Banff's where kids work for fun

JON RUDDY August 6 1966

Banff's where kids work for fun

JON RUDDY August 6 1966

Banff's where kids work for fun


Hiking in the hills or pot-watching in the kitchen — they’re all part of life for some 1,500 students from across Canada who invade the Rockies for summer jobs that pay off in a swinging holiday

SOMETHING THAT JOHN HOWSE can't forget, for some reason, is the way these two French-Canadian kids found happiness at Banff. Howse is a newspaperman who covered the Banff summer-resort scene last year for the Calgary Herald. The French Canadians, college-age boys, had driven out from Montreal in a Buick and run out of gas and money at the same time. House got hooked up with them in a church basement called The Unsquare Cellar — more about which later — and acted as interpreter while some nice lady made them free ham sandwiches. As House recalls it. they didn't just eat the sandwiches — they tore into them like starved piranhas. The Mounties gave them chits for breakfast, and a local priest got them job interviews at the Banff Springs Hotel. Well, the next day House saw them in front of the hotel. “They were sitting in the Buick with their arms around gorgeous chicks. They saw me and the driver went bip bip on the horn, very cool, and he waved out the window. 'Tanks very much.' he said. Then the\ took off down the road in the Buick. I suppose they had got jobs as dishwashers or something. It was sort of the American dream compressed." The American dream — Banff, the resort town in the Rockies 75 miles west of Calgary. Alberta, is

full of Horatio Alger stories among the students who swarm there every summer, but the rewards involved are not material. They are social-sexual. The tiling is, it is no longer hard for most students to find enough money to make it through college. Hardly anybody has to eat 17-cent macaroni dinners in ratty rooms anymore. There is student aid in multitudinous forms, there is prosperity, there is Dad. The thing to do in the summer is have a cheap good time, a paid vacation, and maybe save a little money — for Dad's sake. Banff, and especially the Banff Springs Hotel, has always provided the ultimate Canadian facilities for this sort of summer, the Resort Summer, for students who are not especially interested in making money.

Fr IS A VERY INTERESTING SITUATION. The winter population of Banff is 3.600. In the summer it is about 30.000. 1.500 of them students working in the hotel and around town. Nearly 800 students work at the hotel. According to the manager. Cliff Watson, there is a considerable staff of matrons, cooks, dishwashers, chambermaids and so forth who do nothing but serve the student staff. Sometimes it seems to the students that the whole hotel, the whole vast turreted CPR complex, revolves around them instead of around the paying guests. It is as if the girls are saving. “If I

have only one life to live, let me live it as a chambermaid.’' The students have access to all kinds of recreational facilities — swimming pool, golf course, shuffleboard and so on — and there are clubs and services available to them, but they have no social contact with the hotel guests, with the permanent staff, with the community. Bill McCusker, publisher of the local paper, the Banff Crag and Canyon, says that no one who lives in Banff mixes with the students. “We don't know anything about them,” he says. The students live in their own little world.

THEY HAVE THEIR OWN pecking order. Most of them are paid the minimum wage, around a dollar an hour, but the ones with the service jobs — doormen, waitresses, porters, bellhops — get a lot of tips. And there is something about the bellhops — the tips, the tartan outfits they wear, the fact that they have seniority among the student staff — they are the kings of Banff Springs.

“Yeah, the bellhops are the biggest snobs in Canada," says John Howse. "They are carrying bags, for godsake, and they are heroes. The dames disrn.vv them as if they were rich South American playboys. The bellhops take their pick of the women.”

Not that there aren't enough women to go around. No, the odds are about two female students for everv

male student, or so they say, and it is an easy statistic to believe. “The firstand second-year men grab somebody quick and go steady all summer,” says George Dyck, a bellhop who is spending his sixth summer at the hotel. "I was that way myself. Now I’m not interested. It just isn't necessary.” Dyck, who is 24, yawns that the women tire a little young this year. Liz Marjerrison, a 21-year-old dining-room hostess who looks like Liz Taylor, says a girl has to find a steady boyfriend by the middle of the summer. “After that not many boys are available.”

1 here is a lot of shift work at Banff Springs, with the result that there is no student curfew. That, and the integrated student quarters — as opposed to, for example, Jasper Park Lodge, where boys and girls live in separate buildings — is how Banff got its reputation.

"THERE IS A GREAT MYTH about Banff,” says Liz Marjerrison. “The kids who work at smaller resorts, in Muskoka and so on, all think Banff is really wild. They think that, when you get here, somebody puts you on a merry-go-round and whirls you around all summer. I suppose it can be that way if you want it to."

Watson, the hotel manager, does his best to stop the merry-go-round from spinning and the myth of the

merry-go-round from spreading. For instance, he recently suspended George Dyck, the bellhop, for a week — according to Dyck because he was playing records in his room at ! a.m. Matrons, CPR police and occasionally Watson himself roam the student quarters at night. But Watson says. “We are not looking for immorality. If a boy is found in a girl’s room he is told to depart. People ask how we can control these students. We don't have to. There is no immorality that I know of.”

BUT THE REVEREND JOHN TRAVIS, Minister of Banff’s Bundle Memorial United Church, which is about a mile from the hotel, can't go along with that. “The park promotes the idea that this is a place where people can come and study nature,” he says. "Some of them take it a little too literally. The kids who work in Banff have time on their hands at night. A number of the girls get pregnant every year. There is a great deal of drinking at the hotel. (Understand, I take a drink myself.) I had a girl come to me recently who was about ready to go home. The girls she was rooming with had been drinking steadily for six nights. We were able to offer her an alternative to their company.” Travis’s alternative is The Unsquare Cellar, which is about as swinging a coffee house as you can get in a church basement. Patrons / continued overleaf

They wash windows, tote trays —but the bellhops get the prettiest girls

continued of the place smoke (one of Travis's liberal student ministers even suggested putting in a cigarette machine), dance, watch movies, listen to Aardvark and the Slobs, drink exotic coffees and teas. eat. talk, sing and swing in a candles-and-fishnel setting.

"I'm not trying to get them upstairs." says Travis, whose church is going to be discussed in a forthcoming book. Churches Where the Action Is, and whose methods have upset the United Church Establishment. “The fact that the place is on church premises gets across my message, that the church cares.

AS TRAVIS SUES it. immorality at Banff is aggravated by housing conditions. Student quarters at the hotel are drab and cramped: in town they are appalling. I .ast year there w as one place in tow n where 40 students shared one bathroom. There is a saying in Banff, "Give a householder an inch, and he'll rent it." But preferably not to students. “You can't blame people for not renting to summer help because we have had a lot of trouble with parties and disturbances," says a woman who rents rooms to tourists. East year 20 students who couldn't find rooms took to living in tree houses and lean-tos made of spruce boughs and cardboard cartons on the side of Tunnel Mountain above the Banff School of E'ine Arts. They were chased out by the Mounties and a couple of them were charged with vagrancy. John Howse says he has been in a room with two beds where two male

students and a waitress lived. "Some nights she slept with one guy, some nights with the other."

It is a truism that most young people don’t especially care about inconvenience and discomfort. George Dyck says he goes to Banff every summer to see his pals. "We form a more exclusive group every year," he says. Dennis Trudeau, an 1 8-yearold houseman from Ottawa, whose first assignment was to vacuum-clean a buffalo head in the lobby, says he went for the fun of it. and for the free train trip (on a CPR pass) across the country. Beverly Rand, a 21-year-old curio-shop saleslady from Nova Scotia, says most of the students resent the working part of their summers at the hotel. "A lot of them get cheesed off and leave when they get much work to do.” she says. Watson, the manager, says that the number of students who are tired is "infinitesimal." But the turnover last year wats 500 out of 800. according to one CPR spokesman. A growing trend among the students is to drift from one resort job to another. "It’s more fun to move around," says a dishwasher. “Doing one thing all summer is a drag.”

THE SU DEN! SCENE at Banff has been going on since the 1920s. CPR public-relations people like to point out that, in 1929, a young assistant manager of the Banff Springs Hotel met and married a home-economics student from the University of Manitoba who was working as a waitress there. R. M. Devell went on to become manager of Banff

Springs, the Palliser in Calgary and the Royal Alexandra in Winnipeg. Eater this year he’ll retire, still happily married. Marriages at Banff are among all those things that don’t change. I his summer, a waitress married a wine-service waiter.

To Gus Baracos, who has been standing near the cash register in his main street Banff Café most days since 1936, the college students who come and go each summer can be assessed as vintages, like Greek wine. And the trouble with the current vintage, as (ius sees it, is that it has too much hair and not enough manners.

"WE HAD A WAITRESS in here who was neat enough for the first few days," he says. “Then she let her hair down and it got in the soup, and we had to let her go. Another time a girl came in and said to me, ‘Hey you. you need a cashier?' I said. Hey you. you see the door?’ " And, because he is Greek and a bit of a philosopher, Gus says. “The students today have lost the grand ideas and the beautiful things."

But patrons of the Banff Springs Hotel don't think so. The nice old lady from Missoula. Montana. who gets hot consommé spilled on her tennis shoes doesn't take it out on the waitress, who is an English major from McMaster who doesn't, at the beginning of the season, know a daiquiri from a dinner roll. Perfectly all right, dear, says the nice old lady. After all. a college student. And such a lovely smile! ★