Parks Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada

A History of Canada's National Parks
Volume III
by W.F. Lothian


The survey and development of townsites and summer cottage subdivisions in the national parks of Canada over a period of 90 years has been an interesting phase of national park administration. In the larger and older parks, townsites have provided a base of operations for the administration of the park concerned, together with sites for the accommodation and residence of others engaged in the provision of services for the entertainment of persons visiting the parks. On the other hand, the cottage subdivisions—no longer being created or extended—were developed to provide sites for summer homes of fortunate owners, and presumably promote a greater interest and use of the national parks by the lessees and their acquaintances.

As originally conceived, the Townsite of Banff, first to be surveyed, was intended to form a 'watering place' or spa. It would not only contain accommodation for those making use of the waters which flowed from mineral hot springs, but also provide building lots on which affluent park visitors might erect homes. The townsite, as envisioned, also would enable entrepreneurs interested in trade, industry and habitation to fulfil their ambitions. The expectations of early park administrators not only were realized but exceeded. As travel to the national park increased, the need for additional visitor services became evident, and extensions of the townsite to accommodate hotels, other lodgings and business premises followed. The early advertisement and leasing of townsite lots to all corners was discontinued, and a policy restraining rather than encouraging resident newcomers was adopted. More recent additions to Banff and other townsites have been undertaken only after real need was demonstrated by applicants for home sites.

During the early days of the present century, life in park townsites was leisurely in character. Visitors arrived mainly by railway, settled into a hostelry suited to their life-style and purse, and saw the sights with the aid of a horse-drawn vehicle, boat, or on foot. The advent of the automobile, however, brought many changes. Conveyances, such as the buggy, coach and tally-ho were replaced by taxis, buses and U-drive cars; motor roads and drives were extended to park boundaries to link up with provincial highways, and park patronage doubled, tripled and quadrupled. As the tourist industry expanded, the population of the park townsites increased, bringing demands for more homes, municipal services, schools, hospitals and facilities for recreation. The greatest expansion of the park townsites, particularly Banff and Jasper, followed the ending of World War II, when numerous restrictions on industry and travel were lifted.

For many years, visitor traffic to the national parks was confined to what are termed the summer months, and during the 'off' season, park residents provided their own entertainment by developing facilities for skating, curling and skiing. A winter carnival was held for some years at Banff and brought welcome visitors. By the early 'thirties', the outstanding opportunities for winter sport—especially skiing—in Banff, Jasper and Mount Revelstoke National Parks were being advertised, and gradually the Townsites of Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper emerged as winter sports centres, mainly through the development of alpine ski areas. Active participation by the National Parks administration in the development of ski runs, jumps and parking areas for automobiles, and in developing means of access to developed areas, all helped to extend the visitor season to that of a year-round resort.

Matters of concern to park administrators have included the provision and extension of public and municipal services, such as water and sewage systems, electric power, street and road maintenance, and facilitating sources of fuel. In their formative years, Banff, Jasper and Field Townsites were fortunate in being able to obtain electric power from privately-owned generating plants. On withdrawal of these sources of power, other arrangements had to be made. The provision of potable water services presented few problems, but in subsequent years, the satisfactory disposal of sewage without attendant pollution of park streams took many years to achieve. Altogether, the administration of park townsites has been attended by most of the problems common to municipalities outside national parks.

In addition to short histories of the development of some twenty-five park townsites and sub-divisions, this volume contains descriptions of various developments and services it has been found necessary to provide during the ensuing years. Most of this data has been compiled for the purposes of record, before available sources and files, which are constantly diminishing, have disappeared. The author wishes to acknowledge the assistance of Regional Directors, Park Superintendents, and members of their staffs in the compilation of items of historic interest. Especially helpful were G.J. Raby, Assistant Director, Operations, Western Region; R.T. Flanagan, Superintendent, Jasper National Park; and R.G. Glencross, Program Co-ordination Branch, Parks Canada, Ottawa.

Falls on Cameron Creek — formerly Oil Creek — Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta. Four miles upstream, Alberta's first oil well was brought into production in September, 1902.

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