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Banff's Still Got that 1800s Charm

by Jodi L. Currie

Rolling rivers, towering mountains, forests of pine trees along the mountain ranges and down through the valleys - the area around Banff Alberta looks much the same as it did when it was first discovered by wayward railway workers in the early 1800’s.

Nestled in a valley in the Canadian Rockies between Mounts Rundle, Cascade and Sulphur the town of Banff is a protected site. That means the town can not expand beyond the boundaries of its current size, buildings can be no more than 4 stories, in the town site itself, and residents and business owners require special permits and council permission to expand or renovate. The limitations on building means Banff has retained much of it’s character from it’s early days, in fact some houses still remain from Banff’s origin as a stop along the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR).

In 1883 three railroad workers from the CPR stumbled across a series of hot springs on lower Sulphur Mountain, known today as the Cave and Basin. In 1885, after an ownership dispute, the hot springs and 26 square kilometres surrounding the pools was set aside as a federal reserve, increased to 673 square kilometres in 1887 it became Canada’s first National Park.

The tourism value was immediately realized and in 1888 the original log-framed Banff Springs Hotel was opened. The current Banff springs hotel is known as the “Castle in the Mountains” because of it’s stature and design. Built with black and sand stone the 12 floors of the ‘castle’ can be seen on the lower basin of Sulphur Mountain, surrounded by tall pine trees and overlooking the Bow River waterfalls known as Bow Falls. When viewing the hotel from one of the pullouts on the Tunnel Mountain drive, across the river, it seems as if it stands completely alone. It’s a magnificent castle in the middle of the wilderness.

In 1899 the CPR brought Swiss guides to the Rocky Mountains to guide tourists to the mountain summits. There are still influences of these Swiss origins in the architecture along Banff Avenue, Banff’s main thoroughfare. Along with the Swiss chalet styles the influences of German and French, and of course the post and beam log cabin architecture can be found throughout. But this town is very committed to maintaining it’s natural surroundings and celebrating its wilderness connections. Evidence of this can be found in the simplest places, including its street names - Cougar Street, Bear Street, Elk Avenue, and Caribou Avenue. Herds of elk roam thru the town and an occasional wolf or bear has been known to trespass within the town limits.

In summer or winter, there are activities for everyone. Whether you are looking for wildlife or a little wild life, a trip to Banff is worth the journey. From snow capped mountain peaks to the soothing waters of the hot springs Banff was destined for visitors and it doesn’t disappoint.

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