In 1883, two Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) employees came across hot springs on Sulphur Mountain. Despite their claims of discovery, local First Nations peoples had long known about the springs. Two years later, in response to competing claims of ownership over the springs, an Order in Council granted ownership to the Canadian government and established the 26 km2 Hot Springs Reserve. The Canadian government and the CPR then began working to develop the springs as a tourist destination to increase traffic on the CPR and ensure the profitability of the railway. The town of Banff was established in 1886 as a transportation and service center for the tourist industry. In 1887, the reserve was renamed Rocky Mountains Park and expanded in size to 674 km2. The following year, construction was completed on the CPR-owned Banff Springs Hotel which became a popular destination for wealthy tourists.
The National Parks Act (1930) made administration of the renamed Banff National Park the responsibility of Parks Canada. After several changes in boundaries since its creation, in 1949, the present-day size of the park was set at 6,641 km2. The winterization of the Banff Springs Hotel in 1968 helped to transform the park into a year-round tourist destination. The construction of the Trans-Canada Highway in the 1960s also greatly increased the number of visitors to the park.
Banff National Park Mountains
Throughout its history, Parks Canada has upheld its original mandate to conserve rather than develop. In the bid for the 1972 Winter Olympic Games, Banff National Park would have been the site of large-scale development to support tourism, disrupting wildlife and the natural surroundings. Intense pressure from environmental groups forced Parks Canada to withdraw its support from the bid.
The town of Banff is the largest municipality located in a Canadian national park. Owing to its unique and precious surroundings, residents have to demonstrate a “need to reside” in order to live within the park. Otherwise, accommodations are rare and expensive. Human facilities in the park include campgrounds, resorts, alpine and cross-country skiing, and 1,100 km of hiking trails radiate from the town of Banff. Banff National Park is home to seven national historic sites including Banff Museum Park, Cave and Basin, Abbot Pass Refuge Cabin, Howse Pass, Skoki Ski Lodge and Sulphur Mountain Cosmic Ray Station. Banff Springs Hotel is the only historic site not administered by Parks Canada.
Glacial Peyto Lake in Banff National Park
The Banff Center is a premier arts institution and incubator. Its mission is to promote, commission and support artists. The facility also plays host to the annual Banff Summer Arts Festival and the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival. Since 1996, the town has endeavoured to promote its rich heritage through a Heritage Plaque program that denotes historically-significant sites, events and noteworthy individuals.