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Banff National Park

Banff National Park

Published: 08/15/2010 by Andrea Tombrowski

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Banff National Park has a rich history. Earliest evidence of human occupation is recorded between 11,000-11,500 BC on the shores of the Vermilion Lakes and the man-made lake, Lake Minnewanka. In 1750 AD, three Indian tribes used the passes of the Rocky Mountains for hunting and fishing. The Cree, Kootenay and Plains Blackfoot tribes lived peacefully with continual trade amongst them. The arrival of the first Europeans in that same century, however, brought war and diseases to the area. The consequential introduction of smallpox decimated three-fifths of the Aboriginal tribes.

In 1879, the Conservative government of John A. Macdonald introduced the National Policy. The policy was comprised of three parts: (1) the building of a transcontinental railway – the Canadian Pacific Railway; (2) a strong immigration policy to bring more people into the West; and (3) high tariffs to protect Canada’s emerging industry.

The railway’s construction reached the Banff area in 1883. During the construction, three railway workers discovered a series of natural hot springs at the foot of Sulphur Mountain. The discovery was significant and led the way to the area becoming the major tourist attraction that it is today.

In 1885, recognizing the importance of the springs, the federal government established a 26 km2 reserve around the springs. The reserve would peak at 7,125 km2 in 1917 and finally become fixed at 6,641 km2 in 1930. That same year, “Rocky Mountains Park” was renamed “Banff National Park.”

In 1984, the “Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks” was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. The mountain parks consist of Banff, Jasper, Kootenay and Yoho national parks and Mount Robson, Mount Assiniboine and Hamber provincial parks. The seven parks “exemplify the outstanding physical features of the Rocky Mountain Biogeographical Province. Classic illustrations of glacial geological processes — including icefields, remnant valley glaciers, canyons and exceptional examples of erosion and deposition — are found throughout the area.” (UNESCO)

On January 1st, 1990, the Town of Banff was incorporated, becoming Canada’s only incorporated municipality within a national park. Banff is the highest town in Canada, sitting at an elevation of 1,383 metres. According to a 2007 municipal census, its population was 8, 721.

Here are some other interesting facts you may not have known about the Banff National Park and the Town of Banff:

  • The park has more than 1,000 glaciers;
  • Banff’s boundaries are fixed by federal law;
  • Banff has a population ceiling of 10,000 residents;
  • Banff National Park was Canada’s first national park and the third park anywhere in the world;
  • 53 species of mammals call the park their home;
  • The thermal hot springs is home to 193 species of plants, including eight species of orchids and three species of rare plants.

Oh, and where does the name “Banff” come from? Most of the key political and financial players involved in the construction of the CPR were Scottish. In 1883, John MacTavish suggested the name Banff, named after a Scottish town and county.  


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