Development Derailed: Calgary and the CPR, 1962–64 by Max Foran
The intricacies of political and business development have long been a staple of historical narrative. Even in this large literature, however, Max Foran’s book is probably unique: a story of essentially three years of ultimately failed negotiations between one city government and one (albeit large) company. It is a well-written, engaging story. Foran martials a great deal of information about the personalities involved, city governance in Calgary in the early 1960s, and changes in the business of railways in the third quarter of the 20th century.
The Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) had a right-of-way that ran east–west through the southern end of Calgary’s downtown. By the early 1960s a confluence of circumstances led to an attempt to move the rail line to follow the Bow River and to develop the right-of-way to revitalize the downtown. The CPR’s business and corporate structure had been changing and it sought out nonrail development opportunities. Calgary aldermen faced the pressures of a growing city and a depopulating downtown, sparking their interest in the redevelopment of the railway lands.
In tracing the story of the parties’ negotiations, Foran provides significant detail about the intentions, bargaining position, and personalities engaged. The ultimate failure of the plan in Foran’s analysis turned on a combination of elements. First, the CPR desired to profit from the plan it had essentially developed itself and was not as open to negotiations as it could have been. Second, even though the mayors of the period and several city aldermen were in favor of the project, they had little invested in the vision of the downtown and were thus unable or unwilling to expend the political capital necessary to see it happen. They were only partially helped by a city administration that was frequently working independently of elected officials.
To tell the story, Foran relies particularly on Rod Sykes and his substantial collection of private papers. Sykes was the CPR’s local project manager during the negotiations and would become mayor of Calgary in 1969. In addition, Foran uses a variety of newspapers, government papers, and other contemporary sources to help flesh out some of the personalities in his story.
Foran contextualizes the Calgary story in the history of the CPR and Calgary, and broadly in the urban redevelopment of the 1960s: expressways, urban renewal projects, and the removal of railways from Canadian downtowns. If this story is similar to the demise of the Spadina Expressway in Toronto, then the lesson Foran offers is that the importance of public opposition, however trumpeted at the time, is overstated, at least for Calgary. But here and throughout he is not prepared to generalize out from Calgary’s experience in any sustained way. I enjoyed the book immensely and recommend it to others. Nevertheless, the book’s narrowness means its value for scholars of urban, business, and political histories of the Great Plains will depend on their interest in its particularities. [End Page 71]
University of Alberta