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Published: August 27th 2019
Issy and I walk into the middle of Banff to stock up on supplies. We’re finding it a bit hard to ignore the warning signs about bears, and the need to stock up on bear spray and to do a short course on how to use it before we go anywhere. We were very worried about Emma getting eaten by a bear when she first moved here and was living in a small remote community up in the Rockies. We warned her constantly to be very careful and to take all necessary precautions. We assume she’ll have some bear spray that we can use, but she tells us that she’s never bothered to buy any. This is yet further evidence, if any was needed, that children never listen to their parents. We ask her how bear spray is supposed to be used. She says she’s got no idea, but she assumes you just spray it at the bear and then run away. It doesn’t sound like you need to have done a course to have figured this out, but I suppose it might still work.
We drive down to the Bow River which runs through the town and walk along
its banks past the torrential Bow Falls. The scenery is spectacular, and we’re completely surrounded by sheer rocky peaks towering above thick pine forests.
We pass the apparently legendary Banff Springs Hotel which is now run by the Fairmont Hotel Group. The original hotel was opened in 1888 by the Canadian Pacific Railway, but it’s apparently undergone quite a few transformations since. The current structure is designated as a “National Historic Site of Canada” and looks like a giant French Chateau. The people who hand out the hotel stars in Canada must be tough markers; it only gets four, which gets us wondering what you’ve got to do to get five.
Michael returns from his interview, and he, Emma and I leave Issy to sleep off her jet lag while we head off to the Sulphur Mountain gondola. This takes us up over the pine forest to the mountain’s 2,450 metre peak. The views from the gondola and the peak over Banff and the Bow Valley are beyond stunning. There’s a four storey structure at the top of the gondola with viewing platforms, restaurants, a theatrette, displays about the area, and gift shops. The air seems very refined
up here, and it’s not the only thing; there’s a string quartet playing on the top floor and they’re being professionally filmed and recorded. A long boardwalk leads from the top of the gondola to the remains of a meteorological observation station on top of 2,250 metre Sansons Peak. The Peak is apparently also the one time home of the Sulphur Mountain Cosmic Ray Station, which was built in the 1950s. The Cosmic Ray Station seems to be of great interest to the young man walking in front of me, who spends a long time explaining the properties and atomic structure of cosmic rays to his partner, including fine details on the impacts of cosmic rays on astronauts’ eyes. I hope she’s interested. She still seems to be with him on the way down; I’m hoping that’s not only because he’s got the gondola tickets.
It seems that Banff is a very exclusive town in the true sense of the word. It’s in the middle of a national park, and apparently you can only live or own property here if you meet Parks Canada’s strict “need to reside” guidelines. To do this you need to either work in the
park, or have, or plan to set up, a business here, and you can prove that you need to be here on a day to day basis to run it. We walked past lots of very fancy looking houses near the river this morning. We assumed these belonged to mega-rich people from Calgary who came up here to use them on weekends, but it doesn’t sound like that would meet the guidelines. There seem to be some loopholes if you’re a descendant of someone who leased property here before 1911, so maybe that explains the fancy houses.
Everything seems to be ridiculously expensive here, but I’m guessing that other than that, and the cold, it would probably be a great place to live, so I can probably understand why Parks Canada needs to restrict the masses from moving here and expanding into their wilderness landscape. On the issue of the cold, I get the sense that all Canadians are immune to cold weather, and that they almost seem to wear their climate as a badge of honour. “It’s not that cold in winter” I hear them say. Minus 30 degrees is not that cold? Get a grip.
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