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CAN. GEOTECH. J. VOL. 12, 1975

Urban Fringe Development and Slope Instability in Southern Saskatchewan

Deportment of Civil Engineering, University of Saskatcllewan Saskatoon, Saskatchewan S7N OW0
Received April 22, 1974
Accepted October 7, 1974
The development of the areas surrounding urban centers in Saskatchewan has become of
increasing concern because of slope instability problems. Proglacial meltwater channels and
spillways provide seemingly attractive sites for rural estates. An investigation revealed that most
of the slopes along these channels are unstable where Regina lacustrine clay or Bearpaw shale are
exposed. A large building constructed near Lumsden is experiencing severe damage because it
was constructed on landslide debris. South of Saskatoon, a similar problem exists along the east
bank of the Saskatchewan River where a high water table is present in a deltaic sand overlying a
soft lacustrine clay. An old barn at the Riverside Golf Course is spectacular evidence of the
history of the movement of a large slide block in this terrain.
Certain problems exist in convincing the public that a stability problem exists in these areas.
Some form of landuse zoning based on risk of failure is needed. However, local municipal
governments do not have the resources to conduct the necessary research to establish effective
Le diveloppement des zones limitrophes des centres urbains de la Saskatchewan est devenu le
sujet d'attention croissante a cause de problemes d'instabilitk de pentes. Les chenaux et les
deversoirs formes par 1'ecoulement des eaux de fonte des glaciers constituent apparemment des
sites attrayant pour I'implantation de proprietes rurales. Une Ctude a r6v61e que la plupart des
pentes le long de ces chenaux 6taient instables lorsque I'argile lacustre de Regina ou le schiste
Bearpaw sont exposes. Un batiment important construit pres de Lumsden est en train de subir
des dommages importants par suite de sa localisation sur des debris de glissement de terrain. Au
sud de Saskatoon un probleme similaire existe le long de la rive est de la rivitre Saskatchewan, oh
une nappe phreatique elevCe est presente dans un sable deltaique surmontant une argile lacustre
molle. Une vieille grange sur le terrain de golf Riverside est un timoignage spectaculaire de
I'histoire du mouvement d'un important glissement de masse sur ce terrain.
I1 y a certaines difficultks a convaincre le public de I'existence d'un probleme de stabilite dans
ces zones. Les gouvernements municipaux locaux n'ont pas les ressources pour faire les rec h e r c h e ~necessaires pour Ctablir des contr6les effectifs. On suggere qu'un programme de forage
et de reconnaissance geophysique permettrait de definir suffisamment les dimensions du probleme pour Ctablir des contr6les realistes en un an, alors qu'une Ctude detaillee prendrait
[Traduit par la Revue]
plusieurs annees.

Population trends in most parts of southern
Canada have followed a consistent pattern towards centralization from rural to urban areas.
This has caused rapid growth in urban development which among other things has aggravated
problems associated with air pollution, noise
and transportation congestion; along with these
physical problems, numerous social problems
have developed as well. To escape these undesirable features or urban life and the crushing
tax burden associated with them, the more
affluent urban dweller is looking to the rural
environment of urban fringe areas to establish
a country estate. Thus, he hopes to have the
best of two worlds in that he escapes the undesirable attributes of urban life, but retains
the advantage of ready access to the cultural
Can. Grotech. J., 12, 106(1975)

and commercial advantages of the city. Along

with this residential dcvelopmcnt, various institutions and services inevitably follow. Unfortunately in the Regina and Saskatoon areas,
the most sought after locations arc along valley
slopes which unknown to the owners are often
extrcmely unstable.
This urban fringe development in southern
Saskatchcwan has created a steadily increasing
pressurc on the rural environment which presents a dilemma to rural municipal governments. The complcxity of political jurisdictions
makes the problem even more difficult to resolve. However, what is probably most important is that development is taking place with
inadequate controls with respect to terrain instability. Furthermore, the small municipalities
do not have the manpower nor financial re-


sources to conduct proper terrain studies on

which to base control measures and land-use
A preliminary investigation was initiated by
the Civil Engineering Department at the University of Saskatchewan at Saskatoon with the
assistance of the Saskatchewan Research Council in an attempt to identify the scope of the problem, probable causes, and to establish the requirements for a detailed investigation and research program. The results of the investigation
indicated the problem was much more serious
than at first realized.

Urban Fringe Development

There are many criteria that could be used
to select a building site in rural areas. Certainly,
this will vary depending on the kind of development. However, there arc four basic requirements that are fairly obvious. They are:
1. Shelter from fierce winter storms which
are part of the prairie environment.
2. A scenic view.
3. A water supply.
4. Suitable foundation conditions.
Unfortunately, it was found that the fourth
criterion has not been considered in most instances. Furthermore, the first three requirements can be factors associated with slope instability. For example, the only topographic
relief and tree growth in the Regina area are
found in proglacial meltwater channels that
have been cut into the drift and in places into
the bedrock; most of these slopes are unstable.
Similarly, the Saskatoon area has the most
scenic view along the banks of the South Saskatchewan River where a high water table in
deltaic and lacustrine sediments provides an
excellent domestic water supply, it so happens
that this combination of water and sediments
results in slope instability. Slope instability
problems also exist in Estevan, Prince Albert,
and North Battleford.
Slope Instability in the Regina Area
North of Regina, the valleys of the Qu'Appelle River system and its tributaries offer the
only major relief in the area providing attractive sites for development. The main valleys
are those of the Qu'Appelle River, Last Mountain Lake, and Boggy, Wascana, and Flying
Creeks (Fig. 1) . All of these valleys presently


have some degree of residential development

ranging in density from very low to very high,
most of which is centered around the Lumsden
Geology of Landslides in the Regina-Lurnsden
Regina is situated in a former proglacial
lake basin (Christiansen 1961 ). The overlying
sediments are highly plastic clays which are
fissured and slickensided below 2 m from the
surface. Underlying the surface clays north of
Regina is till of varying thickness. Below the
till is clay shale of the Upper Cretaceous Bearpaw Formation (Fig. 2 ) . The bottom elevation
of the valleys in this area range from 1840 to
1610 ft (561 to 491 m) above sea level.
The properties of the clay shale of the Bearpaw Formation have been studied in considerable detail by Peterson (1954) and Peterson
et al. (1960). They found that it is very difficult to obtain laboratory shear strength values
that will agree with field measurements. So far
the most reliable data has been from field measurements of existing slopes. Natural slopes
measured in the Lumsden area were found to
range from 4: l1 to 7: 1 with a mean value of
5.5: 1 where the drift-shale contact was above
floodplain elevation. It should be noted, however, that these slopes have failed, but are presently inactive where they have not been disturbed. Highway engineers in Saskatchewan
have been using 7: 1 as the steepest safe slope
in clay shale based mainly on experience. However, slopes as flat as 8: l have failed.
Till is usually a material of high stability and
will stand at slopes of 2.5: 1 or steeper in some
locations (Sauer 1974). On the other hand,
the overlying clay is generally of low stability.
Natural slopes in Regina clay have not been
analyzed in detail. However, slopes cut at 2: 1
on the Regina Ring Road failed during the
summer of 1974. The index properties of Regina clay are given in Table 1. Peterson et al.
( 1 960) reported the liquid limit in clay shales
of the Bearpaw Formation as ranging from 80
to 150 and the plastic limit from 18 to 27 which
is higher than Regina clay. Therefore, natural
safe slopes in Regina clay can be expected to
'Slope ratios shown are horizontal distance to vertical distance. Thus 8: 1 represents 8 ft horizontally
for every 1 ft rise.

CAN. GEOTECH. J. VOL. 12. 1975

FIG. 1.

Meltwater channels north of Regina where urban fringe development is taking place.


SRC 7 2 - 1 /I0
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FIG.2. Stratigraphy north of Regina. The bottom levels of meltwater channels in this area
range from elevation 560 to 490 m, which means that the deeper channels are eroded well into
the clay shale of the Bearpaw Formation.


CAN. GEOTECH. J. VOL. 12, 1975

FIG.3. Slumping in Regina clay. An oversteepened slope along Wascana Creek.

TABLE1. Statistical analysis of index properties of
Regina clay (results are from samples taken from
13 test pits)

% Sand
% Silt
% Clay





After Mickleborough (1970); X = Arithmetic mean, S = Standard

dewation, R = Range, and V = Coefficient of variation.

be steeper than those for clay shale. Regina

clays are highly fissured with distinct slickensides indicating that they are highly overconsolidated and probably exhibit residual shear
strength behavior. The Ring Road failures
occurred 5 years after construction which tends
to support this conclusion.
Therefore, even though till in the area is relatively stable, the sediments above and below it
are extremely unstable. As a result, unstable
slopes north of Regina are of two basic forms
and almost continuous:
1. Oversteepened slopes in Regina clay.
2. The disturbance of slopes along valleys
which are cut into the underlying clay
shales of the Bearpaw Formation where
previous landslides have taken place.

With the exception of actively eroding river

banks in Regina clay, where failures were found
to be active (Fig. 3 ) , most of the slopes in the
Regina-Lumsden area are quasi-stable. In
other words, they are not perceptibly moving
at the present time, but they have moved in
the past. This is true particularly in valleys cut
into the shale underlying the drift.2 An excellent example can be found in the Last Mountain
Lake Valley where high density development in
the Last Mountain channel (Fig. 4) has taken
place. Perhaps it is misleading to term these
slopes as quasi-stable because it is not known
for certain if they are in fact moving, but at a
very slow rate. This question is probably academic because disturbance by construction activity will almost always reactivate slope movement unless carefully planned.
It is interesting to note that there are many
homes located on old slide blocks in the town
of Lurnsden that have experienced very little
difficulty. Some of the older homes in the
Lumsden area have existed for 50 years or
more without any signs of distress. Close ex'In glacial deposition, there are two geomorphic
agents involved, namely ice and meltwater. Both of
these agents deposit a variety of sediments referred
to collectively as drift. The two basic kinds of drift
are till (ice deposition) and stratified drift (meltwater

FIG.4. Slopes cut through the drift into Bearpaw shale in the Last
ground cracking has been observed in some of the developed areas. On the
at A where no movement has taken place. Lower density developments have
area at D is sand and gravel outwash overlying till whereas at E the surface

Mountain Lake Valley north of Regina have failed in the past. Severe
other hand, high density urban and resort development has been established
taken place across the lake. Note the actively unstable areas at B and C. The
material is till. (Courtesy of the National Air-photo Library).


VOL. 12, 1975

FIG.5 . St. Michael's Retreat o n Boggy Creek near its entry into the Qu'Appelle. The wing
on the left aligned towards the photograph is undergo in^ severe distress. Note the sag in the
roof of the building indicated bv the arrow. ~onsaeraTblelandscaping was involvedu in this
property development.


amination, however, revealed that the grounds

associated with these homes have not been
landscaped and services are minimal. On the
othcr hand, St. Michael's Retreat on the west
slope of Boggy Creek has experienced severe
distrcss (Fig. 5 ) . Slope indicators show that
movement is taking place at a depth of 40 ft
(12 m). Excavation and fill of up to 6 m was
involved in the development of this property
which likely disturbed the gravitational equilibrium of the slope; the weight of a small
structure relative to earth mass is very small.
Unfortunately most modern developments involve considerable landscaping.
Urban development results in significant
changes in the soil microclimate (Hamilton
1969). Lawn watering, leakage from water
mains and sewers can create large changes in
the elevation of the water table. In the dry
prairie environment where natural evapotranipiration rates are high, the maintenance of lush
green lawns requires intensive irrigation. The
presence of buildings and pavements further
decreases evapotranspiration. All of these factors cause increases in soil moisture or a rise
in the water table, which in turn, cause instability along valley slopes.
Most laymen, and some professionals do not

appreciate the relative inflexibility of building

structures in relation to small earth movements.
At St. Michael's Retreat, severe structural damage has resulted from a total earth movement
of about 18 cm (Figs. 6 and 7 ) . Damage is so
severe that one wing of the building can no
longer be used. The movement is retrogressive
and other parts of the building may be torn
apart, however, corrective measures are under

Slope Instability in the Saskatoon Area

Landslides along the South Saskatchewan
River have been a problem for many years in
Saskatoon. Major slides along Saskatchewan
Crescent, near the University have been a problem to city engineers which apparently they
have under control. However, continuous sliding along 13 km of the east river bank south
of the city has become of increasing concern
because similar to the situation in Regina,
urban fringe development is taking place in this
area. So far, only low density residential development has taken place (Fig. 8). No doubt
pressure for higher density development will
increase. City engineers in Saskatoon are aware
of the problem, but have no control over the
area south of the city.


FIG. 6 . St. Michael's Retreat at Lumsden. Severe

structural damage to one wing of this structure is
shown in this photograph. Note the wall cracking and
deformed door frames. This part of the building has
been closed.


Geology of Landslides in the Saskatoon Area

The area south of Saskatoon is covered by
lake basin clays and deltaic silts and sands
(Christiansen 1968). The deltaic sands overlie
the lacustrine clays. These deposits were found
to be as much as 33 m thick overlying a soft
highly compressible till. At a depth of 110 rn
the bedrock which is the Bearpaw Formation
(Fig. 9 ) was found. Therefore, landslides in
this area are related to drift deposits rather than
bedrock clay shales.
Slope instability along the east bank of the
river south of the city appears to be primarily
related to soft lacustrine clays and groundwater
in overlying deltaic sand (Christiansen and
Meneley 1970). Two deep testholes confirmed
this hypothesis.
Preliminary observations indicated very large
landslides have occurred in the past and some
are active today along the 13 km section of the
river bank. The history of the slides has not
been studied. It is known, however, that the
slides have been taking place for a long time as
indicated by the old barn at the Riverside
Country Club Golf Course (Figs. 10 and 11).
The Gardiner Dam upstream may have a
stabilizing effect, however, slides are still active
in the area. A recent slide (April, 1973) destroyed the pump house at a Golf course
(Fig. 12).

FIG.7. St. Michael's Retreat. Fracture and vertical displacement in the floor slab are shown

FIG.8. Stereogram of Moon Lake and the River south of Saskatoon. Very large landslides can be seen at Beaver Creek (A) and all along the
east bank up to D. A terrace at B appears stable although the east backslope appears unstable. Note the sand dunes at E formed in surficial deltaic sands.
Underlying the sand is a soft compressible clay. Above C is the Riverside Country Club Golf Course. (Courtesy of the National Air-photo Library).

U OF S 7 2 - 0 / 15 1973
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4 0




= I0








FIG.9. Stratigraphy along the east river bank south of Saskatoon.


CAN. GEOTECH. J. VOL. 12, 1975

FIG. 10. The history of landslides is indicated in this photograph. The building which is a n
old barn (Fig. l l ) , is sitting on a shelf that appears to be a slide block at ground level B.
Elderly residents in the area state that this barn was at one time at ground level A which is
fairway on the Riverside Golf Course.

FIG.11. Evidence of rotational sliding is shown in this photograph of the old barn shown
in Fig. 10. The original ground elevation is indicated by the letter A, the present ground level
by the letter B. Note the amount of deformation in the wooden structure.


FIG. 12. Recent (April, 1973) slope movements resulted in the destruction of the irrigation
pump house at the golf course. The foundation of the pump house is shown here.

A preliminary investigation indicated that
scvcre slope instability problems exist along
valley slopes near Regina and Saskatoon. The
causes of the slides are related to oversteepened
slopes in surficial lacustrine clay and exposed
clay shale of the Bearpaw Formation in the
Regina area, and groundwater in deltaic sands
overlying a lacustrine clay in the Saskatoon
Development is taking place in both of these
areas without any effective control with respect
to slope stability. One large structure has already been seriously damaged by slope movemcnt. Furthermore, it was found that very few
individuals involved in the development are
aware of the problem and of those interviewed,
most were difficult to convince that there is
indeed a potential problem. There are probably
scveral reasons for this attitude, two of them
most slopes are quasi-stable or are moving
so slowly that natural erosion and vegetation obscure any evidence of movement.
when slope failures are activated, the
movements are very slow and not particularly spectacular and, therefore, often
diagnosed as settlements or some other

phenomenon rather than massive earth

Some form of effective landuse zoning based
on risk of failure is urgently needed. However,
before this can be done, a detailed study of the
geology in the area and an analysis of existing
slopes is required. So far very little information
is available for this purpose, mainly because of
the limited resources of the local political
authorities and a lack of recognition of the

The author wishes to acknowledge the assistance of Dr. E. A. Christiansen of the Saskatchewan Research Council for supervising test
drilling, interpretation of the stratigraphy, and
analysis of drill cuttings. The continuing cooperation between Dr. Christiansen and his
staff and the staff in the Department of Civil
Engineering at the University of Saskatchewan
at Saskatoon is resulting in significant advances
toward understanding geotechnical problems in
E. A. 1961. Geology and groundwater resources of the Regina area, Saskatchewan. Saskatchewan Research Council, Geol. Div., Rep. No. 2.
1968. Pleistocene stratigraphy of the Saskatoon


CAN. GEOTECH. J. VOL. 12, 1975

area, Saskatchewan, Canada. Can. J. Earth Sci. 5, pp.

E. A., and MENELEY,
W. A. 1970. Slope
instability. I n Physical environment of Saskatoon,
Canada. Edited by Christiansen, E . A., National Research Council ofCanadaPubl. No. 11378, pp. 51-52.
J. J. 1969. Effects of environment on the perHAMILTON,
formance of shallow foundations. Can. Geotech. J.
6(1), pp. 65-80.
B. W. 1970. An experimental study of
the effects of freezing on clay subgrades. Unpubl.
M.Sc. thesis, Univ. Saskatchewan Library, Saskatoon, Sask.

R. 1954. Studies of the Bearpaw shale at a
damsite in Saskatchewan. Proc. A.S.C.E., Soil Mech.
Found. Div. 80, Separate 476.
P . J., and IVERSON,
N. L. 1960. Limitations of laboratory shear strength in
evaluating stability of highly plastic clays. A.S.C.E.
Conf. Shear Strength Cohesive Soils, Boulder, Colorado, pp. 765-791.
SAUER,E . K. 1974. Geotechnical implications of Pleistocene deposits in southern Saskatchewan. Can.
Geotech. J. 11(3), pp. 359-373.

Failure along Planes of Weakness

Department of Geology, UniversiQ of New Br~mswick,Fredericton, New Br~mswick
Received August 13, 1974
Accepted October 7, 1974

The importance of the micro stress field in the failure of discontinuous rocks is emphasized.
The factors controlling failure are identified as, the micro stress set up at the ends and at
irregularities ofjoint segments, the macro stress which controls the growth of the microfracture to
macroscopic dimensions, and the external constraint which may arrest the propagating failure
surface. By causing microfracture, the micro stress is largely responsible for the destruction of
the rock bridges and the asperities occurring along the plane of weakness. In the initial stages of
failure, the various types of tensile and shear microfractures form a zigzag pattern which on
continued deformation becomes incorporated in a wide shear zone running along the original
plane of weakness.
L'importance des champs de contraintes locaux dans la rupture des roches discontinues est
mise en evidence. Les facteurs controllant la rupture sont identifies comme Btant les concentrations de contraintes aux extremites et k proximite des irr6gularit6s des joints, les contraintes
globales qui controlent la croissance de microfractures jusqu'k des dimensions macroscopiques,
et les conditions aux limites qui peuvent arrster la propagation de la surface de rupture. En
provoquant des microfractures, les concentrations de contraintes sont largement responsables de
la destruction des dalles rocheuses jouant le rBle de ponts et des asperites presentes dans les plans
de glissement. Dans les phases initiales de la rupture, les differents types de micro fractures d e
tension et de cisaillement foment un reseau en zig-zag qui, avec le developpement des
dCformations, est progressivement incorpore B une large zone de cisaillement suivant le plan de
faiblesse initial.
[Traduit par la Revue]

The course of a failure surface across a mass
of discontinuous rock depends chiefly on the
pattern of preexisting planes of weakness. In a
simple situation, a single plane of weakness
itself may lead to failure. In more complex rock
structures, however, a developing failure surface shifts from one set of discontinuities to
another, cutting across solid rock bridges in the
process. The shear strength along the eventual
failure surface therefore consists of a combination of solid rock strength in rock bridges and
Can. Geotech. J., 12,118 (1975)

discontinuity strength along the initially fractured or already sheared sections.

The determination of the contribution of
solid rock to the total shear strength is a major
and usually unsolvable problem. The difficulty
of its evaluation is sometimes so overwhelming
that the practical step is to neglect it altogether.
This, however, has the same effect as assuming
that the strength of a rock mass is no more
than that of sand. Consequently one could not
allow slopes steeper than a few degrees over
30, despite the fact that most rock slopes, even