The “Gateway to the Rockies” exhibit at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies provides insights into the origins of tourism that visitors can use to enrich their present day mountain experiences.
By Meredith Bailey
The history of the Canadian Rockies reads like an epic adventure rich with hidden treasure, daring acts of bravery, forward thinking mavericks and passionate conservationists.
While in Banff, visit the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies’ new exhibition Gateway to the Rockies that showcases our region’s starring players and pivotal moments. And don’t forget that Canadian Rockies heritage remains alive and well. Indeed, today’s favourite hikes, historic buildings, interpretive tours and works of art are steeped in tradition. Armed with the knowledge of Then, take the next step and discover what you can do Now!
THEN The Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies exhibit begins 11,000 years ago when First Nations came to these mountains to hunt and fish. They travelled lightly and revered the mountains as sacred. See the eagle feather headdress worn by Stoney chief Walking Buffalo who spread his message of peace to the world.
NOW • Banff’s Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum life-size ‘living picture’ displays recreate the daily routine of pre-contact Plains people.
• Kananaskis Heli’s Heritage Tour includes sights of colourful teepees and historic First Nations grounds.
• Snowy Owl Kennel Tours introduces participants to friendly, Canmore-based huskies. During a walk with wolf-husky hybrid, Shaman, and a naturalist, learn about First Nations beliefs in the mystical qualities of wolves.
• Blackfoot People brought the first horse to Alberta in 1630. Saddle up and explore the mountains on horseback with Jasper or Lake Louise, Banff and Kananaskis outfitters.
Immigration and the CPR
THEN The museum’s exhibit offers interactive displays where visitors hear immigrant voices and ‘experience’ an avalanche overtop a re-created railway tunnel. The Canadian Pacific coast-to-coast railway played a fundamental role in populating the west and transporting its abundant natural resources. Government promises of fertile farmland and the CPR’s need for workers meant immigrants from all over the world made the trip to the Rockies.
NOW • Ha Ling Peak was named for a Chinese railway worker who accepted a bet that he couldn’t scale the mountain in less than 10 hours. He did. A 6 km (3.7 mi) roundtrip hike offers views of Canmore.
• Our restaurants (in Banff, Canmore, Lake Louise, Jasper) reflect the lasting impact of immigration. Swiss, Chinese, Greek, Japanese, Indian and French; the local dining scene is a cultural melting pot.
• Listen to the accents: The Rockies still draw international visitors and workers (particularly Australians) who love our world-class skiing and other adventurous pursuits. “G’day mate!” is a common greeting at main street shops.
• Jasper tour companies (SunDog Tours and Jasper Adventure Centre) host VIA Rail half-day train excursions.
• Visit heritage railway stations in Banff and Jasper.
• In Lake Louise, dine at The Station Restaurant in the restored 1910 log railway depot.
• See the current Jasper-Yellowhead Museum exhibit All Aboard! Jasper’s Railway Centennial that chronicles 100 years of railway history.
THEN A legal battle over hot spring ownership of what is now the Cave & Basin National Historic Site was resolved in 1885 when the Canadian Government created Banff Hot Springs Reserve, which soon became our country’s first national park. The Gateway to the Rockies exhibit tells the story of the ‘Father of Canada’s National Parks’, J.B. Harkin, who drafted Canada’s National Parks Act. “The Parks shall be made use of in a manner that leaves them unimpaired for future generations,” stipulated this forward-looking legislation.
NOW • Conservation is a core value of our national parks. Visiting the Rockies offers wildlife sightings; maintained hiking, biking and climbing routes; and wild lands safe from the impacts of urban living.
• Parks Canada presents educational and funny Mountain WIT interpretative shows (July to Aug, Friday 3-5 pm at Banff Upper Hot Springs; Friday 7:30 pm Banff Avenue Square).
• Banff Gondola offers views at 2300 m, Lake Louise Gondola boasts Grizzly bear sightings and Jasper Tramway provides effortless access to the alpine above treeline.
• Banff’s Legacy Trail, Jasper’s Discovery Trail and Canmore’s riverside trails connect towns with wilderness and offer sightseeing by foot and bike.
• Hot springs remain popular attractions. Banff Upper Hot Springs, Miette Hot Springs in Jasper and Radium Hot Springs soothe muscles sore from outdoor adventure.
• The spa culture of Canada’s first national park has been considerably upgraded at Fairmont Resorts and our mountain towns’ other luxurious day spa venues (Banff & Area and Jasper).
• Return in 2013 when Cave & Basin indoor exhibits reopen as a fresh reminder of national park history in Canada.
THEN The exhibit features the history of Christian Haesler and Eduard Feuz, professional Swiss mountain guides hired by the railway in 1899 to lead hiking and climbing trips. The CPR combined opulent accommodation with safe access to mountain wilderness for adventurous tourists.
NOW • The Canadian Rockies’ original grand hotels continue to host travellers. Visit the Fairmont’s Banff Springs (1888), Chateau Lake Louise (1890) and Jasper Park Lodge (1922) to shop, dine or stay. Golfing at the Banff Springs is a 100-year-old tradition.
• Plain of Six Glaciers and Lake Agnes teahouses are a half-day scenic walk from Lake Louise. Built by Eduard Feuz and the Canadian Pacific Railway, both serve light fare to hikers.
• Today’s guided climbs, hikes, fishing, boating and sightseeing follow traditions pioneered by the Swiss guides.
Skiing the Rockies
THEN Skiing secured the Canadian Rockies’ year-round popularity. Before mechanized lifts, folks accessed the high alpine on touring skis. The Whyte Museum exhibit recreates a backcountry lodge and tells the story of how Mt Norquay became the region’s first ‘modern’ ski area with the first engine-driven rope tow in 1938.
NOW • Ski areas double as summer attractions. Lonely Planet rates Sunshine Meadows as one of Canada’s best hiking places.
• Built for the 1988 Olympic Winter Games, Canmore Nordic Centre has paved and dirt mountain biking, and roller skiing tracks.
• In the summer, sightseeing gondolas at Lake Louise and Kicking Horse access spectacular viewpoints, hikes and wildlife sightings.
• Skoki Lodge (where royals William and Kate stayed last summer), Talus Lodge, Shadow Lake Lodge, Banff Sundance Lodge and Tonquin Amethyst Lake Lodge continue the backcountry ski lodge tradition. Access these lodges via hike, ski, horseback ride or helicopter.
• Banff’s Canadian Ski Museum West displays ski memorabilia and interpretive panels.
THEN Gateway to the Rockies allows visitors ‘access’ to an artist’s studio inspired by renowned landscape painter Carl Rungius. The beauty of our mountains has always captured the imagination of artists. The Banff School of Fine Arts opened in 1935, members of Canada’s famous The Group of Seven painted the Parks, and Peter and Catharine Whyte (founders of the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies) had a lifetime of creativity kindled by this area.
NOW • Galleries and museums (Banff & Area and Jasper) in all our towns honour established and emerging artists who continue to interpret mountain landscapes and wildlife on canvas, in stone and through more modern media.
• Landscape and wildlife paintings by Banff’s inagural artist in residence Dwayne Harty are at Willock & Sax Gallery, while Terra Magica in Canmore shows incredible wildlife photography by Peter A. Dettling.
• Watch sculptural and functional pottery by John and Katie Borrowman take shape at Canmore’s Of Cabbages & Kings studio.
• In Jasper, join art workshops hosted by professional artists and Mountain Galleries at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge.
• The Banff Centre welcomes international artists, musicians, dancers, writers and actors year-round. Their Summer Arts Festival is an extravaganza of over 100 performances.
Learning the history of a place can add rich layers to your vacation experience. So, delve into our past at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies’ Gateway to the Rockies exhibit and at other venues where our stories are told. Then, enjoy our townsite amenities and adventures to create new memories of your own.