Banff: it is a small town in Alberta, in the Canadian Rockies. There is only one other town, near neighbour Lake Louise, which is at a higher elevation in the province.
Often, as a gateway to the parks and places nearby, the town of Banff becomes a crossroads for tourists, backpackers, seasonal workers, skiers, hikers; at times it can be heaving with people.
The last time I was in the town a few years back, I was fortunate to be around during a quiet time in the region. Late spring and mid-autumn are often times for that; recently all seasons have been quieter than before.
It is a year-round town, however, with year-round residents. It’s also not far from the Trans Canada Highway, so people do stop by for the day, or pass through for an hour or two.
As is true in many places just now, some restaurants are open only for take out. Grocer and service businesses are open, many with reduced hours.
The acclaimed Banff Centre, one of whose tag lines is “inspiring creativity,” is temporarily closed. No artists in residence, no training programs, no concerts, no lodging at the top class place on Tunnel Mountain Road.
Creativity and connection won’t stop, though: The Centre has been organizing several of its annual festivals and conferences online.
I am glad to know that. It was a friend’s concert at The Banff Centre that brought me to the town that winter into spring day.
Arriving early for that, I took time to explore.
Banff is surrounded by mountains. It is also located right along the Bow River. Even if you never step foot outside the town, you will experience the hand of nature.
That makes sense when you realize that the whole town of Banff is within the Banff National Park. The town itself originally came to be in 1884, named after the town in the northeast of Scotland that was the home town of the then president of the Canadian Pacific Railway. The CPR/Via Rail does not serve Banff these days, though you can get there by rail on the Rocky Mountaineer, which is known as one of the world’s greatest train journeys. You can also reach Banff by bus or private car. The nearest airport is in Calgary.
My time in Banff was not to with trains or other transport, though, it was to do with music, with nature, with history, and with…snow.
There are plenty of things to do in Banff, in town and in the national park, so I knew I would have to prioritize. I stopped in at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies. Art and history were part of my visit there. The museum has exhibits that feature and investigate stories of Indigenous Peoples, of the area, the role and documentation of surveying and engineering, guiding and outfitting in the Rockies, travel and tourism, and more. These stories are told through art, artifacts, documents, and other materials. Those are part of the continuing materials on display. There are changing exhibits as well. The Whyte is open to visit in person at present, and it offers a number online exhibits as well.
Banff National Park is Canada’s oldest national park. It was established in 1885. The Parks Canada Visitors’ Centre, which is in downtown (so to speak– it’s a small town) Banff, can clue you in on all sorts of outdoor advice, offer trail maps, and give weather advice and other sorts of helpful information. Not far away along Banff Avenue is the Banff Park Museum, where you can learn all about the park’s wildlife, geology, trees, and other aspects of nature. You will learn about the peoples who have lived and worked in this part of the Rockies, as well.
It was lovely to find these quiet places, at a time of quiet in Banff. The many eateries and bars along Banff and Bear Avenues were pleasantly busy, not crowded. I especially enjoyed calling in at Wild Flour Bakery (which at this writing is open for takeout and delivery); Evelyn’s Coffee Bar was good fun too — and I say that not being a coffee drinker.
The thing about Banff, though, is that you are never far from seeing the mountains. The Bow River is nearby; you are never far from water, either. Snow comes early in autumn, defines winter, lingers through spring, and paints the landscape in its own ways.
There are other aspects of nature you may find nearby, too. I was staying at The Banff Centre. As I was getting ready to leave the next morning, this was the view from my window.
Note: If you are outside of Canada, at this writing you will have to make plans for later or you will need to observe Canada’s quarantine protocols. Several provinces have travel restrictions between provinces also.
Photograph of bread courtesy of Wild Flower Bakery. Photograph of squirrel courtesy of Jasmin Sessler. All other photographs by Kerry Dexter
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