Being the historian and nerd that I am, of course I sought out some way to learn more of the history of Banff. I’ve already been to the Banff Museum and I wanted to find more of the organic history of the town. While I am not overly interested in Canadian history (far too new for me), I do find the history of mountain and railroad towns quite fascinating- the elite classes of these towns led interesting and complicated lives that are often swept up into the history of the railroad and the mines. So, one afternoon we set out to learn a little more about Banff!
I found a self-guided tour centred around the Old Banff Cemetery- many of the prominent families lived in the few surrounding kilometres. (I’m really curious to know if living close to a cemetery is normal or not, I may have to put some feelers out to the Western Canadian historians that I know!) Banffmaps.ca has a few different walks, so if you are at all interested in partaking while you are in Banff, I would highly recommend it! (Trips to Banff can be expensive but these walks are totally free and help you see more of the town.)
St George’s-in-the-Pines Anglican Church and The Park Superintendent Residence
Started in 1889, this church was finished in 1926 and is currently the oldest remaining church in the town! It’s the first stop on the walk, and a quick dart in from the main strip. It’s fairly unassuming, and you wouldn’t necessarily know that it’s as old as it is just from looking at it. We had the dogs with us so I didn’t stop by at all but I would be curious to see what’s happening inside! Sad news, you can’t actually see the Park Superintendent Residence as it is a private home now and quite covered by the gate, fence, and trees. A little disappointing but the tiny sliver I did see seemed pretty cool!
Transformer Substation Building
Sure, it sounds boring but it’s actually a cool little building. It’s now 112 years old and still looks to be in pretty good shape. According to Banffmaps.ca, it “is one of Banff’s finest examples of industrial architecture. It features Italianate details such as the raised pilasters and curved door and window surrounds.” I was shocked to see that there was actually very little graffiti- maybe I am cynical, but with all of the travel I’ve done now, I know that people will carve/ paint/ draw on just about anything…
Old Banff Cemetery
We didn’t actually go in (no dogs allowed) but I was somewhat surprised by how well-kept the cemetery was. I’m guessing that people must still be buried here because someone is cutting the grass/ planting flowers / doing general yardwork! What surprised me is the little shed- it was very reminiscent of the smaller buildings I saw in Ireland and the UK. If you had more time to wander about, I would say you could get some fantastic pictures!
Only one and a half stories high, this was a simple cottage for a prominent businessman. Interestingly, this cottage predates Buffalo Street (90% of this walk talks place on Buffalo Street)! It passed through several different owners but now is apparently owned by Wilder and Davis Luthiers, and serves as a workshop “for the crafting and repair of fine stringed instruments” (according to the info panel outside the cottage). It’s interesting to think that as remote as Banff is, the first houses and dwellings were far more isolated than we think of now!
Norman Sanson Home
And finally, the Norman Sanson Home! This is the last stop of this walk, and is an interesting house! Norman Sanson originally came west to stop the Northwest Rebellion and ended up becoming the curator of the first Banff Park Museum. (As a taxidermist, he collected and stuffed many of the animals in the Museum that are there today.) This is owned by a local family, and I think that it would be a lovely place to live as you are close to everything but still tucked away for some peace and quiet!
I found this walk a little short- in the future I would probably link up two or three of them for a good hour long walk, but it was an easy, free, and interesting way to get to know local history. Banff is known for being “Instagrammable” but there is a lot of history and culture that people tend to forget about!
What are your favourite free things to do when you travel?