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Calgary, Alberta – Gardening on Vacant Land – Verdant History, Volatile Endeavor

Preliminary Calgary town planning scheme by Thomas Mawson 1912-1914. Canadian Architectural Archives. University of Calgary.

“A prudent lawyer would discourage her client from allowing gardening on her client’s vacant lot.”

By David Laidlaw
Admitted to the Alberta Bar in 1989 with over 20 years in private practice in Calgary.
ABlawg: The University of Calgary Faculty of Law Blog on Developments in Alberta Law
June 18, 2012
(This is Part 1 of 2 of a fascinating look at the law and vacant land use. Must read. Mike)


Conclusions (from Part 2)

Vacant lot gardening has a long history in Calgary. Some legal barriers to this practice, such as Occupiers’ liability can be overcome by adequate insurance. Others such as interpretations of the Land Use Bylaw are more uncertain.

One report (audio at 6:15) said there were approximately 167 vacant lots in Calgary similar to the Scarboro vacant lot. Whether for environmental reasons, food security or aesthetic reasons, The City of Calgary may want to look at policies to allow for gardening on vacant lots on a temporary basis.

Gardening on vacant land in Calgary – Part I

On the Victoria Day long-weekend in 2012, Donna Clarke and some volunteers planted potatoes on a vacant lot next door to her home in Scarboro on 17th Avenue S.W. The fence was painted in bright colours and painted tires were used as planters. The lots were owned by Scarboro Projects Ltd., an affiliate of Vancouver mortgage firm who had foreclosed on a number of adjacent properties in 2009. Three of the buildings had been ordered demolished by the City of Calgary in 2011 as part of a crackdown on derelict properties.

Ms. Clarke did not contact the owners before she planted the potatoes. When notified by the City, the owners demanded the removal of the gardens saying it was an inappropriate use and permission would not have been given in any case. The City issued a 24 hour deadline to remove the potatoes and the garden was removed.

Calgary’s History of Vacant Lot Gardening

While the recent urban potato garden in Scarboro may be dismantled, it actually reflects a longstanding tradition in Calgary.

The Calgary Vacant Lots Garden Club (the “Club”) was organized unofficially on Nov. 13, 1911, by a resolution of City Council, and it was formally established on March 2, 1914, with offices in City Hall. The purpose of the Club was twofold, one was to supply poor families with the opportunity to grow food as most vegetables and fruit came from British Columbia at the time and were expensive. Secondly, as Calgary was in the midst of a real-estate crash, it operated to beautify vacant lands in Calgary that would otherwise go to weeds, waste and th garbage. The origins of the Club related to the “back to the land” movement in the early 20 Century, the modern iteration of which originated by Bolton Hall’s advocacy and example in New York.

See Part 1 “Gardening on Vacant Land –Verdant History, Volatile Endeavor” here.

Part 2 “Gardening on Vacant Land – Through Calgary’s Lens

See Part 2 “Gardening on Vacant Land – Through Calgary’s Lens July 9, 2012 by David Laidlaw here.

Excerpt from Part 2:

The ABlawg post Part I of Gardening on Vacant Land in Calgary, Verdant History, Volatile Endeavor, described the rich history of gardening on vacant land in Calgary, and discussed law and policy challenges posed by the Occupiers Liability Act, RSA 2000, c O-4. This ABlawg post turns to issues of vacant land use for gardening in Calgary.

Land Use Regulation in Calgary – A Long History

Land use regulation in Calgary has a long history. The “Great Fire of 1886” that destroyed 14 buildings, fortunately without any injuries, led to perhaps the earliest regulation that mandated fire resistant materials such paskapoo sandstone in “buildings frequented by the public”. Some 250 sandstone buildings were built (link) and the National Historical Register lists 50 sandstone buildings in Calgary (link) with many others not listed being used today. Similar early building codes included locations where certain kinds of buildings could be built.

After Alberta became a province in 1905, the Land Titles Act, SA 1906, c 24 was passed. This act included subdivision provisions which included requirements for every lot in a subdivision to have road access, road widths were set at 60 feet and alleys as 20 feet etc. The developers of subdivisions would often impose “restrictive covenants” that benefited and burdened all of the lots in the subdivision. These covenants were registered against title and they “ran with the land,” any subsequent purchaser would buy the lot subject to the terms of the restrictive covenant.

1 comment

1 Mark Allen { 08.27.12 at 8:02 pm }

I would like to send this to city hall
Will send it to permaculture Calgary