The Banff Paradox: Everyone's Serene Getaway from Everyone Else

The Banff Paradox: 

          Everyone's Serene Getaway from Everyone Else

Guest Writer Gemma Tarling, Summer Interpreter 2018 

A mere 9,658 people call Banff home, yet the popular tourist destination receives millions of visitors every year (Enns 2018). Since 1885, when the Canadian Government established the area as the Hot Springs Reserve, the township has been orchestrated with tourism in mind. Diverse marketing campaigns draw people from all backgrounds to this idyllic destination: for skiing, hiking, pristine views of the Canadian Rockies, or maybe to stay at the monumental Fairmont Banff Springs hotel. From the start, Banff has been sustained by its visitors, but how have modern advancements in technology changed the way that those visitors come to and interact with the parks?

Reflecting on my summer here drew to my attention the juxtaposition of the history of Banff I relate on tours and the current state of the town. The Banff I explain to visitors at the Museum is a quaint place with family names and a single general store. This is hardly the case walking down modern day Banff Avenue, where every other person has a beaver tail in one hand and a cell phone in the other (to get that picturesque shot of Cascade Mountain of course). At first, I thought these two versions of Banff were separate entities, divided by some kind of invisible barricade in time. Under further observation, I realized I was mistaken.

Banff Avenue, looking North, 1880- 1890, Boorne and May fonds

There’s no doubt Banff has undergone changes over the last couple hundred years: miners and railway surveyors are few and far between, and a dip in hot spring waters takes place in pools rather than caves. However, many of the modern day issues brought on by the town’s unique location within a national park remain the same. The historic debate between Norman Luxton and J. B. Harkin over whether Banff should be protected or exploited is still a pertinent issue, just with different voices advocating for each side. A fine balance exists between sharing the natural wonders that exist here in Banff National Park with the world and allowing too great a human impact on the environment for it to be sustainable.

 Technological advancements in travel render it easier than ever to come and visit Banff, but how can such a relatively small place with undeniably fragile ecosystems keep up with the international demands? The Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984 – almost exactly one hundred years after the town of Banff was founded (Town of Banff 2018). The number of educational programs and opportunities within Banff National Park is impressive. Parks Canada’s information booths, interpretive shows, and helpful reminders to stay on trails and not feed the animals provide necessary education to visitors from around the world about how each person’s individual contribution to Banff National park can be a help or a hindrance. Working at the Whyte Museum has also put the future of the Park in an optimistic light. Many of the questions visitors ask relate back to pertinent topics: like what it means to be on Treaty Seven Territory, how the town deals with the proximity of humans to wild animals in Banff, and why the glacier they saw at Lake Louise looks smaller in 2018 than it did on their honeymoon in the 80s.

Over the last century, Banff has been transformed from a place of awe into a place of explanation. Visitors are given the chance to marvel at historic and natural destinations, from Bankhead to the Columbia Icefield, with each unique occurrence put into context by knowledgeable staff or helpful signage. There’s truly something beautiful about walking down Banff Avenue and hearing five or six languages spoken on a single block, and to think that all these people have chosen Banff National Park as a destination worthy of their money and time. Evidently, Banff is a destination of international acclaim, so it is imperative that the narrative of conservation versus use within the Park is constructive and perhaps even implementable across borders.


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