Cave and Basin – Origins of Banff National Park

Cave and Basin Origins of Banff National Park


Museums & Historic Sites

Cave and Basin – Origins of Banff National Park

Source: Travel Alberta

Learning how the discovery of hot springs deep inside Sulphur Mountain initiated a chain of events that blossomed into one of Canada’s greatest treasures – the national park system that began with Banff National Park’s creation in 1885 – sends tingles up my spine.

“Shhh,” implores the guide, leading our intimate group by the light of a lantern that casts ghostly shadows on the cavern walls.

“This is where it all began.”

We’re here at the Cave and Basin National Historic Site on an after-hours Lantern Tour. Gazing into a pool of steaming water, I imagine I am one of the three railway labourers who discovered this very cavern back in 1883. What a surprise it must have been!

Old and Improved

The site reopened in 2013 after an extensive rehabilitation. Strolling along new barrier-free accessible walkways, we tour indoor and outdoor exhibits, from giant HD screens showcasing Canada’s network of protected places to the 1914 Bathing Pavilion. Soaking in the ambience, I sense the soothing powers of the public bathing pool that operated here until 1992.

People came from around the world to “take the waters” of the mineral-laden hot springs. Peering up into the cave’s vent hole, I feel transported watching plumes of sulphurous steam billowing into the air, as they have for centuries.

As I stare upward, the only word I can think of to describe the architecture of the 1935 Alcove is “exquisite.” In the Story Hall, I’m stunned to see the original vaulted ceilings newly revealed. As always, I’m impressed by the timeless value of the site where images and artifacts enliven the story of Canada’s national parks, historic sites and marine conservation areas from sea to sea to sea.

First Nations Connections Renewed

I am totally captivated by two giant paintings. Complementing the original mural of the three labourers shinnying down a tree into the cavern is a splendid new work by celebrated Morley artist Roland Rollinmud. The painting illustrates the Stoney Nakoda’s long and deep relationship with this place. His scene of their annual summer pilgrimage to be blessed by and communicate with the spirits brings the room to life.

Outside on the boardwalk, zillions of stars twinkle in the unfettered night sky. I’m already anticipating a daytime saunter around the site’s marshlands to enjoy the wildflowers and do some birdwatching. We’ve also planned a half-day hike from Banff and I’m already looking forward to soaking in the mineral waters at Banff Upper Hot Springs afterwards!

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