.All Trips / Central Canada / North America

A visit to the Historic Banff Springs Hotel

09 Banff Springs Hotel

Situated in the heart of beautiful Banff National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the world famous Fairmont Banff Springs stands like a castle dominating the pretty alpine town of Banff, Alberta.  Nestled between Mt. Rundle, Tunnel Mountain and Sulphur Mountain, it offers some of the best alpine scenery in the world.  It’s just a short 10 minute stroll from the hotel along the beautiful Bow River to the Banff townsite, where a large number of shops, restaurants and other services are located.

Fairmont Banff Springs is a year-round luxury resort that offers access to activities as diverse as horse-back riding and golf, to superb skiing in the winter.  The hotel has been serving guests for more than 125 years with top-tier service.

William Cornelius Van Horne, general manager of Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) during the 19th century, has been credited with recognizing the tourism potential of the Canadian west.  Van Horne thought tourism important in getting people to ride his trains and realized that considerable profit possibilities were attached to the western mountain scenery.  ‘Since we can’t export the scenery,’ he said, ‘ we’ll have to import the tourists.’  To this end, Van Horne envisioned a series of resort hotels along the railway line through the Rocky and Selkirk Mountains.

In 1886, CPR began developing three relatively modest hotels to reflect Van Horne’s ideas. The Mount Stephen House at Field, the Fraser Canyon Hotel at the North Bend, and the Glacier House at Rogers Pass, were all located in beautiful British Colombia.  They proved very popular and while they were being constructed, Van Horne commissioned blueprints for a impressive hotel to be built at the convergence of the Bow and Spray Rivers in the recently established Rocky Mountain Park.  This, of course, was to become the massive and elegant Banff Springs Hotel.

Lobby of the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel

Lobby of the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel

Van Horne hired Bruce Price of New York, one of the leading architects of the time.  His work was said to be so influential that the château style was the only acceptable architectural method for government structures at the time. With Price heading the project, construction of the Banff Springs Hotel began in the spring of 1887 and the hotel publicly opened on June 1, 1888.

Within a few decades, the Banff Springs Hotel had become one of the top mountain getaways in North America.  Van Horne’s vision had been correct, and the scenery had been undeniably capitalized.  Sadly, the original wooden hotel built at this site burnt down in 1926, but it was rebuilt larger and even more elegantly — as we see in its present appearance — commencing in 1928.

Many important guests have visited the hotel over the years, including Marilyn Monroe, King George VI,  Queen Elizabeth II — even Benny Goodman.  Because of the travel and monetary restrictions of WW II, the hotel was closed between 1942 and 1945.

Bear carving outside of the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel

Bear carving outside of the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel

After the war, the hotel began to slowly rebuild its clientele. While still attracting traditional rail-traveling guests from the past, the Banff Springs Hotel found a high percentage of its revenue resulted from short-stay tour-scheduled guests.  This became all the more true with the advent of of automobile transportation and the decline of train travel.

I’ve driven by the Banff Springs Hotel frequently and several times had enjoyed its exceptional Sunday Brunch.  But my first stay there was this past year when a medical conference was held at the venue.  The hotel did not disappoint (although forest fires made the normally clear air very hazy).  Excellent food, superb service, comfortable rooms, a great natural location all made for a memorable stay.  It’s not the cheapest place to stay in Banff, but if you want to pamper yourself a little of if there’s a special occasion you’re celebrating, consider a stay here.

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