This Week in History


Banff National Park Celebrates 125 Years of Memorable Experiences!

For the week of Monday November 22, 2010

On November 25, 1885, Canada's first national park was born when the Government of Canada set aside a small parcel of land around Banff's Cave and Basin thermal springs for the enjoyment of all Canadians. Today, the park is known world-wide for its awe-inspiring landscapes and diversity of plant and animal species, and welcomes more than three million visitors each year. It is part of the Canadian Rocky Mountains UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Used by Aboriginal peoples for many years, the thermal springs at the Cave and Basin remained unknown to the rest of the world until three Canadian Pacific Railway workers came across them in 1883. Word quickly spread to others who flocked to the springs hoping to profit from this natural spa and tourist attraction so close to the newly laid railway tracks.

Banff Springs Hotel
© Library and Archives Canada / PA-040647
The Canadian government, however, had bigger plans. In 1885, 26 km2 (10 sq. mi.) around the springs was set aside for public use, and on June 23, 1887, the Rocky Mountains Park Act officially created the third national park in the world. Greatly expanded in size, the park soon became a popular tourist destination. To promote the park, the Canadian Pacific Railway even offered free train rides to the Pacific Coast to members of the Senate and House of Commons, with a stopover at Banff to visit the hot springs.

National parks were managed differently then, reflecting the needs and values of their time. While forestry and mining was permitted in the park, the importance of conserving the natural environment was also a priority. In Banff's early days, wild rice was planted in shallow lakes and wetlands to encourage bird life, fish were brought in to stock local lakes, and a tree nursery was established to reforest areas damaged by construction or forest fires. As more modern conservation thinking and practices evolved over time, park regulations placed greater controls on resource extraction and commercial development, sought to limit the introduction of invasive species of plants and animals, and recognised that fire and predators play important roles in Banff's ecosystems.

Cave and Basins National Historic Site of Canada
© Parks Canada / Amar Athwal
Rocky Mountains National Park was renamed Banff National Park in 1930 after the Town of Banff, located between the railway and the hot springs. Now in its 125th year, the park remains Canada's best-known and most-visited park, and an icon of this country's vast, natural beauty. The place where it all began, the Cave and Basin Hot Springs was designated a National Historic Site in 1981. Commemorated as the birthplace of Canada's national park system, the Cave and Basin National Historic Site provides an unprecedented opportunity to showcase Parks Canada’s mandate in action – protecting and presenting Canada’s historic and natural treasures.

For more information, please see the Banff National Park, Cave and Basin National Historic Site and Celebrations pages of the Parks Canada website. To read about the Canadian Rocky Mountains UNESCO World Heritage Site, see the UNESCO World Heritage Centre's website.

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