From rodeos to rotis: Saddle Ridge went from cowboy country to South Asian hub

The first president of Saddle Ridge Community Association, Hugh Bennett, with two of his horses. (Dan McGarvey/CBC - image credit)
The first president of Saddle Ridge Community Association, Hugh Bennett, with two of his horses. (Dan McGarvey/CBC - image credit)

Saddle Ridge was, and always will be, a special place for Greg Steiner.

He has called the community home for 45 years, long before it was swallowed up by Calgary's ever-expanding city limits.

"Whenever I see the name Saddle Ridge, a feeling of warmth comes over me," said Steiner. "It's a rich feeling in my heart."

Bustling ethnic eateries, immigration agencies, high-density neighbourhoods and places of worship now stand on what used to be rolling pastures and farmland with just a handful of residents.

"It's the kind of community where everybody had a horse. People were riding down the gravel roads with the horses and wagons, and we'd have hay bale singing at Christmas time on a tractor or a truck," said Steiner.

"That feeling of walking around with a stem of wheat in your mouth and chewing it. People just don't do that any more," said Steiner.

Steiner says the land the community sits on now was filled with fields of canola, barley and wheat, along with an abundance of prairie wildlife, including passing moose and deer and the songs of larks and pipits.

He said the wide-open mountain views, which are still breathtaking today, made Saddle Ridge a special place to call home.

"There would be deer at my back pasture. The farmer behind me had a dozen buffalo, and I'd go up and rub their heads and feed them," he said. "I had a miniature horse, beef every year. I had chickens and rabbits, and that sustained us when times were difficult and the economy was having trouble in the 1980s."

Steiner talks about the community coming together to clear wintry roads with tractors before city crews would venture out that far.

Now in his 80s, the former teacher is a living record of the area's rural history.

Dan McGarvey/CBC
Dan McGarvey/CBC

He's accumulated all sorts of photos, documents and memorabilia over the years reflecting life in decades gone by and says it's important for new residents who don't know about the old Saddle Ridge to have access to them.

"It does well for people to understand some heritage that they've received and didn't know anything about. It's same for all communities. There's a history behind them that's warm and worth telling," said Steiner.

The early foundations of the present-day Saddle Ridge started taking shape in the late 1950s and into the 1960s with families buying rural homes and land in search of an idyllic country lifestyle not far from the city.

According to the community association, the name Saddle Ridge came from the fact a 100-foot-high ridge passed through the area's boundaries and that each home there owned at least one saddle. Locals voted on the name, which still exists today.

By the early 1970s, the area's new residents got their own rural community hall, in the form of a Quonset on 42nd Street N.E., just south of 80th Avenue, which became the focal point of the community for years.

Before that, the community had to use the hall in nearby Delacour.

Steiner remembers rodeos, community picnics and some rowdy parties at the new hall.

"The men's, women's and children's rodeo happened on different days. They trained on their own horses and it was fun. From my acreage, I could hear the speakers going and people yelling, screaming and clapping when they fell off a steer. There was a togetherness."

The community even had a baseball diamond and two hockey rinks with lights.

"Our well would run dry when we flooded the rink," said Steiner. "It was comical but people lived with it and they became closer as a result of being united as a community."

Thirty-five homes now sit on the site of Steiner's original four acres (1.6 hectares).

Four phases of development, starting in the '90s, changed Saddle Ridge forever.

Dan McGarvey/CBC
Dan McGarvey/CBC

While many original residents moved elsewhere when the big developers came knocking in the late 1990s, Steiner decided to stay. He's been there ever since, now surrounded by mostly South Asian neighbours — a community he loves being part of.

"I just love people. I love East Indian people and I like talking to them. I love to see grandma and grandpa sitting in the driveway," he said.

He's known by families on his street for handing out jelly beans to kids in the summer.

"It's now a mainly East Indian community of wonderful Punjabi heritage, and Pakistanis. I've also met women from Iran and Iraq. There are challenges, too, but we welcome them," said Steiner.

"They find it good to live here because they are close to their place of worship: the Dashmesh Culture Centre. And we have three mosques within walking distance."

The community is now made up of large numbers of immigrants from countries like India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Bangladesh and Vietnam.

Punjabi, Urdu, Tagalog, Bengali, Hindi and Gujarati are just a few of the languages you'll hear there these days. Around 70 per cent of families in the community don't speak English at home, according to census data from the City of Calgary.

It's a world away from the Saddle Ridge Steiner moved to all those years ago.

Steiner served on the Saddle Ridge Community Association board as president, and other positions, for years.

"My best memory is working with people. There's hardly an office that I didn't hold."

In the early days, Steiner hand-delivered the community newsletter to every acreage, getting to know his neighbours and building a community. He says now it's important to make that community relevant to newcomers.

The community association has been in transition for the last 10 years, moving to the Genesis Centre in Martindale in 2012. The old Quonset is still standing but no longer used.

Steiner says it's changing to meet the needs of its new community members.

"We have beautiful soccer fields now, wonderful swimming pools, an excellent library and large events. We're still finding our way in satisfying the needs of the community."

Dan McGarvey/CBC
Dan McGarvey/CBC

Judy Brown is another past president of the community association who stayed in Saddle Ridge as the city's northeast quadrant grew around her over the past 22 years.

"There are so many neat people here. There's a language difficulty sometimes, but people are people and we all want the best for our families and a safe place to live," she said.

Brown says it took some original rural residents and early buyers in the community a lot of learning to understand that not everyone sees and experiences life from a white perspective.

"People do things differently, and lots of what they do is really interesting. At our pond parties, we'd have Bhangra dancers and was so much fun, so much joy in that dancing," said Brown.

"They may have come from other parts of the world, but we're all going forward together," said Brown.

Brown says the community association has to change to reflect the community now, and the large population. She says traffic is the big issue now.

Steiner says his time in Saddle Ridge is coming to an end. He says he'll be moving across the city in the near future to be closer to family.

It's the end of a 45-year-long love affair with two very different versions of one Calgary community.

The treasure trove of items he and others have collected over the years will be put on display in the Genesis Centre.

"There's a memorabilia and trophy case being planned," he said.

"People should see what they're sitting on. It's special."