High on the Rockies

Back in 1883, three railway workers discovered natural hot springs bubbling up from the base of Sulphur Mountain. With dreams of building a pool and becoming rich they tried to stake a claim. Fortunately, the Government thought the area should be enjoyed by all Canadians so Banff National Park was created.

The Cave and Basin National Historic Site is where it all began. These natural warm mineral springs have mats of algae growing in the pool as well as rare and endangered Banff springs snails. The air is filled with strong sulphur vapours. Two smaller springs bubble from the mountainside and the pools are filled with pink bacteria, white and green algae, small fish and insects. There is also a bathing pavilion with interesting exhibits on the second floor, located at the west end of Cave Street.

Most tourists visit Banff Upper Hot Springs located on Mountain Avenue, 4 km from town. Open year-round, the soothing hot mineral water has been a Banff premier attraction for more than a century. Unfortunately, it always seems crowded. For those who need more help than the heat of the pool, certified therapists offer aromatherapy, facials, massage, Shiatsu, and Reflexology.

Undoubtedly, the showplace of Banff is the “Castle in the Rockies”- the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. Located on the Bow River it is surrounded by beautiful mountains - Mount Rundle to the south, Cascade Mountain to the north and Sulphur Mountain to the west. Named after Banffshire, Scotland, it is truly majestic with grand foyers, 768 rooms, seven full restaurants, elegant convention facilities, magnificent ballrooms and two floors for stores. An employee of 43 years, David Moberg, started working at the hotel when he was a teenager. Now Guest Relations and Hotel Historian, there is nothing about this hotel he doesn’t know. Add to that the trivia he has acquired and it made for one unforgettable tour. One of the most interesting rooms, seldom visited by guests, is Heritage Hall with photographs and exhibits of important and sometimes sad occasions in the life of the hotel.

The Willow Stream Spa at Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel is an unforgettable experience. Three waterfalls and four mineral pools at varying temperatures sooth tired muscles and troubled spirits. Amenities include robe, sandals, bottled water, fruit and beverages. Saunas, steam rooms and whirlpool enhance the experience and highly trained coordinators customize programs for clients. For $69.00, men and women who are guests can spend the day, relaxing in luxury in the magnificent eight million dollar spa.

Willow Stream Spa has inviting lounge areas, 26 massage rooms, four rooms for facials, four manicure stations, four pedicure stations and four chairs for hair stylists. The staff- massage therapists, hair stylists, facialists and aestheticians must be handpicked.

Another must is the Whyte Museum. It is a place to learn about the native tribes who lived in the area, the early pioneer families, and the art and culture of the Rockies. It includes galleries, archives, heritage homes, and gift shop. The founders, Peter and Catharine Whyte were artists and philanthropists.

Peter was born and raised in Banff, a member of a respected pioneer family. Catharine was from a distinguished family in Concord, Massachusetts. The two met at the Boston Museum School of Fine Art in 1927 and married in 1930 after a secret courtship. Banff became home. Quite a change for the wealthy young debutante! Yet Catharine and Peter were deeply in love. They built a modest home with a studio so they could paint their beloved mountains.

They traveled extensively until Peter’s death in 1966. Catharine lived until 1979 during which time she traveled, skied and became deeply involved with community and conservation. The Whyte Museum opened in 1968 funded by the Whyte Foundation, which continues to generate 60% of the cost of operations. The balance comes from retail, grants, donations, memberships and admissions. Catharine left their home and all its contents to the museum when she died. It is one of seven heritage homes open for viewing.

Another fascinating home is the Philip and Pearl (Brewster) Moore home, built in 1907. (The Brewster name is synonymous with Banff). Philip was educated at Princeton and his sophistication is reflected in a home with running water, electricity, a library and rustic elegance.

Be sure to visit St. George’s-In-The-Pines Anglican Church (1889-1926) at 406 Buffalo Street. Services were held as early as 1885 and Lord and Lady Stanley, then Governor-General of Canada, laid the cornerstone in 1889. Distinguished guests include: The Duke and Duchess of York in 1897, the future Queen Mary in 1901, Edward, Prince of Wales in 1926, King George and Queen Elizabeth in 1939, and the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1954.

Pick up a pamphlet distributed by Heritage Tourism at the Museum, called “The Banff Cultural Walk”. It is a year-round guide to 15 of the area’s most interesting art galleries, museums, and cultural attractions that make Banff so vibrant.

The Banff Centre was founded in 1933 in the depths of the Great Depression. The University of Alberta, Department of Extension, with a grant from the U.S. based Carnegie Foundation, opened the Centre with a single course in drama. The founders of this great institution saw the need for a place where creativity could flourish. That first summer, a budding actor could come to Banff for one dollar and spend three weeks in the theatre-training program!

Over the next two decades courses in music, painting, ceramics, dance, and opera were added until all the performing and fine arts were encompassed. Today, the Banff Centre is a globally respected arts, cultural, and educational institution and conference facility.

Banff is famous for its skiing in winter, its 18-hole Stanley Thompson Golf Course in summer and extraordinary outdoor adventures in all seasons. In addition, the cultural opportunities provide an appreciation of Banff’s rich heritage. The Park began as a resort spa catering to the privileged classes, an island of civilization in the wilderness. Now, like other national parks it has become an island of wilderness in the midst of encroaching civilization.

If You Go
Banff is 135 km west of Calgary on 4-lane #1 Highway
Brewster Transportation and Tours - $20.00 – 2-hour trip
403 762 6767

Parks Canada – 403 762 1566 or www.pc.gc.ca
Admission $5.00/day or $35.00 for annual pass

For luxury lodgings:
Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel: June-Sept - $529.00
$379.00 except for December and January.
403 762 2211 or www.fairmont.com
Moderate Lodgings – Douglas Fir Resort: $129.00-302.00
Includes breakfast. 403 762 5591
Banff on a Budget – Banff Y Mountain Lodge-$42.00/night –Includes breakfast. 1-800-813 4138
B&Bs – many available
For luxury eateries the Banff Springs Hotel
Bow Valley Grill for buffet breakfast - $25.00 - $40.00
Castello Ristorante – “Italian Courtyard in the Castle” - $50.00-$100.00
Moderate – Maple Leaf Restaurant - $25.00 -$35.00
403-760 5088 or maria@banffmapleleaf.com

Budget /moderate restaurant – The Bison Mountain Bistro
Delicious home-cooked meals $15.00 - $30.00
211-213 Bear Street
403-762 5550 or ryan@thebison.ca

When to go: Golfing or Skiing
Summer is high season (June –Sept)
Watch for packages offering great savings

Willow Stream Spa –403-762-1772 or 800-404-1722

Whyte Museum
111Bear Street – 403 762 2291

Cave and Basin National Historic Site
At the west end of Cave Ave.