Banff, much like A Tale of Two Cities, is a tale of two places, a park and a town, and even though both are in the same place geographically and inhabit some of the philosophical space in terms of tourism and enjoying the Rocky Mountains, they are as different as Paris and London.
A municipality inside a national park and a national park with a town in it is unique in the world – Banff, the park and the town, is truly a one-of-a-kind place. And this makes for a unique history and a challenging story to tell as both, while symbiotic, never seem to be quite in sync when it comes to conservation versus development.
At its heart, the park is fundamentally focused on conservation, preservation, protection and enjoyment, with unusual and odd forays into development. The town, meanwhile, tends towards development, growth and increased use while still embracing the ideas of enjoyment, but with a move towards sustainability, conservation and environmentalism.
It’s a unique relationship that initially was not meant to happen. The town and park were meant to be separate. The town was outside the park at its onset. But as the park grew in size from its initial few acres focused around the hot springs to surround the town and most of the Bow Valley region for that matter, government and private enterprise were forced together in what hasn’t always been a happy or straightforward relationship what with the leases, the need-to-reside clause and the cap on development.
Numerous books have told the stories of Banff the national park and Banff the town; it truly is a well-told story, but according to Ted Hart, author, historian and former executive director of the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, few have looked at the story as a comprehensive whole. The exceptions to that, he adds, are Eleanor Luxton’s book Banff: Canada’s First National Park and more recently Ted Hart’s two-part series The Place of Bows: Exploring the Heritage of the Banff-Bow Valley to 1930 and The Battle for Banff: Exploring the Heritage of the Banff-Bow Valley from 1930 to 1985.
Luxton’s book, first published in 1974, is a readable and excellent history, but it obviously does not bring readers to the modern history of the national park and town. Hart brings his two-book series to a close in 1985 and, while he provided a level of research, detail and understanding that all other books should be judged by, The Place of Bows and The Battle for Banff are dense and do not make for light Sunday afternoon reading.
Hart’s newest book Banff: A History of the Park and Town, however, solves both problems. With its release today (June 4) with a presentation at the Whyte Museum at 7 p.m., Hart has brought the story of the park and the town together into one exceptional volume. Few people know as much about the history of Banff and the Bow Valley as Hart. He has been studying and telling this story throughout his 40-year career. He also served as Banff’s mayor from 1995 to 1998.
Banff: A History of the Park and Town, just like Hart’s other books, is chock-a-block full of history, but compared to The Place of Bows and The Battle for Banff, it is light and easy reading. It seems that Hart is at a place that he knows this story so well that he was able to sit back, relax and tell it cleanly and simply, without losing detail or ensuring the comprehensive story is told.
Hart has wisely focused on the main themes of growth and development of town and park, but those key threads are rich and the stories we really need to know if we are going to understand Banff.
“Because of the story’s breadth it is impossible to include everything,” he writes, “and I have therefore made an effort to concentrate on the main themes driving the story forward. It is, on reflection, an attempt to show how two somewhat disparate entities, Banff National Park and the Town of Banff, have attempted to adapt to each other through the vicissitudes and victories of over a century of side-by-side (or one within the other) existence.”
The purpose of the book, he writes, is to follow the “twists and turns of this unique relationship to gain an understanding for what Banff National Park and the town of Banff have represented to Canada and what they face as they continue into their post 125-year anniversary future.”
Banff: A History of the Park and Town, published by Banff-based Summerthought Publishing, is currently available as a limited-edition hardcover of 1,000 copies for $40 apiece. Each is signed and numbered and only available through Summerthought (www.summerthought.com) or at local book retailers, including The Viewpoint and the Whyte Museum gift shop. It is not available through online retailers or Chapters-Indigo.