Aug. 22, 2016
By Naomi Witherick
Striking and unforgettable. The Canadian Pacific Railway’s posters have the same characteristics as the mountains they advertise. Both have been significant in the history of Canada’s tourism industry in their own right. And while you can’t roll up and pocket the peaks, you can at least take the vintage artwork home.
But what’s the story behind the posters? When the company then known as CP Rail finished the railway in 1885, it had successfully connected the whole of Canada. From Ontario to British Columbia (with additional lines in places like Quebec and Lake Superior), the network opened the potential for trade, commerce and major economic growth.
Tourism hadn’t been in equation, until 1883 when rail workers came across the natural hot springs in today’s Banff National Park. Along with beautiful peaks and lakes, the discovery made the development of a tourism industry in the Canadian Rockies a strong possibility.
Led by soon-to-be president of CP Rail, William Cornelius Van Horne, the company built the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel and Chateau Lake Louise; establishing a thriving expansion into the luxury hotel business.
But there was one problem. Perceptions of the Canadian Rockies were of a cold, hostile landscape so CP Rail was tasked with changing the image of the mountains. They hired the country’s most esteemed artists to produce an unprecedented amount of marketing materials that would portray the Canadian Rockies as paradise.
Posters had bright colours, vivid landscapes and drawings of young pin-up-like girls perched on mountainsides. Aboriginal emblems made the region seem exotic and warm hues created an impression of lingering sunshine in forested valleys.
Over the first half of the twentieth century, the posters redefined Canada’s mountain terrain. Art deco designs made the images relevant to an upscale market with strong buying power in the 1920s and 1930s. And so the posters helped establish a thriving tourism industry in the Canadian Rockies, drawing not only Canadian visitors to the region but international tourists and settlers too.
Today, the artwork has become something of a legacy. Their vintage appeal has put them back on trend (and on Pinterest boards). The images are printed on canvas hangings, blankets and postcards, making stylish souvenirs for visitors to take home.
>> For more Canadian Rockies activities, shops, restaurants and entertainment, read our digital magazine.