Reconstruction of the Harvie Passage is continuing after being damaged in the 2013 flood, although the Alberta Whitewater Association (AWA) is concerned about amenities associated with the facility.

The Harvie Passage, a paddling playground located east of the Calgary Zoo before the Bow River turns south, is a major infrastructure project that the province undertook a decade ago.

Construction of the Harvie Passage began in 2009 and was completed in 2011. The $18 million project aims to do two things; back-flood the river and get rid of the dangerous wave in order to create safe passage along the river’s right bank, as well as create a paddling park along the left bank. The Passage was a replacement of the old weir, which had been built in the 1960s.

Harvie Passage BODY1Amenities for the Harvie Passage are currently the main focus as there are no change rooms, washrooms and limited parking at this time. Photo by Kendra Crighton

The old weir created a hydrological wave that Councillor Gian-Carlo Carra calls “an absolute killing machine”, claiming the lives of over a dozen people in the span of three decades.

Chuck Lee, executive director of the AWA, couldn’t be more excited about the project.

“We’re talking about not just a park or a place for people to paddle through — this is an attraction all in itself,” says Lee.

Lee has been involved with the paddling community for over 40 years — from instructing, to racing and competing. He says the idea of creating a paddling park started in the ‘80s.

“Unfortunately the community wasn’t ready to embrace it and so we had to back away and wait for the right timeframe,” recounts Lee. The right time was the early 2000s.

Harvie Passage BODY3Reconstruction of the Harvie Passage is expected to be completed by 2018. Photo by Kendra Crighton

Lee was part of the consulting group that planned the original design and concept work surrounding the Harvie Passage. He says the rebuild will reflect the initial work that was completed.

“We’re not just going to let this die off,” insists Lee, adding the sport of paddling, “is coming of age.”

The Disaster Recovery Program is funding the rebuild of the Harvie Passage, but it’s still unclear who will fund amenities such as more parking, change rooms and washrooms. At a Sept. 26 city council meeting, Coun. Carra brought up the issue during question period.

“We’re not fully synching the work we’re doing with the work that the province is doing.”

“We’re talking about not just a park or a place for people to paddle through — this is an attraction all in itself,” says Chuck Lee.

When asked about how the city was collaborating with the AWA on the amenities, Coun. Carra says the short answer was that the city wasn’t. He says the AWA got the runaround from the province. “I think [we need] much more well-defined protocol for working together between the province and the city.”

Lee says a collaborative approach is needed for this project.

“Our big challenge right now has been to get the province and the city and us on the same page in regards to what are going to be the amenities associated with this recreation facility,” says Lee.

Visible from Deerfoot Trail, located near Inglewood, Harvie Passage currently has no change rooms, washrooms and has little parking.

“You wouldn’t expect people to come to the swimming pool and change in the parking lot before they go for their swimming lessons,” says Lee.

He says this is a great opportunity to collaborate on this project and he hopes there will be a more cohesive understanding between the city and the province.

Harvie Passage BODY2The Harvie Passage is an attempt to back-flood the river for safe passage on the right bank, but also create a paddling park. Photo by Kendra Crighton

According to the AWA, there are more people in Alberta who kayak and canoe than play most organized sports such as basketball and hockey. Lee says paddling has become much more mainstream in the past couple of years.

The 2013 flood carved new channels out of the Passage, allowing development of the old, difficult channel into as easier and safer alternative.

“They had built models predicting what a one-in-100-year flood event would do. They were sure they had a facility that was bound proof in the face of that and the river had other ideas,” recounts Councillor Carlo.

“You wouldn’t expect people to come to the swimming pool and change in the parking lot before they go for their swimming lessons,” says Chuck Lee.

Lee says the engineers who designed the Passage are confident their work will be quite “robust”. The engineers, Lee added, have inserted a plate at the bottom of one of the ramps that will deflect the water, thus creating a safer and more resilient channel.

“But if we get that kind of force and destructive power, who knows what will happen long-term,” says Lee.

The facility will be used to train future Olympians in slalom. The AWA is in the process of adding posts and wires to hang gates kayakers will steer around.

The provincial government — pitching in $15 million — provided most of the initial funding. The other large donor was the Harvie family, whom the facility is named after.

The editor responsible for this article is Karina Yaceyko and can be contacted at

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