Memories of Banff

Being back in my hometown for this length of time, has meant that for the first time in my adult life, I have the time to really enjoy it.


In 2017 we packed up our life, and quit the 9-5 to head out into the world.  We came with no expectations, we only wanted to experience life.  Since we have left, we have packed more fun and adventure into our lives than we ever could have imagined.  Being on the road now for over two years, has brought with it the freedom to explore what it is that we want to do to create an income for ourselves, the time to pay attention to the things that are truly important to us, and the adventure to truly make life fun and interesting once again.  We left seeking an exciting life, and we have not been disappointed!  Join us as we explore as much of this big old world that we can!


Being back in my hometown for this length of time, has meant that for the first time in my adult life, I have the time to really enjoy it.  Chris and I have spent much time exploring around Canmore and checking things out.  I have taken him on walks to my old bush party sights and places that I played as a child, and we have spent lots of time down by the Bow River, even on the cold days.  We have meandered through many of the towns trails, old and new, and I have been really impressed with how well they are kept up.  There is obviously a focus here on public recreation, and the town has done a great job of providing that for its citizens.

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This was a warmer day down by the Bow River in Canmore, back when we arrived at the end of August.

We have also been to Banff a handful of times, and I have taken great joy in regaling my tales of youth to Chris, as we navigate the new, to him, landscape.  Last weekend we headed out on a bit of an adventure to Banff.  Banff Gondola was offering a free ride for locals on its trip up to the top of Sulphur Mountain, in exchange for a donation to a charity.  So we figured that we would head in, and also planned a soak in the nearby Banff Hot Springs as well.

One thing lead to the next and before we knew it, we were checking out Bow Falls, running around lost in the Banff Springs Hotel (now officially known as Fairmont Banff Springs, but I don’t call it that), and hitting up even the Candy Shop downtown.  I also firmly insisted that while there, we absolutely MUST visit the Christmas Store, despite Chris’ obvious disapproval.  (Spoiler, he actually liked it……a little bit at least:))

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The majestic Banff Springs Hotel
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It truly feels like a castle inside as well!
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A Candy wonderland and a MUST stop on Banff Avenue!

It was a great day of playing tour guide (one of my favourite things to do as a local), while also telling him the stories that each place inspired.  I have many incredible stories and memories of Banff and despite the fact that Canmore kids were adamant that Canmore was BETTER than Banff (“Banff Sucks!” we would say), the town played a huge part in my childhood.


I was born in Banff, Alberta, Canada in 1976.  I know that I am from a select few that have had this good fortune, and in fact, I have recently learned that people born in Banff or Canmore are dubbed “Unicorns” by those who aren’t from here.  Without confirming the reason for this, I can only imagine that people think that nobody could possibly be so lucky as to have been born in such a spectacular place.  It’s as if we are all mythical creatures or something.

I lived there until I was three, then my family moved 20km down the road to the much quieter town of Canmore.  I spent the rest of my childhood living in Canmore, but of course, Banff was also such a huge part of this time in my life.

As a small kid my mom would drive me into the Sally Borden Pool for swimming lessons, because, at the time, Canmore only had one public pool that was at a motel on the highway, and it was outdoors.  I remember feeling so cool swimming in that big pool, and that big building and I loved swimming lessons there.

My Dad worked at the Banff Centre, which also housed the Sally Borden Building so I inevitably spent much time up there. I took for granted the adorable little trails that surround the property, and the quaint little stairways that go from building to building.  My Dad is one of the founders of the Banff Mountain Film Festival that is housed at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, and I spent many years with my parents at the festival watching films and mingling with climbing greats.  I had no idea, at that time, just how lucky I was to not only be living where I was, but to just be part of such a monumental film event that has now spanned the globe numerous times.  We were very grateful when my Dad offered us his tickets for this years festival.  We felt so fortunate  to attend the event, and it brought back many great memories of my childhood.

Jill and Chris at BMFF

Of course, I also learned to ski at Mount Norquay, Banff’s local ski hill.  My Dad took me up there from the age of 3 on, and it didn’t take many years before I was beating him to the bottom.  Many times, a day of skiing would conclude with a stop at McDonalds, then the closest McDonalds we had to Canmore.  It was the cutest little McDonalds ever, built with all wood and stone, complete with a rustic little fireplace.  (Unfortunately it has now been modernized, and looks, at least through the windows, to be as stark and uninteresting as any other McDonalds!) My favourite dish?  6 McNuggets and fries of course! (My adult self is disgusted!)

Every New Years Eve for quite a few years, many Banff and Canmore locals would flock to Lake Minnewanka to have a raucous party in one of the picnic shelters on the lake.  Somebody would bring heavy duty tarps to block the windows so that the harshness of the winter temperatures would stay outside, while they got the fires roaring on the inside.  The parents would shovel off a section of the lake so that we kids could skate on it, and I remember more than one painful time that I would have to come back in to get my dad to rub life back into my feet, as they had become frozen ice blocks.  The adults would become increasingly drunk, New Years would come and go, and everyone would simply drive home.  Clearly, NOT something that could or would happen now-a-days!

For a time, no childhood birthday party would be complete without a trip to the water slides in Banff.  The Douglas Fir Resort, one of the hotels on the outskirts of the town, was our go to place for this.  I recall numerous visits to these waterslides as kids, and though small in stature, they thrilled us to bits.  It didn’t take much to excite us small town kids!

I also remember trips to Banff to shop at The Hudson Bay Company (HBC), the only major department store that existed in the Bow Valley at the time.  Of course, these trips would be combined with a visit to the Candy Store and often an ice cream at Grizzly House, depending on the time of year.  When we had visitors come to town, we would take them down Banff Avenue and we always had to also make stops in the Christmas Store and The Body Shop.

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Inside the famed “The Spirit of Christmas” store.
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The perfect Canadian mascot!

My later memories start after I gained the freedom to drive a vehicle.  From the age of 16 on, trips to Banff were just part of my perspective.  If it wasn’t me driving there, it was one of my friends, and we would usually head in at least a couple times a week.  In one of my many acts of rebellion, however, I drove into Banff, driving my friends car, with only my learners license!  All I know is that there was a bunch of us girls, and we were bored,  and we REALLY wanted to go to Banff.  The next thing I knew, much to the humiliation and scared shitless-ness of my passengers, I was stalling the standard shift car repeatedly down the length of Banff Avenue.  I’m pretty sure Banff Avenue was the only thing we saw that day.  We were much too scared to actually get out of the car lest somebody actually figured out that we weren’t old enough to be driving by ourselves.  We somehow made it out in one piece, and not arrested, and arrived back in Canmore, vowing that we would never repeat that event again.  After all, the owner of the car was only a month or two from turning 16 and getting her own proper license!

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One of the views along the Bow River in Banff

 

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One of the many stunning views on Banff Avenue.

The freedom that comes with having a drivers license is palpable.  I remember driving with the window down on the highway, feeling the wind blow on my face and just feeling like I could do anything in the world now that I had my license. Quite often an afternoon of a few of us hanging out at Craigs drinking coffee, would end when one suggested that we should go to Banff, and off we went.  Many times we would head up to the Banff Springs Hotel and get lost in the expanse of corridors inside, and of course, we went bowling a time or two as well.  Canmore, of course, didn’t have a bowling alley.

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They call this “Christmas at the Castle” when the Banff Springs Hotel decorates for the holidays.

You might guess, by now, that Canmore also didn’t have a movie theatre (and still doesn’t!) . Tuesday was locals night at the Lux Cinema in Banff, so we would all pile into Banff to watch the latest and greatest release for only $5.  Usually there were 2 or 3 vehicles full of us, and of course we would run into other friends from school that had gone as well.  We would then roam the streets at night, just revelling in the glitz and glamour of Banff Avenue, sometimes stoping in at  Eddies Pool Hall where we would play pool and hang out, enjoying the care free life of a teenager.  On this current return trip home, Chris and I have made a few trips to the Lux, and it amazes me that it is exactly the same as I left it.

Summer time meant that we would drive in and check out Bow Falls, drive down to the Banff Springs Golf Course, explore around Tunnel Mountain, or drive up Mount Norquay to check out the view.  Of course many kids experienced floating, in some device or another, from Banff to Canmore along the surface of the Bow River.

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Looking down on Banff from Mount Norquay
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Bow Falls in the winter.  Located below the Banff Springs Hotel

The Banff Hot Springs was our big backyard hot tub that we frequented often.  We would go all times of the year to revel in the heat of the waters.  Winter was the most fun when it was minus 40C.  After braving the cold to get into the pool, we would set about creating whacky hairdos that would freeze solid in the frigid temperatures.  When Chris and I went there last weekend, I was thrilled that the price is still very reasonable at $8.30.  I assumed that like all other things in Banff, this price would have gone sky high, but it has remained an affordable treat for every sort of visitor to Banff.

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Banff Hot Springs is perched on the side of Sulphur Mountain offering splendid views of the mountains and valley below.

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Happy to be warm!

Our legal years (18+) (and maybe one or two before that;) ) would bring us into Banff to party in the clubs.  Canmore didn’t have venues that played wild and raucous club style music, so again, we would all pile into Banff to take part in this strange right of passage affair.  The Back Alley and Silver City (also dubbed Syphilis City for obvious reasons) were our favourites.  Many nights we would go to one or the other, or bounce around between the two trying to find the most fun possible.  We also sometimes found ourselves caught up in the wildness of Wild Bill’s Saloon!  As the name implies, it was always a good time!

Back in those days we were allowed to be carefree kids.  We didn’t have to worry about date rape drugs or any number of other things that teens have to deal with now-a-days.  I feel like we were part of the last generation that could go out and have a good time, completely worry free, and for that I am so thankful.  Most times we had a designated driver to take us home, but there was the odd night that a few of us would sleep in the car until early the next morning when one would drive, with one eye open, and we would slink back home smelling of booze and stale cigarette smoke.  (Yes, they still smoked inside back then!) Our parents were thrilled with us I’m sure!

 

In later years I had a job working at the Banff Springs Golf Course Pro Shop for one summer.  This again gave me a different perspective of Banff, and was my first introduction to truly working with tourists.  Only in recent years have I acknowledged that I actually grew up in one of the worlds TOP tourist destinations.  I mean I knew that lots of travellers came to Banff, when I was a kid the streets were lined with busloads of Japanese, all standing at attention, cameras poised and ready, but I definitely didn’t put it all together then.

I definitely didn’t understand the majestic beauty that existed all around me day and night.  I, for sure, didn’t understand what privilege I had as a child living in a place where I was free to ride my bike all over town, go hiking in the woods whenever I choose, and to just be wild and free.  And I don’t think I understood how nice it was to be part of a genuine small town community, to be surrounded by people who truly care for one another.

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A recent photo taken by the Bow River in Canmore.

It wasn’t until I moved away from Canmore and the Banff area permanently in 2002, that I started to realize just how beautiful it all is, and age has brought an appreciation for the community and the group of people who collectively raised me.  Of course, we appreciated the outdoors when we were kids, back then we spent our lives outside.  We would go on hikes and marvel at the views, and we would climb the mountains just for something to do.  But it was all just normal to us, it was our everyday reality.  In retrospect, I can see that I took it for granted, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

But now, I truly do realize just how lucky I was to grow up in this majestic place.  It’s not the tropical paradise that one conjures up when the word paradise is mentioned, but it is certainly a paradise of its own accord.  The clean water and clean air is marvelled at by people from far reaches of the world, who also come to enjoy the plethora of spectacular mountains, lakes, trees and rivers.  The names Banff and Canmore have become synonymous with mountains and outdoor recreation, fit people and world class athletes.

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Beautiful fall days in Canmore.

People flock to this valley to get but a taste of what it would be like to live here.  Many struggle greatly to keep afloat financially, with the ridiculous rates of inflation and costs of housing and living.  But Banff and Canmore are also both places that know unimaginable amounts of wealth and overabundance.  Above it all, and despite what class of person you are, my hope is that people who live here truly appreciate the stunning beauty that surrounds them.

I am thankful that I have chosen a life that has allowed me to spend this amount of time back in my hometown.  This visit has, again, solidified my foundation, it has reminded me that I am one of the fortunate ones, and it has helped me to recall parts of me that were long lost.  I guess you could say that I am one lucky little unicorn indeed!

And, you know, maybe, at the age of 43,  it’s finally time to admit that Banff doesn’t suck so bad after all!


Click here if you would like to read my article entitled Notes on my Hometown – Canmore, Alberta, Canada.


Thanks for reading! Please know that above all else, I aim to inspire others to just get out and see the world. Traveling is such an enriching experience, and I can’t even comprehend how much it has shaped me as an individual. If you have ANY questions, or need travel advice of ANY kind, PLEASE don’t hesitate to email me at the address below! I will do my very best to help you in any way I can!

Xoxoxo Happy Travels!


Current Location: Canmore, Alberta Canada 

Travelling Plans: Our plan is to stay in this area until Christmas or New Years.  Details of our next destination are yet to be confirmed.

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Author: jillamatt

Basically born a traveler, I long to see every corner of the world. In 2017, my partner and I sold all of our posessions, to pursue a life of travel, wanderlust and a yearning for more; More knowledge, more experiences and more joy. Join us in our explorations of this beautiful planet, we promise to not disappoint! The world is a giant book, and I intend to read every chapter that I can. I promise to whisk you away with me, as you yourself travel the world, without ever leaving your house.

6 thoughts on “Memories of Banff”

  1. Beautifully written, Jill, I am so enjoying following you and your travels .. inspirational, to say the least .. not only are you an extremely adventurous woman with multi talents, you are also a very good writer .. your little autobiography of when you were growing up, was fun to read, and I like how you punctuated it periodically with inserted pictures .. thanks, for letting me come along for the ride, Jill and Chris .. I would love to stay on a regular follower .. !!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Such a fun post, Jill. Banff was always one of my special places in the world. Haven’t been there for more than 20 years. Thanks for reminding me of that wonderful place!

    Hugs, Pam

    Sent from my iPhone

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    Like

  3. Born in Alberta and living between Banff and Jasper, they were always destinations for camping and hiking in the summer. I identify with your experiences…and also that we seldom realize the power and grace of our youth…until later! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and memories. I worked a summer in Waterton, another outstanding national park, and met young adults from all across Canada who came to work and discover the mountains and the beauty. How fortunate we are 🙂

    Like

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