Out of the 4.5 million annual visitors to Banff National Park, how many, do you think, actually know the history of how the park began? I'm willing to bet very few. That's why a visit to Banff's Cave & Basin National Historic Site is a must! Banff is located 128km west of Calgary along the Trans-Canada Highway. The Cave & Basin is located within the town of Banff, so access is very easy.
William McCardell, his brother Tom, and their partner Frank McCabe, all of whom were Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) workers, were the first Europeans to "discover" the Cave & Basin. Considering the archaeological evidence of human habitation in the Bow Valley dates back 10,000 years, and First Nation stories exist about the cave and its warm waters, we know that these three CPR workers were not the first to discover these thermal springs. But they were the first to realize the potential profit flowing in the mineral water, so they erected a fence around the cave and built a cabin near its entrance. Unknowingly, they created the first crude boundaries for Canada's national park.
"...like some fantastic dream from a tale of the Arabian Nights."
That was how William McCardell described the mist-filled cave they discovered on the slopes of Sulphur Mountain in the fall of 1883.
|A Don Frache mural depicting the CPR workers discovery of the cave|
The three CPR workers laid claim to the hot springs by writing to the Government of Canada. The government, also recognizing the potential the medicinal waters had, and needing to raise funds for the railroad denied their claim. The dispute turned into a legal battle over ownership, but eventually the government solved the dispute by creating the 26 square-kilometre Hot Spring Reserve in 1885. In 1887 the Hot Springs Reserve was expanded to encompass 665 square-kilometres and officially became Rocky Mountains National Park; the first national park in Canada. It eventually became Banff National Park through the National Parks Act of 1930. In addition to this flagship park, Canada currently has 43 national parks, 167 historic sites, 43 marine parks, 1 national urban park, and the largest system of protected places in the world.
"The parks are hereby dedicated to the people of Canada for their benefit, education, and enjoyment...and such parks shall be maintained and made use of so as to remain unimpaired for future generations."
-Natonal Parks Act, 1930
Please not that I visited the Cave & Basin in early 2008. The Cave & Basin National Historic Site went through a major three-year renovation project, but has since reopened in 2013. Some of the photos below may be outdated due to the changes made at the site.
|Cave & Basin Interpretive Centre|
|A thermal spring outside the Interpretive Centre|
|A thermal pool|
|First discovered entrance to the cave by the CPR workers|
|The marshy wetlands that surround the area|
|Tunnel leading to the cave|
|Thermal pool inside the main chamber|
|The first discovered entrance as viewed from inside the cave|
|Elk in the town of Banff|
|Spotted these guys on my drive back from the Cave & Basin|