Last morning in Banff

May 15, 2011 • 12:45 pm

I’ll be sad to leave for Chicago tomorrow morning, as there is so much to see, and so much natural beauty, in this region of the Canadian Rockies. The weather was perfect this morning, and I abandoned science to take a long walk. I decided to visit the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel, one of the world’s most famous hotels—I’m sure you’ve seen a photo—in one of the world’s most famous settings.  I couldn’t get a good overall view of the place, so here’s one from a website:

It’s a giant stone chateau-like structure, very appealing to the eye.  And it’s as gorgeous inside as out.  It was built in 1887-1888 by the Canadian Pacific Railway to lure tourists to this lovely but remote part of the country.   A newer hotel, the present one, was built in 1911, designed by American architect Walter Painter. The whole place is evocative of old-time luxury, as if you’re back in the 1920s.  Here’s the lobby: And a corridor: The hotel concierge was very gracious in drawing me a map of the public areas that are worth seeing. Here are some of them.  This one appears to have held church services this a.m.; the windows to the left have an amazing view of the mountains (see below):

This is the lounge bar:


There’s a small room with old photos and memorabilia from this historic hotel. Here’s a lunch menu from July 28, 1939.  Look at all that food you could get for $1.50!  (Click to enlarge.)

And Marilyn Monroe playing on the hotel links. She appears to have injured her ankle:

The hotel pool (outdoor hot springs are within walking distance):

The symbol of the old owner (it’s now owned by Fairmont rather than Canadian Pacific):

The view from the terrace. What a place to have a drink!

On the walk back you can descend to the Bow River, which the hotel overlooks, and see the Bow Falls. This is the hotel from the river side (east):

And the falls:

And I saw what looks to be a skinny marmot (I’m sure one of my readers will inform me that I’ve got the wrong mammal):

Of course I needed a treat after this arduous walk, and so repaired to Welch’s Candy Shop on Banff Avenue to pick up a few nostalgic goodies.  Here’s their window, full of hard candies:

And my haul: Blackpool (not Brighton) rock, horehound twist, dark and vegetal, and molasses sponge, which we used to call “fairy food” when I was a kid.

If you’re a Brit, you’ll know “rock,” a hard cylinder of peppermint candy traditionally sold at seaside resorts. Its distinguishing feature is that it has words on it, and they go through the entire stick of candy:

Making this stuff is not easy, especially getting the letters to extend throughout the entire candy. The whole process is described here.

48 thoughts on “Last morning in Banff

  1. According to a money value calculator (pick a number!) $1.50 in 1939 would equate to about $23 today.

    A buffet lunch of that caliber in a luxury hotel would run about twenty bucks (or loons) as a reasonable estimate.

      1. Really? I think it sounds delicious, and includes curry and chutney and something called “Vegetable Marrow, Creole”…

        But then I’m a sucker for Eggs Florentine and cod in any preparation, especially in a nice hotel dining room. Evocative…I can almost taste it…

        Hm. Perhaps I should have some dinner.


        (Lovely pictures, by the way.)

    1. Indeed. The Globe and Mail reports:

      Marilyn Monroe travelled to the Canadian Rockies in August 1953 to film and injured her ankle while shooting a scene in a river. John Vachon, a Look magazine photographer, took about 200 photos of the actress as she recovered at the Banff Springs Hotel and toured the town.

      You can see some pictures here.

      1. Marilyn’s grip and posture on the tee look a little suspect, but I’m sure she more than compensated with a spectacular hip-turn.

  2. Naw, that’s a marmot all right. You’d look skinny too if you’d just slept all winter. Largest of the true hibernators iirc.

    1. It think it’s a hoary marmot, (Marmota caligata), and thus not a groundhog or woodchuck (Marmota monax), which is the common marmot of most of Canada and the eastern US. Marmots, it’s always fun to recall, are fat squirrels with short tails that live underground.

      1. Bernard Grossman (below, # 10) may well be right. Marmots are much bigger than ground squirrels, but there’s not much for scale in the picture that I can use. Columbian ground squirrels do have a reddish patch on the snout, as does Jerry’s friend.

  3. Great pictures. Indeed, a beautiful place with a funny name.

    That animal looks like a marmot to me, but then I didn’t know the difference between a marmot and a groundhog till today. These mammals look all alike…

  4. Identification depends upon location, but I suspect that you have a picture of a Columbian Ground Squirrel, a very common rodent at lower elevations of the Canadian Rockies. Hoary Marmots are found only at higher altitudes such as Snowbird Pass in Mt. Robson Prov. Park in BC, the top of Whistlers Mountain outside of Jasper townsite, and the Skyline Trail in Jasper NP. We have seen them at all three places. BTW, a groundhog is a marmot. Check out the book “Squirrels of the West.”

    1. I agree. It’s almost certainly a Columbia Ground Squirrel – as you say very common. I’ve been living here thirty years and have only seen a handful of marmots (there’s a regular on the top of Moose Mountain), but on a warm spring day I run over half a dozen ground squirrels just driving to town.

      Squished ground squirrel is a sure sign of spring, they are impossible to avoid.

      And who could forget the famous scene stealing squirrel from Banff

      1. Definitely a Columbian ground squirrel. Look at the sizes of the cones lying around – that isn’t a very big animal. Marmots are really massive in comparison.

    2. I have to agree with Columbia ground squirrel. They are very common ’round here, and known locally as gophers (though they are not in fact gophers). I’ve seen plenty of hoary marmots too, and not only are they larger, but they tend to be darker as well. Marmots are also less likely to be seen near the town, preferring higher elevations (like the one that lived under a fire lookout and chewed the rubber hand grips and saddle off my mountain bike when I did a bike-and-hike up a mountain one day).


  5. The architecture is really interesting. We must remember that these places were built to be destinations for tourists utilizing the railroad, so the hotels had to first class. But how to make them distinct compared to the finest of Europe and the big cities as well as the equivalent of comfort and grandeur of the modern and urban big name hotels?

    A bit of background for those who may be unaware:

    The federal government of Canada was a very active participant of the building of the national railway and huge financier of the Canadian Pacific Railroad (to thwart American expansion northwards in the west). Under this cozy arrangement the CPR grew to become a global transportation network and boasted that one could travel first class from London to Bangkok on the CPR’s trains and ships and later planes. One of the founders of the CPR consortium hired a general manager (American) named William Van Horne who was the person who decided to build a hotel at Banff Springs to attract visitors to help pay for the ever-expanding railroad company. The architect of the hotel (and others like it) was actually Bruce Price (Painter designed a latter wing and tower) who used the same architectural guidelines of the Canadian government (identifying custom houses, post offices, and border crossing tariff buildings) for all federal buildings (that intentionally combines British and French architecture) into what is now called the Canadian Chateau style.

    These grand hotels with their distinct steep hipped roofs, pointed dormers, turrets, bay windows, and balconies, identify them to be CPR hotels and are now landmarks of many cities. Quebec City’s Chateau Frontenac and Victoria’s Empress Hotel are but two of the more famous ones but you see the same architecture in our federal government’s parliament buildings.

    We can thank Van Horne for convincing Prime Minister Sir John A. MacDonald and his wife Agnes to take a train ride through this stunning geography to better promote his first hand enthusiasm for a national park at the site. Hence, we now have Banff National Park (severely curtailing any development in the area) where you are not allowed to shoot the visitors except by camera – foreign or local – but only feed the paying ones.

    The role of the railway in the formation of Canada and its western expansion cannot be understated. Nor can the effect of particular individuals in positions of political power who came into contact with this stunning topography. I very much like the following story, with your indulgence, which I think may reveal the kind of national character most Canadians share but have such difficulty explaining to guests.

    Long before he was Prime Minister, Jean Chretien (the little guy from Shawanigan he always called himself) was working some of the more challenging government portfolios:

    “One of the moments that gave me the greatest pleasure was flying over the beautiful fjords… on Baffin Island. I was like a kid. I’d been there a few times before and had to tell everybody on the plane, Look, look, you have to see this. I sat down next to my wife and I said, You love it, eh? She said it was beautiful. I said, I will make it a national park for you. On Monday I went to my office and I consulted with the Minister of Indian Affairs, who was me. Then I consulted with the Minister of Northern Affairs, who was me. I then consulted with the Minister of Parks, who was me. And I took my pen, signed an agreement, and created a national park.”

    1. Wonderful contribution, tildeb, thank you very much! I’ve seen the Quebec City, Victoria, and Banff hotels and followed a bit of the CPR path from BC to the Rockies; absolutely love the lore of the land up there.

  6. Fascinating the labor-intensive way Blackpool Rock is made. I wouldda thought it was some sort of extrusion process.

          1. Being Brits of the inter-bellum generation, my parents were George Formby fans. I grew up listening to an album that had that song on it. It was only much later that the double entendre occurred to me….

  7. I hope you had a chance to go see the incredible shrinking Athabasca glacier nearby. The retreat of the glacier is astounding.

    1. Nearby is relative. It’s 175km away, or about a 4:30 hour round trip drive at the speed limit.

      1. I remember taking the trip to Alberta several years ago and hadn’t remembered it being that far. Of course we did add on some pleasure trips to my visit to Edmonton…

  8. “The weather was perfect this morning, and I abandoned science to take a long walk”.

    I find long walks are the great for doing science. Today on my walk I spotted a red-shouldered hawk hanging like a bat (upside down) from a tree. I thought that unusual, so I waited 15 minutes and sure enough he dropped at my feet. He seemed to have a head injury so I brought him home and called the rescue vet. They picked him up and took him to the clinic. As the rescue ladies were leaving one said “Pray for him”. I pointed at the “ATHEIST” on my sweatshirt and replied “I don’t think so”.

    All in all an interesting walk, with a little amateur ornithology too.

    1. It’s a good thing you found that hawk, then, and not the good church-goers so he could receive actual medical attention instead of utterly ineffective prayers. I hereby dub you WEIT’s Animal Rescue Hero of the Day!

      And Jerry– thanks for posting *awesome* photos! It’s so fun to travel vicariously with you!

    2. My kind of walk, though preferably w/o animals in trouble. Would you please put further updates on the hawk’s progress here if you get any?

      1. I called today, 24 hours after I found him. They said they put something in an IV to reduce brain swelling yesterday. Today he was up on both feet and they were able to get some raptor gruel into him. He won’t be off “critical condition” though for at least 2 days. Also they were worried about blood in his poop, but I’m still optimistic.

        The vet told me that red-shoulders have developed the habit of hanging out by bird feeders because they attract songbirds that they enjoy eating. I think they’re just adapting to their environment…

        1. You sure found the right vet! “Raptor gruel”–puree of mousies? 🙂

          Have yet to see a red-shouldered–wish one would show up at my feeders. Could give my Cooper’s-es (! how d’ya make that plural?) a run for their money.

          Great news, btw. Thanks.

    3. Just heard from the clinic…the hawk (they’re pretty sure it’s a she) is doing much better. She’s hopping around and they were able to feed her Japanese quail with bones today. They are hoping to release her in 2 to 3 weeks. I am so happy, I thought she was a goner (must be all that praying the one lady was doing ;).

  9. Oh, it’s too bad you couldn’t have peeked in at the salt-water pool and spa…gorgeous and blissful…

  10. I remember that hotel from a computer game called Links386 going back to 1996. On the 14th hole you get a great look at the hotel. It’s an old game but it looks just like these pictures.

  11. Very nice pictures! I was at a writer’s workshop at the Banff Art Centre several years ago, and often caught glimpses of the hotel up the mountain. I’d have to say, though, that if I went to Banff again, I’d probably choose the Arts Centre again, just because it’s so open (and because I’d probably be doing the workshop again – but only if Robert Sawyer’s still teaching, and I can get my thumbs out of my butt and get back into writing…).

    First time I’d ever seen bear-proof garbage bins (hardly appropriate to call something that reinforced a “can”). And all the signs warning against approaching the elks. Very much a city boy; our largest wildlife here in Ottawa is usually the groundhogs grazing on the verge.

  12. I’ve seen most of the major mountain ranges of the world, excepting the Andes, and I think the Canadian Rockies are right up there with any other (from a scenic standpoint). Wonderful piece of the world!

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