History of the Banff National Park
1883 marks one of the most
prestigious years in Canadian history. Besides
Canada's first transcontinental railroad
reaching successful completion, 3 railroad
workers stumbled across a series of hot springs
on the lower shoulder of the present-day Sulphur
Mountain. After various heated ownership
disputes, the springs and it's surrounding areas
were labelled Canada's first national park by
The unsung potential of the Canadian
Rockies unravelled immediately as the Canadian
Pacific Railway was taken aback by the
possibilities of the national park serving as a
hotspot to tourists worldwide. Thus, this
opened the doors to investments, leading to the
erection of the elegant 250-room Banff Springs
Hotel, under the direction of William Cornelius
Van Horne, in 1888.
More ideas sparked and the railway
then constructed a series of grand hotels along
its main line. Advertising Banff as an
international tourism stopover on the steel
highway that had suddenly become the fastest and
most direct route from Europe to the far East,
was the next step towards the emergence of
The Rockies became prominent amongst
the Victorian elites, who indulged themselves in
drinking within the scenery and, soaking in the
soothing sulphur springs. This promoted the
integrity of the Rockies and in no time, people
were not only coming to visit...but also to
Banff and Lake Louise depict our
local knowledge and appreciation for the nature,
history and culture of our World Heritage
destination. Banff is applauded for its
museums, national historic sites and galleries.
At the Luxton Museum you can discover the long
native presence of the Plains Indian in the
Rockies. Visit the Cave and Basin National
Historic Site to feel the energy and vision
invested in the creation of our national parks
system. Tour heritage homes at the Whyte Museum
of the Canadian Rockies, and take in the fine
interpretive exhibits that explain the panoramas
seen from the top of the Banff Gondola.
100 Year Tradition
When skiers arrive at the top of our
mountains, they're awestruck by the grandeur of
the unspoiled wilderness that surrounds them.
These same sights greeted explorers and climbers
from around the world when they first visited
the Canadian Rockies more than 100 years ago.
Mountain guides from Switzerland led the first
ascents of the peaks. On wooden skis with
leather bindings, adventurers discovered
untracked snow in wide-open bowls, laying the
groundwork for today's modern Banff/Lake Louise
Timeline for Heritage and
History on Banff
11,000BC- Early evidence of human occupation
in the Bow Valley were discovered by
archaeologists in places such as the shores of
Lake Minnewanka and Vermilion Lakes. Valleys and
passes of the Canadian Rockies were popular
amongst the native tribes. Early relations among
the Crees, Kootenays and Plains Blackfoot Indian
tribes were cordial, with constant trade and
1700's- The first Europeans arrived along
with the introduction of guns, horses and
European diseases, which led to a shift in
power, as well as bloodshed, among the native
tribes. The introduction of smallpox demolished
three fifths the population of the western
Anthony Henday was labelled the first non-native
to set foot on the Canadian Rockies.
David Thompson and Duncan McGillivray ventured
out in Bow Valley.
Exploration throughout the Canadian Rockies
ignited when Sir George Simpson, Governor of the
Hudson Bay Company, crossed the Rockies on his
way around the world.
Services were held for the natives on the shores
of Lake Minnewanka, by the Wesleyan Missionary,
Rev Robert Terrill Rundle.
1857-60- The Palliser Expedition explored
central and western Canada for the British
Government. John Palliser, an Irishman,
organized this trip to see if the land could be
settled. The group split into three to unravel
the modern day areas of Kananaskis, Banff, the
Kootenays and Waterton. Many mountains of Banff
were named by the leader in charge of Banff's
exploration, James Hector. Success was achieved
by the Palliser Expedition in redrawing the map
of the west, and in shifting political attention
to the resource and settlement potential of the
southern plains and mountains.
Three generations of surveying work of western
explorers became nationally crucial as the newly
established Confederation of Canada was to be
united by a transcontinental railway.
Tom Wilson, a Canadian Pacific Railroad packer,
was the first white man to see Lake Louise, with
guidance from a Stoney Indian. He named it
Emerald Lake (later renamed Lake Louise in 1884
after the daughter of Queen Victoria).
Eventually, the railway was built through Siding
29 (Banff) and it reached Laggan Station (Lake
The Emergence of Banff
Hot springs (known today as the Cave and Basin),
at the foot of Sulphur Mountain, were discovered
by railway workers William McCardell, Thomas
McCardell and Frank McCabe.
A federal reserve of 26 square kilometers was
set aside surrounding the hot springs. In 1887,
the area was increased to 673 square kilometers
and named "Rocky Mountains Park". This
represented the first footsteps of Canada's
National Park system and the birth of tourism.
The federal government appointed George Stewart
to create an infrastructure of roads, bridges
and services that would make the hot springs
reserve into a credible National Park as soon as
the attraction potential of the hot springs was
realized. The town was named Banff after
"Banffshire", the district in Scotland which was
the birthplace of two CPR directors, Lord
Strathcona and George Stephen.
The original log framed Banff Springs Hotel was
opened for business by Canadian Pacific
Railways. However, William Cornelius Van Horne,
head of CPR quickly designed a viewing pavilion
for guests as soon as he noticed that the hotel
was being built the wrong way , while he visited
the site during construction.
A log cabin was constructed on the shore of
Lake Louise and was soon replaced by a larger
The area around Lake Louise is added to the
"Rocky Mountains Park".
Swiss guides were brought by the CPR to the
Rockies to lead tourists to the summit of the
Bill and Jim Brewster sparked the beginning of
guiding and outfitting in Banff. The family
dominated tourist transportation throughout the
Mountain Parks until 1965, when they sold it to
opened the mining town of Bankhead.
Nurturing of Banff as an
The construction of the Banff/Lake Louise Coach
road allowed automobile access to the park,
creating an immediate impact on the development
of the park. Cars marked the beginning of the
second phase of tourism. Today 92% of the parks
visitors arrive by private vehicle.
The road between Banff/Lake Louise was
The road between Banff and Radium opened as a
link in the first public highway across the
Canadian Rockies. This connected with routes to
the US to form what Americans called the "Grand
The Rattenbury wing of the Chalet at Lake Louise
was destroyed by fire.
Reconstruction of the CPR Hotel at Lake
Louise is completed and was opened under the
name "Chateau Lake Louise".
Fire destroyed the north wing of the Banff
Reconstruction of the Banff Springs Hotel was
completed. The building appeared essentially as
it is today.
The present day parks system is managed through
the concept of parks preservation which was
passed by the National Parks Act, thus
establishing boundaries of the mountain parks
generally as the exist today.
Rocky Mountain Park
Changes It's Name to Banff National Park
The Trans-Canadian Highway is officially opened.
Banff by now had become the foremost of all of
the Canadian National Parks. The growth and
competitive prices of the airlines helped Banff
become the international holiday location that
it is today.
Banff proudly became a self-governing
municipality within the Province of Alberta on
National Park covers an area of 6,641 square
kilometers, as of today.
approximately 8 million people enter the park