By Mona Staples
As a good friend of mine likes to say – the time has come to go nomadic. Boarding the plane, I anticipate the adventure ahead of me in the romance of the Canadian Rockies. It was easy to prepare for this trip – I am leaving behind one UNESCO World Heritage site to visit another – exchanging one culture of snow and ice for another. I think back to my last vision of Ottawa, looking north from the Pretoria Bridge, the Rideau Canal was a snaking ice-cube afloat in its container of water and I hear the local lament – oh no - not another year of Water-lude.
I’m hoping that by my return in a few days, the renowned skating rink – the raison d’être and the identity of Capital City Canada will be frozen and ready for the opening of Winterlude. Until then, I am heading west to check out The Ice Magic Festival at Lake Louise. I have few concerns about travel logistics; instead, I am preoccupied with one esoteric enquiry, “Who exactly was Louise?”
Lake Louise: elegant, alliterative – a Canadian Icon, right up there with Stompin’ Tom. It turns out that the eponymous Louise was no wallflower. Princess Louisa Caroline Alberta held, that “the subject of domestic economy lies at the root of the highest life of every true woman.” A gal touted for her “personal pluck”, Louise was the sixth child and fourth daughter of Queen Victoria. She, born well above concerns of domestic economy, remained true to her words – and herself.
Feeling satisfied that Louise was not only the perfect alliterative choice, but also a historically worthy namesake, I focus on the journey ahead of me – an extended winter weekend basking in the beauty of Banff National Park. No doubt, Louise would have approved. The beauty, the majesty and the romance will not be lost on her. I think I will have to invite her along…
Despite the objections of certain royals and with the blessing of mummy (you know – The Queen), Louise held out – and married – for love. No small victory, considering that mummy (Yes – Queen Vickie) reportedly advised the young brides of the empire to “lie back and think of England.” Love and fortitude led Louise to marry a non-royal, John Campbell, Marquis of Lorne, who would become the future Governor General of Canada. And – it was John who later named the iconic emerald-hued lake in our great Canadian Landscape Lake Louise.
Now this is tourism at its best! It’s Canada. It’s winter. It’s snowing. And it’s getting dark. But the drive from Calgary to Banff is smooth sailing all the way with the beacon of the Rocky Mountain Range on the horizon. We arrive in Banff at dusk. I was last in Banff during the summer of ’78, when hitch-hiking was still de rigueur for those of us at the tail-end of the Boomer Generation. A month after I had informed my parents that I would be gone for the weekend – we arrived in Banff.
Thirty years later, I look north up Banff Street – and it is exactly as I remember it. Main Street Banff is not a conduit for traffic – it is a vista. It is not by accident that town planners dissected the town of Banff to provide a clear-cut view through to the suitably named, magnificent Mount Cascade. This is just one of a number of iconic Canadian images that I will encounter in the next few days.
Next stop – Banff Springs Hotel – another postcard image that is indelibly printed on the collective Canadian memory. It appears as a stacked cake of late Victorian Architecture. It was modeled after a Scottish Baronial Castle – à propos, since considering the town and The Park (as the locals fondly refer to it) were named after Banffshire, Scotland, the birthplace of then CPR director, Lord Steven. One hundred years after the hotel’s doors first opened, it was declared a national historic site – just in time for the Calgary Winter Olympics in 1988.
Once through the doors, it is definitely old world elegance that greets visitors. I think of Louise. No doubt she, The Duchess of Argyll, would have felt right at home here. I could wax on about the world-class service of Fairmont Hotels; instead, I ask myself, “Does staff training include a good round of cognitive behavioral therapy? Like, this is one enlightened group of people. I’m inspired to lots and frequently, and I’m thinking, “Hey, where can I buy shares – that can only be good karma.”
I gather from numerous friendly conversations with staff that most were drawn by the sheer beauty of the area and the opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors. It’s not just about the good working conditions and the decent wages. Many (seemingly a majority) are Australians who have taken advantage of the ease in which they can get working visas. They tell me that Australia does not reciprocate. Hmmm – there’s something to bring up with my MP.
We enter our classic refurbished room. It is cozy, cozy, cozy. This room is nothing – if not romantic. A pair of windows deep in their dormers will eventually announce the morning, framing the day with perfect mountain views. A Jacuzzi for two and cotton-rich sheets inspire one to want to bring along – a good friend. By the end of this weekend, I will be convinced that one could fall in love with Attila the Hun, sharing days in the great outdoors of Banff National Park and nights in Fairmont Hotels.
It’s getting late and jet-lag is setting in – but we must run off to join the tourism folks at The Bison Restaurant. Dimly lit, woody and virtually unadorned, it is a haven for non-vegetarians; but it’s definitely not a “meat-and-two-veg” sort of place. Totally upmarket – this is a Carnivore’s Paradiso. There is something almost medieval about the décor, the presentation and the earthiness of the food.
The Bison Restaurant offers the best there is – local and organic, which easily mates up with a choice from the extensive selection
of regional wines. It is now 11:00 pm in Ottawa, and my taste buds have long since gone to bed, but the food is so good that I rally. We start with a heaping platter of charcuteries. I’m struck by the size of the portions. Right, I forgot, this is Alberta – Texas north of the border – I won’t be going to bed hungry tonight.
Most of us make the obvious choice – the bison – it’s as good as expected. I opt for the duck – our waiter agrees that it should be cooked just enough to leave some of the sweet fat intact. I smile at the presence of that much-maligned vegetable – a Brussels sprout on my plate. I imagine that the portion, a half a sprout – often makes its way back to the kitchen on an otherwise empty plate. A savory plate of food, accompanied by a smooth-drinking Okanagan Merlot and a lively conversation about surfing at Tofino, topped off with a fragrant gelato, I leave – a satiated omnivore.
A good stroll to aid digestion is in order on this perfect winter’s night. There are few people in the streets. Coming from Central Canada, we think of Banff as a winter destination – the locals assure me otherwise. Unofficially, I am told that many establishments run at a 30% occupancy rate during the winter months – unless there is a special event to draw in the crowds.
I, like Louise, dislike crowds and noisy places. No doubt she would have taken much pleasure strolling along the streets of Banff arm-in-arm with the Governor General, enjoying the privacy and the anonymity. The small scale of the village is comforting. As we head back to the car we pass a group of young off-duty workers coming out of the pubs. Many are tipsy. All are merry and remain well-mannered. It’s now feeling more like a university town than a ski village – all part of the charm.
Blogs about Banff rave about the shopping – all the trendy stores are here. A few shops are still open. I seek to satisfy my penchant for the beautiful and the unusual. It turns out that the unusual is well beyond my budget. For a mere $30,000, you too can own your very own fossilized remains of a cave bear – dating between 40,000 and 100,000 years old. After considering the efforts to dismantle and reassemble, and, hey what about that overweight baggage charge, it remains in the store.
By all accounts, Louise was a Renaissance woman – I wonder what would have captured her shopping fancy? A good number of the typical tourist shops are still open. We decide to avoid the task of sifting through a whole lot that is commercial and hokey. We postpone our shopping for our return visit when we can choose from the exquisite selection of native arts, crafts and wares at The Banff Indian Trading Post.
We head back to our cozy room and the welcome comfort of pristine bed linens. We wake, just as the mountains peak through the dormer windows. In less than 24 hours we’ve had a great drive, a great meal, a great walk and a great sleep. I’m still metabolizing the protein from last evening’s meal as we hop on The Discover Banff Tour Bus for the much anticipated Johnston Canyon Walk. The drive up is mystical, passing snow-covered mountain after mountain, each with its own expression of sturdy peace.
All the while, our guide enlightens us with anecdotes of history, geography, and colorful characters. Here is another person who loves his job. That’s a relief – he “won’t be throwing any advanced geology our way.” Great – I’m just looking forward to a nice long walk in the snow. He assures us that after guiding no less than 150 hikes into The Canyon, the worst to befall a hiker were a few blisters and a little altitude sickness. Fabulous – I’m always looking for middle-aged challenges that don’t result in physiotherapy.
We get the usual stuff out of the way – you know – sign the waiver, apply the ice cleats, last trip to the loo and finally we are off – like turtles. Oh my goodness – this is just too much beauty – I can feel a religious experience coming on. The day is perfect – warm enough that the snow doesn’t squeak underfoot but cold enough to render the cheeks rosy. Everything is nearly consumed in freshly fallen snow. It is a sight without blight. With each step deeper into the vertical snow-scape, the voice in my head slows down.
Yes, this has all the makings of a darn good pilgrimage: a motley crew thrown together by happenstance; a long walk with an ultimate destination – and all in a setting of natural beauty that cannot help but assert the existence of a benevolent creator. We meander along as our enthusiastic guide continues to impart his eclectic knowledge of The Canyon…
Inevitably, I become the lost sheep. Like Louise, I cannot help but embrace the space and the silence. I push forward ahead of the others. Alone, we ingest the raw beauty – uninterrupted. As the voice of our guide fades in the background, we pass the fresh imprint of a snow angel lying supine in the snow – the ephemeral markings of a young pilgrim charm me.
I imagine what this place would be like during the summer months – the towering walls – green – without snow. I can almost smell the moss in the moist summer air. I am convinced, however, that I am in the right place at the right time. Our guide later concurs – Johnston Canyon is a freeway teaming with tourists during the summer months. Now, off season, it is a perfect winter paradise – unmarred by the madding crowd.
The Mecca of this particular pilgrimage is the Upper Falls. Along the way we make a few stops; learn much about Johnston himself and the construction of the steel walkways; linger for a while at a rather chilly pool of black water and share our observations amongst ourselves. The steel walkway ensures our safe passage along what was once a precarious path, treacherous in places. We arrive intact at the Upper Falls, which are a frozen cascade imbued with a hint of blue – I’m thinking that I could use that forsaken advanced geology lesson.
In a real pilgrimage, this would be the inner sanctuary – the metaphoric spiritual center – the place of soul purification. Hey, like, this whole scene is bursting the sanctity of my pilgrimage bubble. There’s a whole lot going on here. A group of ice climbers are precariously suspended on the frozen falls. The joyful pilgrims are snapping photos of each other. Our guide pours hot chocolate, served up with biscuits. Did I just hear someone open a bottle of bubbly?
The real star here is not The Falls but – The Resident Raven. He’s a grand fellow. Perched upon a railing, not far from where I stand, he’s huge, black and wild against the white backdrop. Louise whispers Poe’s words, Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary… In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore… beguiling my sad fancy into smiling… Quoth the Raven, nevermore…
But this is not Edgar Allan Poe’s gothic and mysterious raven. This is a modern fellow, almost domesticated and uncharacteristically friendly. Everyone wants a piece of the action as they inch up next to him to get a photo. No doubt, this raven has tasted a few food scraps thrown his way over the years. I think of Jane Goodall’s findings that her colony of chimps became hostile, only after humans introduced the currency of free bananas into the mix. We humans do have a way of mucking things up, don’t we, Louise?
Sufficiently satisfied with our celebrations, we turn back. The return is ethereal. Solemnity has set in. It was a successful pilgrimage after all. The beauty has infused us with silence. Languishing along, I am acutely aware of my heart rate – slowed and steady – in rhythm with my breathing. Louise, silently, gracefully loops her arm around mine.
The bus ride back is even more mesmerizing than it was on the way up. Like the clarity one achieves after a deep meditation, the view of the mountains, uninterrupted by the silence of my companions, is surreal. Staring out the window, the stillness of each mountain passes slowly by as we make our way back to the Banff Springs Hotel.
After a good round of soul-purification, the obvious choice is to team up godliness with cleanliness and head to The Spa. The Banff Spring Hotel Spa – it’s as good as it gets – no need to talk this one up. It is the ultimate in self-care. In the midst of this soothing wet indulgence, my senses recall time spent at The Spa at St. Andrew’s Old Course. This is the perfect reward for a couple of weary pilgrims.
Still internally warmed from our Spa visit, we hop in the car and head to Lake Louise. Yes, another fabulous drive. The drivers are cautious as they motor along the well-patrolled highways. There is something noble about respectful traffic in the sanctity of The Park. The ease of the drive with the mountains hovering on either side, recalls for me another scenic highway – the famed Road to Taos. There’s no denying the soulful impact of mountains on the collective unconscious.
Well Louise, here’s some icing for the cake – valet parking at the end of a perfect drive. Chateau Lake Louise has an entirely different ambience from Banff Springs. It is still grand but also light and airy. The theme is definitely Swiss, as I have been informed. The whiteness of the snow gleams from outside the ubiquitous windows. The Chateau cannot help but be a slave to the view – like a doting mother, Majestic Mount Victoria stands tall above Lake Louise beneath her.
The lobby is abuzz with the energy of young families. I have a mission. Where is she? I know she is here somewhere. Ah – there she is. The portrait of Princess Louise, completed just before she sailed to Canada in 1878, hangs above the mantle. She was 30 years of age and the trip was treacherous.
Yes, she is beautiful. Historians deemed her to be the best-looking of Victoria’s brood. Beneath her portrait, an infant crawls aimlessly about on the carpeted floor.
This place is just great! It is what Canadians like to boast – the great outdoors and our ability to exercise a naïve sense of safety. It’s refreshing to see so many relaxed parents in one place. In the next couple of days, I will come across unsupervised groups of children freely wandering around. Few helicopter parents at this place. It makes me think of the days when our parents bundled us up warmly and pushed us out the front door for the day.
We follow the natural light, guiding us along the hallway to our room. Princess Louise is all over this room. The floral pattern dancing on the walls makes me think of the trompe l’oeil of blossoming apple boughs that she painted on her bedroom door at Rideau Hall. It is still maintained to this day. I instantly open the curtains. They will remain this way for the duration of our stay.
Louise was a painter and a sculptor and her husband was a poet. As I look out at the typical winter scene, I think of the typical winter scene that I have so often looked at on Lake Louise calendars. They got it right when they married up the words, quiet beauty with Lake Louise. I wonder if Louise ever painted this scene. With eyes fixed on the view out the window, I recline. Louise silently sets up her easel and I fall sound asleep…
A knock at the door wakes us. How delightful – a complimentary plate of exquisite goodies, including the answer to all that ails – chocolate! What a nice wake-up call. Was it the fresh air, the peace, or the jet-lag? I’ve been down for a couple of hours. It is dark and it is late. On our way to supper, I almost feel like Scarlett O’Hara coasting down the magnificent staircase. It’s well after supper hour, but they are still serving food at Lakeside Lounge. This will become our favorite of the many eating venues in The Chateau. It’s all about the windows and the million-dollar view, both inside and out.
Dinner done and bundled up, we head out to check the ice sculptures. It’s the second weekend of The Ice Magic Festival. Coming from Capital City Canada with Winterlude’s World-Class Ice Sculptures, I expected to feel a little, dare I say, jaded in my assessment of the ice sculptures. As it turns out, less is more. Unlike the race to see the many ice sculptures lining Confederation Park, we give time and attention to each exquisite sculpture illuminated against the darkness of the lake and mountains at night.
Another romantic setting – the air is thick with layers of flaking snow. There are very few people milling about. The scene has a magical quality to it. Yet another homage to romance, this is undoubtedly a honeymooner’s promenade, inviting a clandestine embrace and a kiss. Arm in arm, we peruse the sculptures, trying to decipher the meaning of each. This year’s theme, “word play”, is loosely employed.
After another good night’s sleep, the window greets us with a white-on-white morning. The snow continues. It’s hard to believe that the hotel was only winterized in 1982. Up until then, Chateau Lake Louise was a summer destination. Banff National Park has hosted the month of activities known as Snow Days for 20 years. In 2012, the Ice Magic Festival was divided into two weekends.
Last weekend saw the ice-carving competitions and this weekend is dedicated to family fun. There are plenty of whimsical activities for child and adult alike. Almost all of the activities are free. Many families either stay in Banff or drive in from Calgary for economy’s sake. Fairmont Hotels even welcome the family pooch.
The main event at the moment is a carving demonstration by a veteran sculptor while, nearby, his 14-year old son takes a stab at his own sculpture. This will encourage parents to bring their children to the festival site in the village, where children can try their hand at ice sculpting. I can’t help but smile as I watch this effusive display of wandering children and their happy parents.
Louise, who remained childless herself, might have concurred that the presence of happy families merely adds to the romance of our intimate weekend for two. The history books state that Louise and her husband hosted many popular “snow parties” at Rideau Hall during their day. The guests could toboggan, curl or skate. She lifted the ban……
I regret that I do not have my custom skates with me today, although renting is an option. The ice is notably smooth, considering that motorized vehicles are not allowed on the lake of a national park. No Zamboni in sight, I spot the good old-fashioned, man-powered heavyweight roller used to maintain the ice. Very impressive – the quality of the ice certainly beats the average day on the Rideau Canal by a long shot.
At last – the moment that I have been waiting for is here – ta dah! – the Ice Queen arrives. She is fabulous! Wearing a crown, of course, and donning a big, puffy, pale blue silver dress – and hockey skates – she is smiling from ear to ear. Gregariously charming, I come upon her just as she is putting the moves on my photographer (in a nice way). He later informed me that he started it, but she certainly wasn’t slow on the uptake.
Ya gotta love a flirtatious Ice Queen – there is nothing icy about this Queen. The kids like her too. She tells me that this is the first year she laces up the skates. In the past, she’s done the schmooze on foot. She’s been doing this gig for a few years, on and off. Clearly she is having a blast and she rallies everyone to follow around the Ice Castle at the center of the rink. This is one of two half-hour segments when the children can skate with the Ice Queen…
Leaving the fun behind us, we make our way towards the middle of the lake. I am compelled to visit the lonely snowman standing there. He is looking a little ragged and could use some adornment. There is something poignant about him, in his impermanent humble stance. As I stand next to the snowman on this frozen emerald lake with the mountains looming above, I can feel my ego being swallowed up.
It is true – there is definitely something mystical about this place. I am completely dwarfed by it. I was told that there are no native land claims to the area, apparently, because only nomadic tribes passed through. The Nakoda Indians called it the Lake of Little Fishes. I wonder why they chose not to settle here. Was it deemed too sacred a place to mar it with anything of human permanence? The natives had the good sense to leave it unblemished – a perfect paradise of healing where one can stop for a rest on the path of life’s journey.
It was a Stoney Indian who led Tom Wilson, a former member of the North West Mounted Police, to the lake in 1882. He, reportedly the first white man to lay eyes on the lake, is quoted as saying, “I never, in all my explorations, saw such a matchless scene.” He called it Emerald Lake. Princess Louise’s husband, her mother’s representative, the Governor General of Canada called it Lake Louise in 1884. By 1892, the white men had the good sense to include the area in “Rocky Mountain Park”, the beginning of protected lands and Canada’s National Park system.
I stand in silence looking around, acutely aware of the fact that I am standing in the middle of the frozen emerald lake. A good number of the locals tell me that they prefer the winter months here. The lake is not the glorious emerald jewel now – it’s a different kind of quiet beauty – soft with snow. Tempting as it is, this is no time for a photograph. I inhale deeply. The distant din of the crowd fades as the voice in my head slows to a whisper, again.
It’s time to head back to the room and gaze out the window for a while, again… After a good nap, I ready myself to get sporty and increase the heart and respiration rates. I am going snow-shoeing with the media folks from sunny California. Our guide, Mike, is a novel-worthy character. He insists that everyone at Lake Louise, and I mean everyone, covets his job. Not me – donning The Ice Queen’s hockey skates is at the top of my bucket list!
Here’s another guy who – no doubt – loves his job! Originally from Kingston, he came here nearly 30 years ago to work for one season – and the rest is history. He’s pumping out the information! It’s all about the flora and the fauna and the geography and the history – and the people! He has our undivided attention! The likes of Mary Pickford, Alfred Hitchcock and Marilyn Monroe have done their thing here! Mike can never tell who’s going to show when he has a booking with Mr. and Mrs. Smith! His biggest disappointment was the day when Jim Carrey cancelled on him.
Jeez Louise – will you give me just a little squeeze – or at least a pinch! Just when I thought things could not get any better – this is absolutely fantastic! Right toe up and plunk… Left toe up and plunk…. Right toe up and plunk… Look out for the bush… phew… that was close… Wow – I can’t believe that it took me, a bona-fide Canadian, this long to do off-trail snow-shoeing. Totally exhilarated, I am now alone, somewhere in the middle of my journey and I wake to find myself deeply entrenched in a white paradise…
I’m way ahead of the others. Gravity propels me forward in the sloping woods as my snowshoes keep me afloat in the fresh heaps of snow. It’s pretty dense with trees but I can still navigate quite well as I barrel forward. Mike’s succinct coaching instilled total confidence in me. I’m thrilled to be breaking the trail as he stays behind with the novice Californians. I’m feeling rather smug as I remain upright despite his repeated warnings that we should be prepared to fall.
Alas, all good things must come to pass and our adventure in the woods comes to a premature close as we make haste and return to the lakeside for a rather Victorian sort of experience – a horse-drawn sleigh ride. Sipping on my brandy-laced hot chocolate waiting for the sleigh to arrive, I entertain myself with imaginings of snow-shoeing by moonlight. Mike raved about it. I can almost hear the wolves howling – just one more reason to return to this place of magic-making.
Oh my – this is just so civilized. I am certain that Princess Louise herself, wrapped in fur with hat and muff to match, is sitting right next to me. On one side are trees iced with snow, and on the other runs a still white river dividing us from the mountain range. The sleigh is snug full of generations of adults and children. Someone breaks into Jingle Bells – and we pick it up. I am now completely charmed by the lightness of being – I’m sure it’s not just the brandy – this feels just like falling in love…
Surrounded again by happy parents and children, intimacy prevails. Sadly, Louise tells me of a terrible sleigh accident where she was dragged for miles before the coachman could regain control of the horses. Along with a serious concussion and neck injuries, her ear was torn. She insisted the event be down-played in the press, which unfortunately, did not serve her well. She was criticized for her absence at subsequent public events.
The more I know about this woman, the more I respect her and the more I come to understand how her husband came to deeply admire and love her. I see now that Lake Louise is Canada’s Taj Mahal – an enduring symbol of a man’s desire to immortalize his affections for his life partner.
After a day filled with outdoor activities, we enjoy some respite in our room with a good soak in the whirlpool tub. Next we will explore the magnificent interior of this Chateau. One’s ego may shrink whilst standing in the midst of Lake Louise and her looming mountains but that same ego cannot but inflate when roaming about the interior of Chateau Lake Louise. It is a grand feeling to strut along corridors in a hotel fit for a princess.
We dine at the Waliser Stube with the public relations folks from the Hotel. One of our dinner companions, a local, speaks eloquently of the healing powers of the area. She tells me that spiritualists believe that there is an energy vortex located where the Lake meets the Mountain. I believe it – that would be the New Age explanation for the feelings I experienced today as I stood next to the lonely tired snowman in the middle of the Lake.
I had heard the stories about the healing powers of Lake Louise and environs. Just before leaving Ottawa, my mother told me a story of a woman who fled her troubled marriage. It was the 1960’s and her parish priest arranged for her to work at Chateau Lake Louise for a season. With her young daughter, she fled the abuse of her husband. Her time at Lake Louise launched her into recovery and she went on to have a good life.
We leave the dinner table after meandering our way through a fondue dinner of many and varied vegetables, meats and sauces. The food was tasty – we ate more bison. I note that fondue is a great way to break the ice among strangers. The meal encourages sharing and socializing at the table.
As we walk back to the room with doggie bag in tow, I think of Louise, again. She would have liked the story about the woman and her daughter healing at Lake Louise. Louise was, by all accounts, an active feminist. She was a supporter of the underdog and a champion of women’s rights. She visited women who were incarcerated. And she was reputed to employ a light touch with the domestic help at Governor House. In direct opposition to The Queen (you know, mom) she supported the Suffragette Movement.
In our room, I lament that we will be leaving tomorrow – too soon – it will be difficult. A good week spent here, would, no doubt – be tantamount to Nirvana. I add it to the Bucket List. I lie in bed and wonder what Marilyn Monroe’s experience was like. I like to think that when the troubled star visited Lake Louise, she was able to sleep soundly, without the aid of the sedatives that eventually claimed her life.
Our last day in Lake Louise is also the last day of the Ice Magic Festival. I’m a swimmer and have been champing at the bit to get my bathing cap and goggles on so I think I’ll check out the pool before stepping into the fray. More enlightened staff – a lovely young woman from the Philippines provides a towel. The pool is just long enough to do seven strokes of front crawl. My need to swim satisfied, I hang out in the sauna for a while – a nice hot treat after so much cold-weather activity.
After a buffet breakfast in the Poppy Room, we head for the action in The Victoria Room. A magnificent spacious room with a beautifully carved vaulted ceiling, it speaks of British Imperialism – with a twist of ski lodge. There are more windows than wall space in this room. At either end is a large fireplace. The room is animated with a myriad of children’s activities – exquisite face painting, a range of displays and lots of eco-educational activities. There is nothing virtual here – it is all tactile and engaging.
You’ve got to love an activity called “Road Kill”. Before we know it, we find ourselves immersed in the study of the scatological. Curious, we pick up the bottle which, as it turns out, contains a good piece of wolf dung. Kristy, the young woman manning the table, works for Parks Canada. She engages us in a delightful discussion about the eating habits of wolves and the inevitable result! She sparkles with enthusiasm and out pop the tell-tale words – I love my job – I would do it for free!
Having checked out nearly every activity, but opting to forego the face-painting, we take a last stroll through the Chateau to see if we missed anything. The walls speak of history – the history of the railway, the history of tourism, the history of an expanding nation. We stop and have a good look of the photo of Sir John A. Macdonald and Lady Macdonald during their first visit to The Canadian Rockies.
As anticipated, it is difficult to leave this paradise. Fortunately, we will still have another day in The Park as we head back to satisfy our curiosity with a good day of tourism in Banff. I’m looking forward to Brewster Lodge. Banff Springs Hotel and Chateau Lake Louise may be fit for a princess, but I’m just a plain old gal from the colonies – the lodge sounds totally like my cup o’ tea.
After another awesome drive through the magic of the mountains and a photo-op stop at the designated look-out, we arrive in Banff after two good days of healing at The Lake. No grand entrance at the lobby of Brewster’s Mountain Lodge – instead we are wowed by the room. It has two levels: the bed is up a long steep staircase that scales the wall into a loft. The cathedral-sized window from ceiling to floor, spans the two stories. This is an inspiring lair for a couple of lovers.
We follow the path along the Bow River – accompanied by the postcard view of Banff Springs Resort nestled in the mountains. Dinner at The Banff School of Art – fishbowl. The food is exquisitely artistically presented – reluctant to disturb the presentation. I have the lamb. Only panes of clear glass separate us from the mountains. We’ll have to come back for a daytime meal. It must be awesome during the day. Once again, there are few people to distract us.
Do a few yoga stretches on the balcony overlooking the road – it’s almost balmy out. Well in a Canadian winter sort of way, that is. I imagine that during the summer months, it would be fun to sit out here, and have a drink with a bird’s eye view of the street below.
Breakfast in basement – simple adequate food – cereals and juices, boiled eggs. Elitism of back-packers. Guerilla tourism – I’ve got a list – hang out in a local coffee shop. Next day – public library, municipal building, the graveyard and School of Art. Banff Gondola. The Native Trading Post.
Graveyard – beyond the tourism – the lives that were born, worked, loved and lost. It is no exception – snow – some turned over. A few deer hang out by the fence. I wonder why I haven’t seen more deer?
As luck would have it, my photographer has done a stint at the Banff School of Art so we have an IN! Tour around various studios. Sculpted blue glass – musical. There’s a Cuban dance show coming that I would love to see. Note to self – return as artist in next life and do a stint at Banff School of Art….
I am convinced despite the admonitions of many, that there is something special waiting for me in Calgary on Tuesday night in February. Again, the last time I was here was during the post-pubescent road trip. We stay at a strip motel – my companion heads up to check the walls for bullet holes. We eat at the local diner, which features two types of wine – red and white. Recognizing the advantages of being in Alberta, I order a burger. It’s perfect.