Built in the early 1980s, incredibly atop land that was once a dirty old oil refinery, the former community of Lynnview Ridge was demolished some ten years ago out of fears of soil contamination within the area. The big question on everyone’s mind is why would they build on what is a clearly polluted land in the first place? Your guess is as good as any! Leveled only two decades after being built, the neighbourhood is now empty fenced-in fields. Where hundreds of people once lived, now there is pretty much nothing.
Located on Calgary’s east side, Lynnview Ridge sits on a high escarpment overlooking the Bow River and a busy highway to the west, and the huge CPR Ogden shop complex (parts of which were being demolished as we wrote this) to the east. To the north and lower down by the river is another open field that was also part of the refinery – there was never any housing built on this section of land and today it’s an empty green space called Old Refinery Park. To the south are the communities of Millican Estates, Lynnwood and Ogden.
From the mid 1920s to the mid 1970s, an Imperial Oil Company refinery once stood at the site seen here. Actually the Lynnview Ridge section was part of that complex’s tank farm and the actual refining took place lower down by the river. Photos from when the plant was in operation show perhaps a half dozen HUGE tanks roughly where the main road into the community is today (Lynnview Rd. SE).
In the fifty years that the plant operated, especially in the early days when rules regarding the environment were pretty lax, surely a lot of chemicals were spilled or leaked out of the tanks and pipes, polluting the site. When the complex was demolished who in their right mind would think that building houses here was a good idea. They MUST have known it was contaminated.
The community dates from the early 1980s during one of Calgary’s boom periods, a time when houses were being built at an incredible rate. Any home, no matter where it was located would be snapped up quickly by eager buyers. It’s probably due to this the demand and the huge profits that were being made by developers, which allowed houses to be placed here in the first place. Some have said the city looked the other way, knowing the sites dirty secret but desperate for more housing for it populace. Others suggest that the developers, who also knew very well what was in the ground, greased some palms (grease, get it) and paid hush money. Who knows the motives, although we can say with certainty that greed was one of them.
One question that begs to be asked – what about the people who moved to the community? Were they told of its ugly past and if so did they also look the other way? Quite likely given the housing shortages at the time. It was a crazy market where any house would sell, even those in Lynnview Ridge as it turned out. Or did the development company lie or at least downplay the dangers? I can’t help think both scenarios were played out and money and frenzied demand conspired to create an atmosphere of lies and denial on both sides. If you build them, they will come, apparently even if the house sits on top on the land that was once a polluted refinery.
The houses that once stood here were for the most part low income properties. There were anywhere from 150 to perhaps 200 separate residences depending on the source. Given that, this could mean at least a few hundred people (or more) were displaced when the neighbourhood levelled.
When the refinery was built in the 20s, the location was at that time far from the city, with only the tiny community of Ogden being nearby. The complex was just west of the CPR mainline and the CNR even had tracks that actually bisected the refinery and both railways appeared to have spur lines into it. Also, a street car line, travelling between Calgary and Ogden. passed in front of the refinery and presumably many workers arrived this way.
The nearby Bow River provided water for the plant.
The Glenbow Archives have a number of photos showing the refinery under construction and in operation during its early years. It’s fascinating stuff!
The exact reason the plant closed has not been found by this author. Was it changing markets, outdated equipment, spiralling operating costs – who knows? It was shut down in 1975 and demolished soon after. Today busy Deerfoot Trail bisects the northern part of the old refinery site.
Lynnview Ridge was quickly built after the refinery was demolished and was full of houses by 1980. It’s not known if a rudimentary clean up was done prior to any of these dwellings being built but based upon what this author has researched so far, I would say nothing was done.
As early as the mid 1980s residents reported seeing evidence of contamination in the soil (an oily film) but it appears that no actions were taken at that time. I guess those living here would just have to put up with it. Given that, a backyard garden was probably a bad idea.
The years passed and nothing was done. That was until 2001 when the axe fell and without any real warning, everyone was asked to leave due to toxic stuff “recently” found in the soil (yeah, recently). Eventually, and some fought this for a while, everyone was bought out, and given what most would say is fair market value for their homes (and some would say not). These dwellings were then quickly demolished, around 2002-2003. Afterwards the layer of contaminated soil, full of lead and hydrocarbons, was removed and replaced with clean fill. Or so they say.
Finally, the streets were blocked off to traffic and housing areas were fenced off completely.
The road into the community is still there, as are street and bus stop signs. Light standards were left in place too and oddly were lit, and trees line the roads. Off to the south, houses bordering the Lynnview Ridge community are still lived in. A line was drawn and on one side there are dwellings and the other fenced in fields that outside of trees and grasses, are for the most part empty. It’s a strange ghost neighbourhood.
Walking the road one can almost imagine the din of a vibrant neighbourhood. It’s a lovely fall day and cars would pass on the road, children would play in the yard, dogs would bark and for a moment the community was alive again. But it’s only imagination and soon one realizes the only noise is that of the wind in the trees and from traffic on nearby roads.
This is by no means a full history on the refinery and Lynnview Ridge, the whole story is just too complex. There are also large gaping holes in its history, maybe hidden because of its dirty past?
It’s not clear what’s in store for the now empty neighbourhood…or almost empty and a few houses still exist on it’s extreme western edge. Will it become park land as suggested? There is some talk of a golf course or even housing returning to the area. Hmmm.
So far clean up expenses have been the neighbourhood of 20 million dollars give or take a few mil’, a cost shared by both Imperial Oil and the city.
We’ve included a Google Maps image showing the neighbourhood and its surroundings. In the centre are the empty streets and fields that was once the community. To the north is the CNR tracks mentioned and right above it, the Old Refinery Park, a green space. The winding highway crossing the river is the busy and noisy Deerfoot Trail. To the east is the CPR’s mainline and its Ogden Shops complex, and to the west, Beaver Dam Flats Park and the Bow River. Finally, to the south are the neighbourhoods of Millican Estates and Lynnwood. Note that a few houses remain in Lynnview Ridge on its western edge.
Map image courtesy of Google.
Not far from Lynnview Ridge is the CPR’s Bonnybrook railway bridge which failed during the June 2013 floods…
Collapsed Bonnybrook train bridge
If you’d like to know more about what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: October, 2013.
Location: Calgary, AB.