On November 8, 1883, three young railway workers—Franklin McCabe and William and Thomas McCardell—went prospecting for gold on their day off. After crossing the Bow River by raft, they came across a warm stream and traced it to its source at a small log-choked basin of warm water that had a distinct smell of sulphur. Nearby, they detected the source of the foul smell coming from a hole in the ground.
Nervously, one of the three men lowered himself into the hole and came across a subterranean pool of aqua-green warm water. The three men had not found gold, but something just as precious—a hot mineral spring that in time would attract wealthy customers from around the world. Word of the discovery soon got out, and the government encouraged visitors to the Cave and Basin  as an ongoing source of revenue to support the new railway.
A small reserve was established around the springs on November 25, 1885, and two years later the reserve was expanded and renamed Rocky Mountains Park. It was primarily a business enterprise centered around the unique springs and catering to wealthy patrons of the railway. The Banff Springs Hotel, the world’s largest hotel at the time, opened in 1888. Enterprising locals soon realized the area’s potential and began opening restaurants and offering guided hunting and boating trips. By 1900, the bustling community of Banff  had eight hotels and had became Canada’s best-known tourist resort, attracting visitors from around the world.
At the turn of the 20th century, Canada had an abundance of wilderness; it certainly didn’t need a park to preserve it. The only goal of Rocky Mountains Park was to generate income for the government and the Canadian Pacific Railway (C.P.R.). In 1902, the park boundary was again expanded to include 11,440 square kilometers (4,420 square miles) of the Canadian Rockies .
This dramatic expansion meant that the park became not just a tourist resort but also home to existing coal-mining and logging operations and hydroelectric dams. Government officials saw no conflict of interest, actually stating that the coal mine and township at Bankhead added to the park’s many attractions. As attitudes began to change, the government set up a Dominion Parks Branch, whose first commissioner, J. B. Hawkins, believed that land set aside for parks should be used for recreation and education.
Gradually, resource industries were phased out. Hawkins’s work culminated in the National Parks Act of 1930, which in turn led Rocky Mountains Park to be renamed Banff National Park .
For the first century of its existence, the town of Banff  was run as a service center for park visitors by the Canadian Parks Service in Ottawa—a government department with plenty of economic resources but little idea about how to handle the day-to-day running of a midsized town. Any inconvenience this arrangement caused park residents was offset by cheap rent and subsidized services. In June 1988, Banff’s residents voted to sever this tie, and on January 1, 1990, Banff officially became an incorporated town, no different than any other in Alberta  (except that Parks Canada controls environmental protection within town limits).