Fairmont Banff Springs
On a terrace above a bend in the Bow River is one of the grandest and most famous mountain-resort hotels in the world. “The Springs” has grown with the town and is an integral part of local history.
Built by the Canadian Pacific Railway, the Fairmont Banff Springs opened in 1888 and was, at the time, the world’s largest hotel. Overnight, the quiet community of Banff became a destination resort for wealthy guests from around the world, and the hotel soon became one of North America’s most popular accommodations.
Every room was booked every day during the short summer seasons. Guest numbers reached 22,000 in 1911, and construction of a new hotel, designed by Walter Painter, began that year. The original design—an 11-story tower joining two wings in a baronial style—was reminiscent of a Scottish castle mixed with a French country chateau.
Don’t let the hotel’s opulence keep you from spending time here. Wander through on your own, admiring the 5,000 pieces of furniture and antiques (most of those in public areas are reproductions), paintings, prints, tapestries, and rugs. Take in the medieval atmosphere of Mount Stephen Hall with its lime flagstone floor, enormous windows, and large oak beams; take advantage of the luxurious spa facility; or relax in one of 12 eateries or four lounges.
The Fairmont Banff Springs is a 15-minute walk southeast of Banff, either along Spray Avenue or via the trail along the south bank of the Bow River. Banff Transit buses leave Banff Avenue for the Springs twice an hour ($2). Alternatively, horse-drawn buggies take passengers from the Trail Rider Store (132 Banff Ave., 403/762-4551) to the Springs for about $90 for two passengers.
Small but spectacular Bow Falls is below the Fairmont Banff Springs, only a short walk from downtown. The waterfall is the result of a dramatic change in the course of the Bow River brought about by glaciation. At one time the river flowed north of Tunnel Mountain and out of the mountains via the valley of Lake Minnewanka. As the glaciers retreated, they left terminal moraines, forming natural dams and changing the course of the river.
Eventually the backed-up water found an outlet here between Tunnel Mountain and the northwest ridge of Mount Rundle. The falls are most spectacular in late spring when runoff from the winter snows fills every river and stream in the Bow Valley watershed.
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition