Great Canadian Parks / Alberta

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The Parks / Alberta / Banff National Park

Excavations in the Vermilion Lakes area around Banff have uncovered traces of human habitation in the Bow Valley dating back at least 11 000 years. Stoney, Kootenay, and Blackfoot natives roamed the region at the time George Simpson, governor of Rupert's Land for the Hudson's Bay Company, was led into the area by a native guide in 1841. Trappers and fur traders soon followed. The Canadian Pacific Railway reached Banff in 1883,and it was the railway workers who stumbled upon the soothing waters of the Cave and Basin Springs - long a sacred place of peace to the Kootenay people. The workers' efforts to exploit the cave by registering a claim to the springs ended when the site was appropriated for a reserve by the Canadian government. For several years, access to the spring was possible only by climbing down a tree ladder, a most hazardous method used by many distinguished visitors, including the Prince of Wales. Creation of the Hot Springs Reserve in 1885, and the Rocky Mountain Park two years later would lead to the establishment of Canada's first national park and the world's third.

The railway, in need of a cheap, reliable coal supply, established the Bankhead Mine in 1903 and coal and electricity production served the railway and the ever-growing town of Banff until labour disputes and an unstable market in the 1920's led to the shutdown of the mine. Today the story of the people of Bankhead is part of Banff's rich cultural history.

The Rockies have long inspired the greatest of mountain climbers to accept their challenge. In 1920, James Outram held the record for first ascents, Conrad Kain scaled Mount Louis in 1916 - a touchstone for climbing excellence, and Lawrence Grassi, one of the greatest guides, is still unmatched for the quality and quantity of his trailwork

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