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A look back at 2019 for Banff

There were many headlines in Banff for 2019, from avalanche deaths and lightning strikes to bear and wolf attacks
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January

After lengthy negotiations, Parks Canada gave Sunshine Village Ski Resort an ultimatum to sign off on a new lease and controversial plan outlining future development at the resort – or risk losing the right to operate the national park business.

Parks Canada issued a formal cougar warning for the Banff townsite, as the big cats hunted and killed elk and deer on the outskirts of town. By Feb. 7, there were at least six kills.

Parks Canada pulled the plug on its controversial $86.4 million bike trail stretching 107-kms along the Icefields Parkway in neighbouring Jasper National Park, and talk of an extension to Lake Louise.

The breeding female of the Red Deer wolf pack was caught and killed in a snare on provincial lands – the second Banff National Park research wolf to be killed in a trap line outside of the park in as many months.

February

Three Canadian Pacific Railway crew members died in a freight train derailment near Field in Yoho National Park. The Transportation Safety Board found that the train did not have its hand brakes engaged, which allowed the stationary train to take off at unsafe speeds.

Five cannabis retail stores were given the green light in Banff, though all of the companies were still awaiting provincial approvals to open their doors.

March

A vision for a car-free Banff to eliminate congestion was pitched by a private development, but it appeared to hinge on development of a gondola from the train station to Mount Norquay. Liricon Capital asked council to consider implementing a resident-only pass as part of a big picture plan to create a transit hub at the train station, complete with two intercept parking lots, return of passenger rail and a gondola to the summit of Norquay.

Parks Canada wardens were searching for a man who took an illegal swim at the Cave and Basin National historic site, destroying critical habitat of the endangered Banff Springs snail on March 3. A security camera at the site was not working at the time.

A massive cleanup operation following a major train derailment west of Banff remained underway to prevent grizzly bears emerging from dens from getting into spilled grain. The March 1 derailment saw 21 cars fall off the tracks across a 300 metre area, 11 of which were empty and another 10 carrying canola, a calorie-rich source of food that draws bear to the tracks every spring.

A Calgary man was killed in an avalanche near Egypt Lake in Banff National Park on March 16 – the second avalanche in the mountain parks in a week. On March 11, a woman believed to be in her 30s was caught in an avalanche near Field and later died of her injuries in Foothills Hospital in Calgary.

A wolf pack killed a horse at Parks Canada’s Ya Ha Tinda Ranch – the first time it has happened in the ranch’s 102-year history.

April

The United Conservative Party’s Miranda Rosin was officially declared the winner of the Banff-Kananaskis election race, beating out the NDP’s Cameron Westhead. Rosin won with 10,815 votes, or 51.2 per cent of the total vote, while Westhead got 8,889 votes or 42.1 per cent.

A denning grizzly bear forced the closure of a backcountry area near Bow Lake in Banff National Park. A group of skiers came across a den and spotted a grizzly bear inside.

Banff Caribou Properties confirmed the sale of Wild Bill’s Legendary Saloon to Calgary-based Creative Restaurants Group, the owners of the Banff Rose & Crown. The plan was for a new business concept, likely a beer market.

Climate change could lead to a shortage of a critical seasonal grizzly bear food needed in the months before hibernation in the Rocky Mountains over the next 60 years. That was according to a new University of Calgary study, which predicted buffaloberries would ripen three weeks earlier than they do now, and up to 40 days earlier at higher elevations.

Three of the best alpine mountaineers in the world reached the summit of Howse Peak April 16 before a size three avalanche swept them off the east face of the mountain. David Lama, Jess Roskelley and Hansjorg Auer all died.

May

The well-loved Eric Harvie Theatre at the Banff Centre, where audiences have watched remarkable performances for 52 years, is to be rejuvenated and renamed. Once renovated, the theatre will be renamed after Calgary-born philanthropist Jenny Belzberg.

Coun. Peter Poole avoided serious repercussions for his breach of Alberta’s privacy legislation. Poole apologized for using a resident’s email he obtained through his position as an elected official, resulting in council making the rules and expectations even clearer for councillors when receiving confidential information.

The high cost of living continued to be Banff’s biggest challenge. According to the 2018 community social assessment, lower wages and higher housing costs were the reasons affordability was considered the tourist town’s number one social challenge.

June

By 2027, the Bow Valley will need about 1,100 additional units of non-market housing, including continuing care, affordable rental, permanent supportive housing and affordable home ownership, according to a new housing needs assessment released by Bow Valley Regional Housing.

An adult male grizzly bear died after being hit by a semi-trailer on Highway 93 South– the first human-caused grizzly bear death Banff National Park in five years. Also this month, a female grizzly bear cub was injured after getting hit on the highway near the Sunshine access road. The injured bear was later found and put down for humane reasons.

Banff Food Rescue found a new home to help redistribute food in the community. Starting out in resident Alanna Pettigrew’s kitchen, the food rescue moved to the basement of Sundance Mall.

The Town of Banff said it will form a working group to get feedback on the potential of tightening regulations for bed and breakfast homes and inns. Focus will be on the B&B quota, enforcement options, property taxes and fees among others. Recommendations are expected for council's consideration in 2020.

Banff law enforcement wardens announced a crackdown on people defying a closure at Johnston Canyon set up to protect endangered black swifts nesting along the cliffs. There were multiple charges and court cases throughout the year as a result.

Two historic cabins will be spared from the wrecking ball as part of a revised development plan to renovate and expand a historic bed and breakfast operation. The new plan for the Beaver Street Cabins will keep the two oldest cabins intact and allow a new apartment building and a B&B to be constructed.

July

Three people were struck by lightning or electric ground currents in Banff National Park during a severe thunderstorm on July 27. A 28-year-old Calgary woman scrambling on Mount Bourgeau ended up in hospital, while two men from Idaho ended up with severe burns after being struck by lightning on Mount Temple.

The search continued for a paddleboarder who drowned in Herbert Lake in Banff National Park over the Canada Day long weekend. The 26-year-old man form India fell off his board on June 30. Following an extensive search by air, shoreline, from boats and diving, his body was later recovered.

August

The return of a mamma grizzly bear and her cubs to an area where she punched holes in a tent trying to get food inside led to camping restrictions at Protection Mountain Campground. In early July, bear No. 142 was initially drawn to investigate a tent by the smell of food, including a bag of oats.

The union representing Parks Canada employees declared an impasse with Parks Canada Agency over contract negotiations, including demands for better pay. The Public Service Alliance of Canada called for pay parity for park wardens and their supervisors in relation to other federal law enforcement positions, as well as a better mental health plan.

After surviving winter’s hibernation, two of the three orphaned black bear cubs found in a public washroom near Vermilion Lakes in 2017 slipped out of their GPS tracking collars. The bears were released into Banff’s backcountry in summer 2017, but within a month one of the cubs was killed by another bear, likely a grizzly bear.

A family from the United States that survived a rare wolf attack in Banff National Park described their ordeal as the worst nights of their life.  Elisa and Matt Rispoli were sleeping in their tent with their two young sons at Rampart Creek Campground, when they were woken by a wolf sniffing and pawing outside their tent around midnight on Aug. 9. Matt pushed on the fabric of the tent to try and scare the animal away, but was suddenly bitten by a male wolf tearing the tent apart. The wolf was later located and killed by Parks Canada.

Another bison bull bolted from Banff National Park, making it the third bull to leave the reintroduced herd and move onto provincial lands in the past year, including one that was put down. This latest animal was found and relocated to Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site.

Although Banff is bustling with development activity, the national park townsite was close to reaching its federally legislated commercial growth cap. A new 175-room hotel at 600 Banff Ave. to replace Banff Caribou Properties’ aging Swiss Village Hotel once it’s demolished was approved, and is arguably the last new hotel that will be built in Banff.

A highly stressed black bear trying to avoid throngs of tourists by swimming across Lake Louise ended up biting an international tourist on the leg. The 24-year-old man was hiking alone on the horse trail between Mirror Lake and the horse stables near Chateau Lake Louise when the bear approached him.

September

The federal government changed the senior ranks of its public service, including a new chief executive officer for Parks Canada. Ron Hallman, who worked as executive director of the mountain parks from 2006-09, took over Parks Canada’s top job.

Local and national environmental groups called on Parks Canada to install a gate to restrict vehicles on the Mount Norquay ski hill access road in a bid to protect wildlife, rather than considering a proposed aerial gondola to the summit of Mount Norquay.

New lodges, new ski terrain and lifts and relocation of summer use to the top of Whitehorn Mountain were given the go-ahead for Lake Louise Ski Resort over the next five to 10 years. Parks Canada approved the long-range plan for Canada’s third largest ski resort, meaning the ski hill can now advance specific development projects subject to further environmental review.

The Town of Banff moved ahead with next steps to build an entry-level apartment development for home ownership on Banff Avenue. Council approved $180,000 to start civil engineering pre-design and tender designs for the price-restricted housing development at 338-340 Banff Ave. – the site of the Banff Hockey House.

The Bow Valley experienced one of the rainiest summers on record. According to Environment and Climate Change Canada, this summer was the rainiest since 2005 and the 12th wettest since 1890 when weather data began to be recorded in Banff. Banff recorded 245 mm of precipitation, compared to 166 mm in an average summer.

The newly built and modernized Banff Elementary School had its grand opening on Sept. 16.

A fourth heritage home owned by the Eleanor Luxton Historical Foundation will be forever protected from the wrecking ball. Council passed a bylaw designating the Mackenzie Residence at 202 Beaver St. as a municipal historic resource and approved a $50,000 matching grant to help with restoration and rehabilitation costs for the 1945 building.

October

Banff rolled out its first pot shop almost a year after recreational cannabis was legalized in Canada. Spiritleaf, located on the 200 block of Bear Street, opened its door on Oct. 1.

The rental housing vacancy rate hit 1.1 per cent after years of sitting at zero. While a healthy vacancy rate is considered to be between three and five per cent, this is considered a step in the right direction to deal with the tourist town’s ongoing housing crunch.

New data showed the number of Banff Housing Corporation homes for sale is on the rise, while sale prices decreased significantly at the same time. The average sale price was $604,753, with the average price to buyer at $538,344 compared to the average price of $859,209 last year, with the average price to buyer of $637,000.

Parks Canada took dramatic steps to eliminate a deadly fish disease from Johnson Lake in a bid to protect a threatened trout species in the nearby Upper Cascade River watershed. The federal agency partially drained the lake over the course of the winter to remove any remaining fish that may be infected with whirling disease, which causes physical deformities and sometimes death in fish.

In anticipation of competing applications to run future farmers markets, council voted to go to a merit-based system. Operation of the 2019 market was awarded through a lottery system because, for the first time in the market’s eight-year history, another applicant expressed interest in running the event.

November

The Town of Banff started public consultation on its proposal for user-pay parking downtown and a residential parking permit system to deal with the tourist town’s traffic troubles.

A new study lead by researcher Nikki Heim showed some wildlife species are “winners” and others are “losers” as humans continue to dominate the landscape with development and recreation. The study, published in the science journal Landscape Ecology, showed how heavy recreation, development, oil and gas and logging are dramatically affecting sensitive species like wolverines over species like coyotes that are more adaptable to the human footprint.

A new study was launched to get a better handle on the health and population status of bighorn sheep and mountain goats in Banff National Park. Seventeen sheep were fitted with GPS collars – seven in the Mount Norquay area and 10 in and around the bison reintroduction zone on the eastern slopes of the park – as well as six mountain goats on Mount Bourgeau west of Banff.

Dog owners in Banff will have a second place to take their off-leash pets. Council unanimously passed a one-acre off-leash dog park as part of the recreation grounds redevelopment plan.

The Town of Banff hired a new Town Manager to replace Robert Earl who left his position after 15 years to take a job at a coastal municipality on Vancouver Islands in August. Kelly Gibson, a longtime Banff local and the Town’s corporate services director, takes over a Town Manager on Jan. 5, 2020.

December

A random lottery was announced to replace a frustrating online booking system for day visitors to Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park – a first of its kind plan for Parks Canada throughout its national park system.

Banff town Councillor Peter Poole is disciplined and stripped of his ability to serve as acting or deputy mayor for the rest of this council town over potential policy and privacy legislation breaches. His lawyers, municipal law experts Shores Jardine, argued he did nothing wrong, while council got a different opinion.

Building permit revenue was at an all-time high. The planning and development department budgeted $300,000 in building permit revenue for 2019, but year to date has generated $810,000 from 93 permits. This compared to $77,000 in revenue last year from building permits.



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About the Author: Cathy Ellis

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