and other attractions. The large scale nature of the project required approval from the Alberta Government appointed Natural Resources Conservation Board (NRCB).
The NRCB declared that the Three Sisters Golf Resorts Inc. proposal was in the public interest and could develop its property in the Bow Valley, but not in the critical wildlife habitat of the Wind Valley. The decision came with several conditions, including the designation of wildlife movement corridors that must get approval from the Government of Alberta, and a wildlife aversive conditioning plan (subsequently replaced by Wildlife Human Interaction Plan).
Three Sisters Mountain Village (TSMV) and the Town of Canmore agree to the terms of a Settlement Agreement, a guiding document for the development of much of the TSMV lands. Town Council also approved the Master Zoning Bylaw to create various districts intended to be updated and replaced when more details and planning could occur. A large portion of this is still in place for the eastern portion of TSMV property, known as Smith Creek.
The Province of Alberta approved the Along Valley Corridor, a stretch of protected lands provided by TSMV landowners and the Crown along most of the south and west property boundaries.
A group of Alberta-based investors led by Calgary businessman and philanthropist Don Taylor, partners with well-known Saskatchewan raised businessman Blair Richardson, become main partners in the TSMV ownership group.
“We are proud to be a part of Canmore and are looking forward to adding to the fabric of the community with seniors housing, commercial spaces, residential areas, exciting recreational trails and open spaces all tied into the already amazing community of Canmore.”
-Blair Richardson, TSMV ownership group, courtesy Calgary Herald
A wildlife underpass along with 3-kilometres of fencing, built with G8 Legacy Funds and administered by the Alberta Ecotrust Foundation, was built at the mouth of the Wind Valley east of Dead Man’s Flats to allow wildlife to safely cross under the Trans-Canada Highway.
Town of Canmore approved the Resort Centre and Stewart Creek ASPs, both statutory planning documents that sets high-level frameworks for development potential and the vision for these areas, with a health and wellness-based resort as the central component of the plan. Over the next two years, land use and development approvals were granted by Canmore Council, leading to the construction of the residential areas of Stewart Creek, Our Lady of the Snows school site, numerous trail and recreation areas, and beginning construction of a second golf course, known as Three Sisters Creek Golf Course. The Resort Centre ASP proposed a “layering of uses” to address human-wildlife conflict concerns using a soft edge approach, a concept no longer considered viable today.
East West Partners—known for developments in resort destinations including Vail, Aspen, and Lake Tahoe—was tasked by a Morgan Stanley Real Estate fund who purchased TSMV, to operate the development company and to work on additional approvals for the lands.
Three Sisters Mountain Village declares bankruptcy mainly due to the financial crisis of 2009, which hit USA based owners Morgan Stanley hard. Citing a “sharp downturn in the demand for recreational properties tied to the economic crisis,” Morgan Stanley closed the doors of TSMV. At the time, only 15 of 18 holes of the second golf course were completed, and some Stewart Creek infrastructure was not completed. Price Waterhouse Cooper (PwC) was appointed Receiver, with significant amounts of debt still owed to HSBC and others. Construction permits in Canmore dropped 75 per cent from the previous year, according to the Town.
After working for years to find suitable purchasers for the assets, and attempting to obtain additional approvals to show stability of the project to prospective purchasers, PwC abandons its approval endeavours. PwC cited significant difficulty in obtaining approvals as a challenge to selling the asset in its role as Receiver. The Primary creditor (HSBC) sought sale to the current primary ownership group at their request; the group obtained the approval of the Court via the Receiver to purchase the property back.
Canmore Town Council approves a Collaborative ASP approach proposed by TSMV to allow stakeholders to proactively work together on the future of Smith Creek. A Community Advisory Group (CAG) was formed consisting of developers, council members, town planning staff, recreational users, conservationists and business owners. The approach was intended to ensure a transparent process, find solutions and reach a common ground. Stakeholders who participated in the process invested hundreds of volunteer hours into the discussions.
TSMV submits an amendment to its Resort Centre ASP to clarify the future of the lands and the unfinished golf course. The amendment proposed new uses for the golf course lands—including seniors and affordable housing—citing a decline in the demand for the sport locally and nationally and the high costs for completing the course. A detailed Environmental Impact Statement was completed to address human-wildlife conflict concerns with current science that demonstrated that a “layering of uses” was no longer best practice, but instead utilized a fence and controlled access into the corridors, as human use (especially with unleashed dogs) had been shown to be the main, and ongoing, deterrent to wildlife use of the protected corridors. A wildlife fence was proposed to mitigate human-wildlife conflict.
“Resort Centre is envisioned as a new model of health, wellness, fitness and nature-based result that will be unique to the Canadian Rockies, Canada and North America. The focus of the Resort Centre is a state-of-the-art health, wellness and lifestyle spa facility and related accommodation uses.”
-Resort Centre ASP Amendment (Section 1.0)
Canmore Town Council voted against the Resort Centre ASP amendment during the first reading and indicated to TSMV and QuantumPlace Developments Ltd. their desire to see one clear vision for ASP applications for Resort Centre and Smith Creek.
TSMV submitted its Smith Creek Wildlife Corridor Proposal to Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP). The proposed 174 hectares of land was the final corridor puzzle piece, connecting Along Valley, Wind Valley, Bow Flats protected lands and incorporating the G8 Legacy Underpass. A public comment period and open house, hosted by TSMV at the request of the Province of Alberta, were part of the application.
After 17 months, AEP denied TSMV’s Smith Creek Wildlife Corridor application. While the province agreed TSMV submitted a high quality application, well-founded in science, further work was requested prior to providing approval. AEP stated it was willing to work with TSMV on a re-application process.
In October, Canmore Town Council approved a Terms of Reference for Town of Canmore Administration to devote resources to TSMV’s Area Structure Plans for Three Sisters’ Village, formerly known as Resort Centre, and Smith Creek. Community engagement focused on TSMV’s draft vision and principles begins.
Canmore Town Council unanimously approved a land exchange that transfers pathways, parks, a playground, pedestrian bridge, and other recreational lands within TSMV to the Town of Canmore. TSMV provided 21.7 acres of land, four times what was required. These Municipal Reserve (MR) lands ensure long-term public access and regional trail connectivity.
In February, the Government of Alberta approved TSMV’s amended application for the Smith Creek Wildlife Corridor. Roughly 70% of TSMV-owned lands in the Smith Creek area are now set aside for the corridor. Smith Creek is a key part of the corridor system for wildlife to travel between the Wind Valley and around the south side of Canmore to other prime habitat areas.
In May, Town of Canmore Council was updated on changes to undermining regulations by the Government of Alberta. TSMV has worked closely with the Town of Canmore and Government of Alberta since 2017 on updating one of the Province’s three undermining regulations.
In September, TSMV released draft Area Structure Plans (ASPs) for Three Sisters Village and Smith Creek to the community for the purpose of engagement and further public feedback on its remaining developable lands. Community engagement included two virtual open houses and presentations to local interest groups.
In December, TSMV submitted its Area Structure Plans for Three Sisters Village and Smith Creek. These high-level planning documents set a vision and broad policy framework for how the Three Sisters community will continue to grow with Canmore over the next 20 to 30 years. The development of the ASP submissions reflects 5-years of community engagement and demonstrate how the plans evolved based on community input.
Both bylaws received first reading in February 2021, followed by a public hearing in March 2021. The Smith Creek ASP was defeated at second reading on April 27, 2021. Council made several amendments to the Three Sisters ASP at second reading but postponed third reading. The Three Sisters ASP was defeated at third reading on May 25, 2021.
In 2021, Three Sisters Mountain Village submitted an appeal to the Land and Property Rights Tribunal (LPRT, formerly the Municipal Government Board) requesting them to order the Town of Canmore to adopt the Three Sisters and Smith Creek ASPs. The rationale for the appeals was that most of the land within the ASPs was previously approved for development by the Natural Resources Conservation Board (NRCB) in 1992 and that the proposed ASPs were consistent with that approval.
The hearings for the Smith Creek and Three Sisters Village ASPs began on February 22, 2022 with the LPRT issuing their decision on May 16, 2022. The LPRT concluded that both the Three Sisters Village and Smith Creek ASPs are consistent with the NRCB Approval and ordered the Town to adopt them.
The Three Sisters Village ASP decision can be found here.
The Smith Creek ASP decision can be found here.
On June 13, 2022, the Town of Canmore Council applied to the Provincial Court of Appeal for a leave to appeal the Land and Property Rights LPRT decision and to request a stay of the decision until the appeal is concluded. No decision has yet been made on whether the Town will be granted a leave to appeal or if the Court will grant a stay of the LPRT decision.