What to see - part 1

part 1 Banff Grand Hotel - the CPR - Lake Louise - Icefields - Canmore
  Calgary Heritage Park
part 2 Edmonton Edmonton - Stony Plains - Mall - Aurora Borealis
    from Edmonton to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
  other pages Alberta : overview and history | other provinces | articles

~ ~ ~ ~


Banff National Park

Extensive road works between British Columbia and Alberta bring the busy and formerly two-lane Trans Canada Highway 1 up to four lanes, but unfortunately, this also means that traffic runs for miles through a veritable construction wharf... The majestic landscape of British Columbia continues in the area around Banff, which for the most part consists of a National Park.

In Banff, we selected the Banff National Park campground. Actually, there isn't that much choice, since there are no private campgrounds in the area. Almost the entire surface is part of the National Park, including the entire city of Banff itself !

But camping in a national park does have its advantages. We received an unexpected visit from a deer, that was quietly grazing at our doorstep ! A moment later its "husband" arrived, and then they peacefully walked away together...

Banff National Park 1
Banff National Park 2 Banff National Park 3

Grand Hotel

On the way to Banff City, a first photo stop is made at the Banff Grand Hotel. This is a large hotel, beautifully located between picturesque mountains ! In 1888, it was built by the ubiquitous CPR (Canadian Pacific Railroad), to promote local tourism, and (of course) at the same time their new railroad... To achieve this object, the government kindly granted them a kind gift or some fifty acres, free of charge... The hotel burned down in 1926, but a few years later it rose as a phoenix from the ashes.

Banff : Grand hotel Banff National Park 4

The Canadian Pacific Railroad

The CPR or Canadian Pacific Railroad is depicted in about every official documentation as the poor souls, who were mightily trying to make profitable the enormous investment of a railway across Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia.

Conveniently, the fact is often omitted that the CPR was paid to the last cent by the federal government for this job, and that the construction of this railway was in fact the political prerequisite for these provinces to join the Canadian Federation...

Which means that basically, the Canadian "John Smith" footed the entire bill, and the enormous profits were later very neighborly split up between "the high and mighty"... Which is not so uncommon after all, and we happen to have a nice and recent similar example with the Belgian Telenet...

Banff City

Banff City is a very busy and very touristic city. It lies entirely within the National Park with the same name.

Which also means that nobody can buy any land, and that all shops and houses are located on land that is leased from the government !

Along the once so charming streets you'll see nothing but smaller, but chic and expensive shops, and the city has lost some of its formerly so picturesque character. Compare a photograph from 1982 with one from 2007...

Banff city 1
Banff city 1982 Banff city 2007

Lake Louise - the Icefields

In the neighborhood some more interesting attractions can be found, such as the picturesque Lake Louise.

Then of course there are also the Icefields and the Icefield Parkway, which is a continuously frozen surface, located at the foot of several glaciers.

Lake Louise


The city of Canmore began its history in 1880, when prospectors discovered large coal deposits along the railroad. The CPR was immediately very interested, and very unselfishly helped develop several coal mines. At the same time, they also scooped up all the local revenue from the traffic, but that was merely a side effect... Canmore became a typical mining town, and coal was Big Business. At least until 1914, when oil was discovered in the region, which meant the end of the coal mines.

The two World Wars "helped" the local economy a little bit, but inevitably, in 1970 it was the end. Now, both Banff and Canmore live mainly from tourism, which means that everything is almost twenty percent more expensive than in Calgary, which is one hundred kilometers away...


from Banff to Calgary

The distance from Banff to Calgary is about 125 kilometers, but this highway is excellent and has four lanes. Although it is located in the foothills of the Rockies, there are long straight stretches (a happy exception...), and very gradual slopes. We swiftly climbed the last mountain, which is Scott Lake Hill with an altitude of 1,443 meters, but this was merely a hill, compared to the previous climbs... Some thirty kilometers before Calgary, the landscape changes. After the "Swiss" mountains and valleys, farms start appearing, with large fields and lots of cattle.

In Calgary's outskirts, long rows of small houses are built right into the hills, which isn't really an attractive sight. Highway 1 runs smack through the city, and it is plagued by major traffic works. On top of this, approximately every 300 meters there are traffic lights... As a matter of fact, the entire city of Calgary is rather seriously affected by many road and infrastructure constructions, which explains the heavy traffic. The reason for the many concurrent works, across the whole province, seems to lie in the recent and large oil discoveries. In a relatively short lapse of time so much extra money has become available, that there doesn't seem to be an end in sight. And all politicians love to spend money on large (and expensive...) public constructions...

The Mountain View Farm Campground is probably the best of Calgary's few campgrounds. Despite its pretty name, not much of a "Mountain View" can be discovered, but instead one gets a perfect panorama of a messy "Dump View"... Remarkable however, is the fact that this campground is almost fully occupied by"permanent" RV customers. In Alberta, the large influx of immigrants created a major housing problem, and it is entirely related to the recent oil discoveries. There are simply too few houses for all these people, despite extensive construction. Many workers have therefore temporarily taken refuge in a campground, with an RV. And since there is more demand than supply, there is no reason for the owners to modernize or even maintain their campgrounds...

Heritage Park

Calgary's Heritage Park is an open-air museum. It started in 1964 as a private initiative, to preserve the old Calgary character for future generations. Afterwards, the province took over this task, and the whole initiative developed into a very worthwhile affair.

They started by bringing twelve old buildings over from the city, and then gradually more houses were bought (or received), often complete with furniture. By now there are more than 150 old houses on display ! The houses were carefully restored, and many ancient crafts were housed in them. The park includes a candy shop, bakery, printer, dentist, hotel, livery stable, and even a church from the 1900's !

Many volunteers walk around in authentic costumes, and they are eager to provide explanations. The park also contains a children's playground and a real steam train, which runs all the way around the park. Obviously, it is the place to go to, and to shoot some beautiful pictures. Although we've seen several reconstructions of the 1900's during our exploration trips , this park is certainly interesting and deserving !

Calgary : Heritage Park 1 Calgary : Heritage Park 2
Calgary : Heritage Park 3 Calgary : Heritage Park 4
** Continue reading with Things to See - part 2 **