Soaking up the History of the Rockies

Sep 13, 2013
We’re not history teachers, although few are aware that the birthplace of the National Parks system within Canada originated in what is Banff today, with the discovery of thermal mineral springs in the late 19th Century. Below, we explore some of the famous historical sites of the Canadian Rockies.

The Cave and Basin National Historic Site of Canada may have been closed until May this year; however, there is no mistaking how much this hole in the ground inadvertently contributed to the development of National Parks within Canada at that time. Joe Healy first found the Cave and Basin site in 1874, however it was not until 1883, when three Canadian Pacific Railway workers discovered and recognized the potential for this spot to attract visitors.

The famous picture above shows the depiction of William & Tom McCardell (brothers) and Frank McCabe, climbing down a fallen tree into the hole that would house the thermal springs. Pursuing their desire for fame and fortune, the three workers constructed a small cabin close by to feed the commercialization of the site. As they fought for ownership of the springs, they eventually gained the attention of a young Canadian government and Canadian Pacific Railway. Both parties realized that their discovery could be used as a tourist attraction, a central focal point of western settlement. With their involvement, disputes and debate ensued that lead the government to proclaim in 1885 that the springs belong to ‘the people of Canada’ as part of the country’s first national park, Banff National Park.

From this declaration, Banff National Park initially served the affluent and the wealthy as a resort spa, with the growing popularity of the springs leading to expansion to what it is today. With increased human activity and development the Cave & Basin closed to protect the rare plants and endangered species that inhabit the site – specifically the Physella johnsoni, also known as the Banff springs snail.

The expansion of the national park lead to the birth of other facilities in the surrounding areas.

Banff Upper Hot Springs, Banff, AB

A short walk from the base of the Banff Gondola is the Banff Upper Hot Springs, a popular tourist attraction built in 1932 after construction of other similar facilities were burnt down (twice) in 1901 and 1931. While these hot springs have been modified over time, as recently as 1995 it saw the interior restored to its’ original 1932 appearance with modern amenities and services including massages, spa treatments and snacks.

Radium Hot Springs, Radium, BC

First discovered in 1841, Radium Hot Springs in Kootenay National Park in British Columbia is the country’s largest hot spring pool with the addition of a ‘cooler’ pool at 27°C/84°F.

Miette Hot Springs, Jasper AB 

Accessible only by foot and horseback in the early 20th Century, Miette Hot Springs was reserved for those self-motivated individuals seeking relaxation and seclusion. With the addition of log cabins, and increasing popularity of springs in the area, a purpose built road was constructed with the sole purpose of giving access to the masses. The latest facility is not the original; however, the latter can be accessed on foot for those that want a glimpse into history.

Entry to the hot springs can be included in any existing or customized vacation package. For more information, please speak to one of our vacation planners on 1-877-791-5500 or try our LiveChat function.
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