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Banff, Alberta (2002)
The Banff Springs Hotel, Banff, AB The Canadian Pacific Railway’s (CPR’s) arrival in Banff was marked in unspectacular fashion. On October 27, 1883, construction crews laid down “Siding No. 29” in the meadows near the foot of Cascade Mountain. But Banff’s modest beginnings as a railway station stop belied its spectacular future.

Three CPR employees discovered hot springs at a cave and basin at the foot of Sulphur Mountain that fall and soon vaulted the area into prominence. William Cornelius Van Horne, CPR railway builder extraordinaire, whose 1884 appointment as CPR vice-president broadened his duties, was eager to capitalize on the touristic appeal of the area. He prevailed upon the federal government to follow the U.S. example. He had the area designated a national park. The federal government passed Order in Council 2197, November 28, 1885, setting aside a 26 km2 (10 mi2) area surrounding the hot springs. This created Canada’s first national park, and the third national park in the world.

An early poster for Banff National ParkAlways one to render homage to his principals and mentors, Van Horne named “Siding 29” Banff, after the birthplace of two of CPR’s founders. CPR’s first president, George Stephen, and his cousin, CPR senior director, Donald A. Smith, were both born in Banffshire, Scotland.

In 1886 surveyor and civil engineer, George Stewart, laid out a town site between the rail line and the Bow River. That winter CPR began excavating the foundation for a new tourist hotel on a promontory overlooking the confluence of the Spray and Bow rivers. CPR commissioned famed Windsor Station architect Bruce Price to design the château-like hotel. The following summer Van Horne stopped by to check on the progress of Price’s masterpiece. To his horror, he noted the kitchen staff would have the best view. And tourists would see the backside of Sulphur Mountain. Van Horne remedied the faux-pas by designing a rotunda with a magnificent view of the rivers and the Bow Valley.

CPR Station, Banff, ABIn 1888 CPR opened its first Banff Springs Hotel. And it moved the station and siding to the new town site location, about a mile westward along the main line. CPR built a twin-structure log station at the new location, where the current station and grounds are today. By 1910, when CPR started unabashedly referring to the Canadian Rockies as the Canadian Pacific Rockies in their advertising literature, the log station had run its course. With some 2100 visitors a week during peek summer periods now visiting Banff, the resort and national park gateway to tourists needed expanding. So CPR commissioned J. McDiarmid & Company of Winnipeg in 1910 to build the stucco and river stone structure you see there today. The building served as CPR’s station until Via Rail Canada took over national passenger service in the late 1970s.

A combination of fires and more tourists saw Banff Springs Hotel rebuilt and expanded in 1911, 1914, 1926 and 1928.

CPR PosterThe Trans-Canada Highway opened up in 1962, nearly paralleling the CPR line. This was the beginning of the end of Banff’s importance as a railway tourist stop. But the rise of automobile, bus and recreational vehicle travel boosted Banff’s importance as a tourist Mecca. Banff now sees 4.5 million visitors a year.

In the early 1970s, the express/baggage section in the northeastern end of the station was converted to a railway theme restaurant called The Caboose.

Via Rail halted transcontinental passenger service through Banff in 1990. The building was declared a heritage railway station the following year in November 1991.

The CPR station still serves today as a railway depot for the Rocky Mountaineer cruise train and is sometimes a stop for CPR’s retro luxury cruise train — the Royal Canadian Pacific.

 
    © 2006 The Canadian Railway Hall of Fame. All registered trademarks are the property of their respective owners.