The world-famous mountain playground has got its sleeves rolled up ready for another rip-roaring tourist season. A maharaja once spent ten thousand to take the waters, but it doesn’t cost a cent to look at the Rockies

GRATTAN GRAY June 15 1951


The world-famous mountain playground has got its sleeves rolled up ready for another rip-roaring tourist season. A maharaja once spent ten thousand to take the waters, but it doesn’t cost a cent to look at the Rockies

GRATTAN GRAY June 15 1951



The world-famous mountain playground has got its sleeves rolled up ready for another rip-roaring tourist season. A maharaja once spent ten thousand to take the waters, but it doesn’t cost a cent to look at the Rockies


AS ANYONE capable of reading a travel folder knows, the town of Banff, Alta., and its environs are one of North America’s great tourist paradises. Close to half a million travelers from all over the world descend on Banff each year mainly during June, July and August and leave behind untold thousands of dollars to sustain the permanent population of twenty-seven hundred until the next tourist season rolls around.

“We have three mad frenzied months in which to make our living for a whole year,” remarks one citizen. “In the summer we work 16 hours a day. A lot of us handle two full-time summer jobs. We catèr to people who are out for a good time, sell them curios or tours. Then, in the winter, we have nothing but time on our hands. We get cabin fever. Life in Banff works out this way: in summer we go after the buck like bird-dogs; in winter we hibernate like bears.”

The life of perhaps no other Canadian town is subject to such a violent and drastic change as that which Banff undergoes as the summer tourist season ends and the permanent residents settle down for the long, cold and mostly silent winter.

In the summer Banff is a rich, roaring tourist boom town. Its population soars to between 16,000 and 18,000. Several thousands of these non-residents constitute a small army of gold-seekers, mainly students recruited from the country’s universities to serve as cabdrivers, bellhops, waitresses and store clerks. Its hotels are jammed to the rafters, camping grounds and motels are filled to overflowing and almost every private house surrenders a measure of its privacy under the banner, “Approved Accommodation.”

The town’s broad two-lane main thoroughfare, Banff Avenue, becomes choked with traffic and the pure mountain air struggles to resist the gasoline fumes. Cars from every Canadian province and every American state are often parked in long tight rows, head-on into the curb.

The sidewalks swarm with tourists, easily distinguished from the ordinary citizens by their dress. This consists of some of the most outlandish clothing to be found outside the fashion magazines.

George Paris, who came to Banff in ’92, says, “I don’t like the place any more. It’s too damned noisy. Used to be a quiöt, pleasant place. Now it’s a regular pandemonium.” But, with summer’s close, Banff reverts almost to its Continued on page 34


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natural state. By late fall the tourists are gone and once again the deer, who all summer have hardly dared venture into the heart of town, trot complacently down Banff Avenue.

Some of the older folk begin packing their bags for the flight to the Pacific Coast banana belt. They flee not only to escape the winter’s cold, but to get a respite from the 4534-ft. altitude, j And Banff' becomes enveloped in the Great White Silence.

This spell is broken by the week-end skiers and during a few weeks each j February when visitors flock in for the Winter Carnival and the Banff Curling Club’s annual bonspiel. Brave attempts have been made to develop Banff as a winter resort, but winter business has never approached the summer trade.

The full picture of life in Banff has to be set against the solid background of those citizens who, by and large, conform to the accepted pattern of Canadian life. People like Claude ! Brewster, who comes from one of Banff’s pioneer families; seventy-sevenyear-old Norman Luxton, who once sailed the Pacific in a twenty-eight-foot canoe hut now is content to putter around his Indian Trading Post curio shop; and Dan McCowan, a short, j friendly Scot who came to Banff for his health forty years ago and stayed ! to write books about it and to become an outstanding lecturer on its scenic beauties and its wild life.

Banff’ has done well by all three.

For twenty - five years McCowan I spent his winters on American lecture tours for the Canadian Pacific Railway, his summers lecturing to the ! guests at the CPR’s Banff Springs i Hotel. He now lives in semi-retire| ment, owns a house in Banff, another near Vancouver.

Luxton built but has since sold the King Edward Hotel and founded the town’s weekly newspaper, Crag and Canyon, which he now leases.

Claude Brewster is a member of the j Brewster dynasty whose holdings inj spired the jingle, “Come to Banff for a change and a rest; the CPR will take the change and the Brewsters will take the rest.” There are in Banff, at rough j estimate, at least 25 Brewsters all j engaged in the tourist business. Claude j himself is the biggest horse outfitter j in Canada while other Brewsters own j taxi fleets, sightseeing buses, a ski ! lodge, a hotel, motels, garages and a big share of the most valuable buildings on Banff Avenue.

What’s the Weight of a Mountain?

All three, McCowan, Luxton and Brewster, suffer twinges of nostalgia when they think of the old mountainvillage Banff, but manage to be philosophical about its modern development. Says McCowan: “They put

a jeep on Sulphur Mountain for the tourists and a snowmobile on Athabasca Glacier. It’s progress, I guess. We have to move with the times.” And all can agree with Brewster when he says, “There’s no place else in the world like Banff.”

Banff' lacks the community cohesion most Canadian towns possess. This is because Banff is actually not a town at all, but a sort of ward of the federal government. The townsite is merely a part of the huge (2585 square miles)

I Banff National Park and is ruled by j the Department of Mines and Re| sources in Ottawa. Banff has a Parks Administration, its staff appointed and paid by Ottawa, and an Advisory Council, elected at open meeting once

a year. The council has no real power but can make recommendations to the Parks Administration.

The summer population is comprised of three large, distinct groups—permanent residents, summer help and tourists—and a fourth, smaller group which maintains itself in splendid isolation from the others. This last consists of the faculty and about six hundred students of the Banff School of Fine Arts. The tourist, being the raw material of Banff’s one and only industry, provides the economic justification for the existence of the residents and summer help and, as in all tourist towns, there’s a tendency to value every tourist by the amount of money he spends and the size of his tips.

Banff residents have long been used to the gripes of American tourists, which include the condition of the roads (“You Canadians must think of a road as a place where there are no trees”), Canadian currency (before our dollar was released on the free market many Americans called our currency “funny money”) and Canadian postage (n lot don’t see why they can’t put U. S. stamps on postcards). There have even been tourists who have maddened taxi drivers by asking how much the mountains weigh.

Many American tourists are on the constant prowl for souvenirs. The hunt takes them into one curio shop after another and often they emerge with some trinket bearing the legend, “Banff, Canada.” The trinket may also bear, on its underside, the stamp, “Made in U. S. A.,” “Made in Italy,” or, perhaps, “Made in Toronto.”

Centre of the American colony is the castlelike, 590 - room Banff Springs Hotel. It is open only from early June to mid-September, but still manages to crowd in about seventy-five thousand guests each season who pay anywhere from nine to thirty-five dollars a day. Meals are extra, run to around six-fifty a day.

Besides offering all the services and facilities of a big city hotel, Banff Springs also provides its guests with one of the most magnificent views in the Rockies and a golf course hard to beat on the continent for its beauty and its hazards.

At one time or another, just about everyone from sovereigns to stenographers has bedded down at the Banff Springs. The King of Siam took a whole floor for his entourage and the Maharaja of Indore-India is reputed to have blown ten thousand dollars during his stay. The stenographers are usually more modest spenders. They come for brief stays as members of travel-agency

tours, bearing such names as Happiness Tour No. 1 or Canadian Rocky Wonderland Tour No. 2.

At the opposite end of town to the hotel, and existing in a world all its own, is the Banff School of Fine Arts. The Banff Springs Hotel is the town’s most important commercial institution, the Banff School its most important cultural institution.

The school was founded in 1933 by the University of Alberta on a tenthousand-dollar Carnegie grant. It began as a school of the theatre with a student body of forty. Today it offers courses in painting, music, drama, ballet, play and short-story writing, handicrafts, oral French and photography to about six hundred students who come from all over Canada, the United States and abroad.

Pianos in the Skate Shop

Besides many outstanding Canadians, such as water colorist Walter Phillips, who lives in Banff, its faculty includes topnotch men from England and the United States. On the 1950 staff were Edward Bawden, an English painter, Frederic Taubes, a European artist, Max Pirani, concert pianist, and Mr. and Mrs. Burton James, founders of Seattle’s Repertory Playhouse.

The school’s activities are housed in various rented public buildings (Pirani had seventeen pianos scattered about, including one in the skate shop of the high-school rink) but a long-term program to construct its own permanent buildings has begun. Three chalets have been built on a mountainside and eventually an administration building, studio building, a music and drama building, a gymnasium and twenty to thirty chalets will go up.

Donald Cameron, the school’s director, says: “There is no reason why

the Banff School cannot become the Salzburg of North America.”

The artists and intellectuals of the school are unrestrained in their enthusiasm for the natural beauties of Banff but the man-made town itself displeases their aesthetic sense.

“The Rockies can take their place with any of the mountain regions of the world. They are even more grandiose than the Alps,” says worldtraveler Frederic Taubes. “But whatever is man-made here is in poor taste. The architecture is a meaningless hodgepodge. For the eye, one cannot find any attraction in the town itself.”

Banff was put on the map and christened by the Canadian Pacific Railway. The name comes from Banff,

Scotland, near the birthplace of CPRbuilder Lord Strathcona. But it was the automobile which changed it from spa and summer resort to a tourist town.

The year the railway was completed through the Rockies (1885), Canada’s first national park was created at Banff to prevent unbridled exploitation of the five sulphur hot springs which had been discovered by railroad workmen. There is a story that rheumatic bears first discovered the therapeutic value of the springs.

They’ve Even Got Boating

A CPR doctor, R. G. Brett, was possibly the first to tap the commercial possibilities of the springs. He built the Sanatorium Hotel, since razed, and tried selling bottled mineral water. ‘‘Didn’t work,” recalls George Paris, who ran the Sanatorium barber shop. “Minerals just settled to the bottom like mud.” Brett himself went to the top to become lieutenant-governor of Alberta.

The CPR built its first Banff hotel in 1888 and gradually helped develop the place as a fashionable spa. The main part of the present hotel was built in 1913 and wings were added in 1927 and 1928. Passengers bound to and from the Orient and Australia were encouraged to stop over to take the waters. Others came entirely for their

health. At the same time its popularity as a summer resort grew. A new alltime record was set in 1949 when 119,829 cars entered Banff National Park through its eastern portal. There is no check on other entrances.

This change has not been without its advantages. Now almost anyone who owns a car and lives in Western Canada can afford a holiday in Banff, if he can afford a holiday anywhere. For a dollar, a motorist and his family may pitch their tent for two weeks on a huge camping ground high up on Tunnel Mountain—which has no tunnel —and get free firewood and water to boot. There is also a trailer camp with cheap rates.

There’s almost as much to do as to see in Banff. You can ride or hike on your own, or join various organized groups of hikers and trail riders. You can scale mountains; the Alpine Club of Canada has its headquarters on Sulphur Mountain. There’s good fishing, canoeing, boating, golf, tennis and swimming in wonderful outdoor pools.

The great natural beauties of Banff have never been done full justice, even by the superlatives of the travel folder, and it is hardly likely they ever will be. A Hawaiian pineapple king and his wife have been going to Banff every year since 1895 and have explored the park on foot, on horseback and by car, yet they admit they haven’t set eyes on all its beauty spots. it