May 2016 – Banff is a beautiful and very grand resort town in the Canadian Rockies of Alberta, that sits at the base of towering Cascade Mountain.
So far in our Canadian Rockies RV adventures we’d seen lots of jaw-dropping alpine scenery with gargantuan, sharp craggy mountains and breathtakingly beautiful and colorful lakes. But as we strolled down the main drag, Banff Avenue, we found ourselves in the heart of trendy urbanity, surrounded by high end boutique tourist shops that line the sidewalks.
Yet we were still in the heart of the Canadian Rockies. That mountain over there — oh my! — what a backdrop it made from every vantage point in town!!
Banff has so much to offer visitors, that it is always loaded with tourists. Lots of people told us they prefer the quieter towns of Canmore (20 miles to the east) and Jasper (150 miles north), but despite the mobs of tourists clogging the streest of Banff in the afternoons and the extraordinarily expensive stores and the glitz and glam everywhere, we totally loved Banff anyway. It is absolutely delightful — especially in the quiet of very early morning!
Being there in late May really helped with the crowds too. Parking can be a nightmare in peak season. There is an electric sign as you arrive in town that indicates how many parking spaces are currently available! And the tourist literature even gives hints on parking (Hint #1: Walk or ride a bike!).
Sometimes you are sharing the road with delivery trucks and RVs, and sometime you’re sharing it with horses and buggies.
But we always found a parking spot for our big ol’ dually truck without a problem, sometimes sandwiched in between a bunch of rental RVs from Canadream, Cruise Canada and Fraser RV!
While Cascade Mountain towers over the north end of town, Banff National Park headquarters presides over the south end of town. It is located in a beautiful stone building that resembles a castle.
Looking back at the town from this building’s gracious front yard and garden, Cascade Mountain soared into the heavens.
We were fascinated when we found a plaque that has a photo of Banff from 120 years ago, back in 1896. Banff was a small village then, and the main street in town was dirt. There were hardly any buildings and certainly no traffic problems! But gorgeous Cascade Mountain still towered over everything!
What a great little town Banff must have been then and, in a different way, what a great town it is now!
We wanted to get a bird’s eye view of the area, so we drove up to the Mount Norquay ski resort. There are some really steep switchbacks on this road, but as we climbed higher and higher we came across some big horn sheep.
We went up to the ski resort too early in the day, and the whole view was backlit by blinding sunshine. The views up there are best in mid-afternoon or later. So we shaded our eyes and took it all in but skipped taking any photos.
On another day when the sun wasn’t shining we came across wildlife of another kind in the huge salt water aquarium at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. Dory’s buddy was there!
Back in Fernie, BC, when we first arrived in Canada’s Rock Mountains, the guy at the visitors center had told us not to miss the Banff Springs Hotel when we got to Banff. As we drove up to it we saw why. What a majestic and ornate building!
Just like Sun Valley, Idaho, a few hundred miles to the southwest, Banff (and Lake Louise) were created as tourist destinations by a railroad company to get rich urban folks to jump on the train and go have some fun in the mountains.
Sun Valley Resort was developed by Averell Harriman who owned the Union Pacific Railroad in the early 1930’s. Banff was created by Sir William Cornelius Van Horne, President of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company, in the 1910’s and 20’s.
Below his sculpture is a fabulous quote: “Since we can’t export the scenery, we shall have to import the tourists!”
These guys knew their railroads could bring people out into the snowcapped mountains for both winter and summertime fun, and they spared no expense developing their properties in the gorgeous mountains of western North America. They were after the wealthiest clientele, and they wanted to pamper them in elegant surroundings.
One can only imagine what it was like to arrive from the city by train and be waited on in such a luxurious manner out in the middle of some of the most beautiful scenery on the planet!
The Banff Springs Hotel is an elaborate stone structure with lots of turrets and arches.
There is a wonderful bronze sculpture of a horseback rider out back.
And there are beautiful leaded windows too.
We visited Banff Springs Hotel on a chilly day, bundled up in jackets and long pants, but some die-hard hotel visitors were taking full advantage of the pool and hot tub.
Inside, the lobby was lavish.
Wandering around the various meeting rooms, we found some lovely stained glass windows.
And then we found a stone walled dining room with soaring ceilings.
The winding staircase lured us upstairs.
We were exploring all kinds of nooks and crannies in this magnificent old hotel when we suddenly came across an open door. Peeking inside, we saw two young men painting on easels. It turned out that the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel has an Artist in Residence program, and these two men, Jason Bartziokas and Josh Clair, were the resident artists of the week.
Josh is from Utah, and he explained that the program allowed them to live at the Banff Springs Hotel, paint and show their work for a weekoo. Visitors like us could drop in on them at any time, and those with an artistic bent could study with them too.
One requirement for the artists in residence is that they spend six hours a day in the hotel painting. So the two of them had been hiking in the mountains with a camera in early mornings and late afternoons and then downloading those images to an iPad to use for inspiration for their paintings when they were inside the hotel. How fun!
I was impressed, no, I was blown away that both Josh and Jason are full-time professional artists. Budding young artists are forever being told it’s impossible to make a living making art, and a rare few dare to try and create a full-time professional career from it. But both of these men had gone to art school in the early 2000’s and had emerged to find their own path in this world as artists.
Jason even supports a young family with his work. Besides his oil paintings on canvas, he has found a unique niche in the sports world (he’s a lifelong hockey fan) and is very well known for the inspired images he air brushes on hockey helmets for members of the NHL. How creative!
Jason and Josh reminded me of the unique, color blind, dual paintbrush wielding artist we had met by a creek in Sun Valley where he was painting a huge canvas resting in the back of his pickup. Raised on a farm, he’d discovered a love of art at a young age, won a scholarship to art school and charged ahead. We had later seen the painting we watched him create for sale for several thousand dollars in the art gallery in town. Amazing! I mentioned this story, and Josh reminded me that this artist’s name was Robert Moore (here is our blog post about our fun encounter with artist Robert Moore).
Watching these two men in action in the early stages of their art careers was very satisfying. They were proof to us, yet again, that the people who pursue their passions open their lives to the possibility not only of rich rewards but of personal fulfillment as well.
Downstairs in the Banff Springs Hotel we found Mountain Galleries which is responsible for this wonderful Artist in Residence program. They had lots of different artists’ work on display, and I’m sure that by now both Jason’s and Josh’s work from their week in Banff can be found on display there as well.
Seeing these two young men happily painting away in this fancy hotel gave us both pause for thought. How easy it is to disregard our dreams, especially when we’re young and want to “get ahead.” But ignoring our dreams can become a bad habit that is hard to break as we get older. Too often we shrug off our deepest yearnings throughout our lives until it’s too late.
John Lennon’s Aunt Mimi, the woman who raised him, once warned him: “The guitar is all right, but you’ll never make a living out of it.” Fortunately, he didn’t listen to her.
I love coming across evidence like this, not just with celebrities but in unexpected places like the Banff Springs Hotel’s Artist in Residence program, that even our wildest dreams can come true if we believe in them.
Links with more info about Banff below…
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Here’s a little more info about Banff, the hotel and other goodies:
- Banff, Alberta – Official Tourism Website
- Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel – Official Website
- Artist in Residence Program at Banff Springs Hotel
- Jason Bartziokas – Artist Info
- RV Parks near Banff
Other blog posts from our RV travels in the Canada and the Canadian Rockies:
- Waterton Lakes Nat’l Park – Starry Skies, the Milky Way & Wildflowers 08/09/16
- Waterton Shoreline Cruise – A Classy Tour of Waterton-Glacier NP 08/05/16
- Waterton Lakes National Park – Rocky Mountain High! 07/28/16
- Kananaskis Country – Canadian Rockies Beauty Off the Beaten Path 07/23/16
- Canmore, Alberta – An Outdoor Lover’s Town in the Rocky Mountains 07/17/16
- Jasper National Park – Columbia Icefields & Athabasca Falls 07/12/16
- Hot Springs in the Canadian Rockies – Swimming in Giant Hot Tubs!! 07/10/16
- Yoho National Park – Emerald Lake & Natural Bridge – Aqua Magic! 06/26/16
- Moraine Lake – Crown Jewel of Banff National Park 06/19/16
- Icefields Parkway – True Blue Lakes, Avalanches & Grouse! 06/16/16
- Icefields Parkway – Canadian Rockies Scenic Drive – WOW! 06/14/16
- Lake Louise – RV Travels to the Heart of the Rockies in Banff 06/10/16
- Kootenay National Park Canada – Bears, Mountains & Rivers! 06/07/16
- Canadian Rockies – Big Mountains & Big Horn Sheep! 06/02/16
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