Coolest School Trip Spotlight: Banff National Park

Following the official launch of the Canada’s Coolest School Trip contest, we’ve decided to help you out with some ideas for your videos! Once a week, we will be featuring a profile of a different national park, national historic site or national marine conservation area to not only highlight some of the amazing natural and historic sites that you can visit using your pass, but to also give you suggestions of some significant moments related to each site that you are welcome to use for your video submission.

Haven’t heard about the contest yet? Check out the contest page for the full contest rules then put on your thinking caps and start working on your video idea. You can choose to get theatrical and act it out yourself, or you can get those creative juices flowing and try your hand at animating your video! Whichever significant moment you choose to recreate for your submission, remember that it has to be related to a national park, national historic site or national marine conservation area. If you need help picking a topic for your video, check out the Where to Go page for a list of sites from coast to coast, read our list of suggested topics, and visit the website weekly to read all about the featured site of the week. First up: Banff National Park!

Banff National Park

As Canadians, we are lucky to live in a country with such a diverse set of landscapes, each unique and beautiful in its own way. Some of the most interesting natural areas in the country have been set aside as protected land as we continue to build and expand our network of national parks. Have you ever found yourself wondering how national parks are established and why? The history of Canada’s national park system is fascinating and full of stories of adventure and intrigue – but where did it all start?

In the fall of 1883, brothers William and Tom McCardell and their friend Frank McCabe, all workers of the Canadian Pacific Railway, decided to head into the Bow Valley with plans of prospecting and exploring until work on the railway picked up again in the spring. Little did they know that this decision and the ensuing chain of events would ultimately lead to the creation of Canada’s very first national park and the establishment of the largest national park system in the world.

Early on in their exploration of the valley, the three men stumbled across what we now know as the Cave and Basin Hot Springs, but which they saw as simply an opportunity to turn a profit. At the time, hot springs were popular travel destinations for the upper class, particularly in Europe, as they were rumoured to offer medicinal benefits in addition to the natural relaxation they provided visitors. Despite the fact that these specific hot springs had been previously discovered and used by the Aboriginal population in the area, the McCardell brothers and McCabe decided to lay their claim to the land and began to charge people to access the springs.

Naturally, as word got out about the existence of the hot springs, a number of different people came forward to claim the land as their own and the Canadian government was called in to settle the dispute. In 1885, Canadian Prime Minister Sir John A. MacDonald declared the springs and the land surrounding them public domain. Twenty six square kilometres of land around the springs was deemed protected land and Canada’s first-ever national park was thus established and named the Banff Hot Springs Reserve.

What began as an exclusive travel destination for the rich has now become a cherished part of our nation’s natural heritage that is visited by millions of people each year. The park has undergone a few name changes (it was renamed Rocky Mountain Park in 1887, then later took on its current name of Banff National Park) and has had its boundaries expanded and reduced a number of different times. Currently, the park spans 6,641 square kilometres but at one point covered an area of 11,400 square kilometres – that’s bigger than the entire province of Prince Edward Island! People travel from all over the world to see the hot springs, to stay at the now-famous Banff Springs Hotel and Chateau Lake Louise (originally built by the Canadian Pacific Railway to boost tourist traffic to the area and increase the number of railway passengers), to bike the Banff Legacy Trail that runs from Canmore to Lake Louise, and to experience the myriad of natural wonders found within the park. The park is open year-round and offers endless opportunities for outdoor recreation so whether you are visiting during the summer, fall, winter or spring, there are always plenty of things to see and do during your visit.

Thinking of making your video submission about Banff National Park? Here are a couple of quick ideas to help get you started!

  • Put yourselves in the shoes of the railway workers William and Tom McCardell and Frank McCabe as they headed out into the Bow Valley for the winter. What might have been their first reaction when they realized what they had found? Recreate the initial discussion between the men when they found the hot springs and began dreaming of getting rich and famous.
  • Recreate some of the discussions around the ownership battle. You might choose to include CPR president William Cornelius Van Horne, who paid the McCardell brothers and McCabe each a small sum of money in exchange for ownership rights, or Nova Scotia Member of Parliament Douglas B. Woodworth, whose family had just settled in the area and claimed to have discovered the springs first. You can also get creative and make up your own characters! Whoever you choose to include, remember to talk about why they would have had any interest in the springs in the first place, and don’t forget about the government’s role in settling the dispute!
  • Put on your work boots and help build the Banff Springs Hotel. You could talk about why the hotel was built, who it was built for – tourists, of course! – and who paid for its construction. What role did the CPR play in the development of tourism in the area? Why did tourists want to visit the park to begin with?
  • Get ready for an outdoor adventure through the park with the Brewsters, a local family who were among the first to offer guided tours around Banff. What are some of the places you would have wanted to visit in the park? What are some of the ecosystems you would have passed through? Have your guide explain how the landscape was formed, or what types of animals live in the different habitats found within the park.