Heritage Tourism of the Canadian Rockies
When two Canadian Pacific Railway employees looking for gold stumbled onto Banff's Cave and Basin natural hot springs in 1883, they triggered a chain of events that led to the establishment of Canada's first national park in 1885. This unique protected place was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site on its 100th anniversary.
The 6,641 square kilometre (2,564 mile) park retains the spirit and wonder that greeted explorers, mountain climbers and adventurers when they came to the Canadian Rockies from around the world more than 100 years ago. Banff National Park is home to a bounty of historic sites and buildings, including seven officially designated National Historic Sites.
The Banff Park Museum, in a spectacular log building that dates from 1903, is a treasure trove of the past. Its exhibits reflect the style of museum interpretation from around 1914. It was constructed on Banff Avenue next to the Bow River as a showpiece for the Park and its distinctive “railway pagoda” appearance made it an instant local landmark.
The Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies is a superb gateway for experiencing and enjoying the art, culture and history of Banff and the Canadian Rockies. The Museum's collection includes seven heritage homes including the Peter and Catharine Whyte home, and the Peyto and Sinclair cabins. The museum is located at 111 Bear Street in Banff townsite.
The Jasper Information Centre was built in 1913-14 and was intended to serve as a landmark and focal point for the town, and has served over the years as an administrative headquarters and living quarters for the park superintendent. The building survives as one of the finest examples of rustic design, utilizing locally quarried stone and timber.
Yoho National Park is home to the Spiral Tunnels, an engineering marvel opened in 1909 on the steep grade that climbs up the B.C. side to Kicking Horse Pass. The route called for two tunnels driven in three-quarter circles into the valley walls, reducing the gradient to 2.2 percent. Today 25 to 30 trains pass through the spiral tunnels each day, and visitors pause along the Trans Canada highway to watch.
Other great pieces of the park's early railway days include the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, first opened in 1888, and the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, parts of which date from 1913. Both are popular places to wander and soak in the amazing history.