THINGS TO DO:
Museums & Historic Sites
“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.”
Gazing into a pool of steaming water deep inside Sulphur Mountain in Banff National Park, 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!
Learning how their discovery 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.
Old and Improved
After two years and an extensive rehabilitation, Banff’s Cave and Basin National Historic Site is set to reopen to the public in May. Strolling along new barrier-free accessible walkways, we tour indoor and outdoor exhibits, from giant HD screens 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.
For our grand finale, we drive to the nearby Fairmont Banff Springs, another Rocky Mountain gem, celebrating its 125th anniversary in 2013. Over a scrumptious dinner we toast the hotel, the Cave and Basin, the Canadian Pacific Railway and Canada’s national park system.