I enjoy the extreme privilege of living within an hour’s drive of one of the most beautiful and pristine areas in the world – the Canadian Rockies. But those mountains have not always been as accessible to those of us living nearby as they are today. I remember as a child that a trip to the mountains could be an all-day journey, sometimes even with an overnight camp out, a situation dependent on the frailty of the family vehicle and/or the condition of the narrow, barely two-lane highway. But we didn’t get out much in those days and as kids who’d begun their lives in the forties and fifties, it was always super exciting when we were able to head west. When I look back on it all, it was almost a pioneering experience, as though we were settlers in a covered wagon striking out in quest of a new life. My parents packed everything they could – just in case. We were never told what the case might be, but in truth we kids didn’t have much to pack anyway so it was of little consequence to us. All we knew was that we were setting out on an adventure.
By the end of what seemed like an eternity and after ingesting most of the eatables and liquids provided, making the required pit stops, wrestling with one another for seat space, and intermittently asking the age old question “are we there yet”, we were more than ready to see the gates marking entrance to Banff National Park. Of course it was still some distance to the actual town site, and so we continued our chanting. The parents were probably just as happy to see the town as we were.
A few days ago Alice and I decided to drive to Banff and didn’t leave the city until well into the afternoon. And the journey took us little more than an hour on today’s much improved high-speed roadway. During the trip we were able to catch glimpses of several deer and mountain sheep and were home before nine o’clock, despite the dinner call along the way.
While in Banff we’d wandered the town, taken a few photos and then driven up to the world famous Banff Springs Hotel, a castle that has graced the mountain landscape for 130 years. We sat in the lounge, chatted to the charming young waiter and paid a staggering $15.00 each for cocktails. But then we looked out the window at the one-million-dollar view and declared to one another, “aren’t we just the luckiest people on earth that we can jump into the car at a moment’s notice, drive to see the world’s most spectacular scenery and afford to pay $30.00 for a couple of drinks.
Yes we are!
For my parents, Banff was a destination when they were courting. I have no idea how they were able to make the trip for the only conveyance they had was an old black bicycle my dad used to make deliveries for Bennett’s Grocery.
The two were avid photographers and had a passion for developing their own black and whites themselves. We still have albums full of multiple pictures of the same mountain, same stream and same bunch of friends. Why so many of the same thing one might ask. Well, here’s why. It’s because they developed several copies from the same negative over and over again until the pictures came out just right. But apparently, in the end none were ever discarded and even the most humble attempts found sanction in albums along with the more brilliant ones.
And the happy couple snapped a myriad of pictures of each other as well. There’s Phyllis, perched atop a large boulder near a gushing waterfall; she was a beautiful young woman, her beauty evermore enhanced by the look of love on her face. And there’s Bill, waving nervously from the deck of a crudely built log bridge spanning a mountain stream.
When not on a photo-op they would venture up to the Banff Springs and imagine they were actual paying guests there. On one of those excursions they chanced to stroll around the grounds surrounding the hotel whereupon they were accosted by one of the hotel’s security team. My Dad was strolling with his sport’s jacket slung over his arm, exposing the suspenders he was wearing to hold up his pants. He was instructed to put on his jacket in order to cover up the offensive gear as it was not allowed for folks to be seen on the property in inappropriate dress. I was reminded of that story one day when as an actual paying guest at the hotel I observed a man walking the lobby wearing a wet swim suit and flip flops. (Note to self: Do not refer to those rubber sandals as thongs as we once did, for that brings up a whole other subject that we dare not open at the moment).
One of the highlights of my mother’s life was the week-end my husband and I were able to take her and Dad to stay at the Banff Springs. Mom was giddy and though she’d spent most of her life living in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, she said she never thought she’d ever be able to stay at that grand hotel.
But my favourite memory of the hotel is of a trip my husband and I took to Banff around 1974. We were not staying at the hotel but decided to take a walk around the grounds, the walk culminating in a stroll up the roadway at the side entrance. We hadn’t noticed anything unusual and were surprised to be greeted at the doorway by a piper decked out in full regalia, his red and black tartan a flap in the breeze. An attendant graciously held wide the heavy door for us. What service, we thought as we were piped in. What style. In the lobby we were greeted by a throng of cheering people at which time we realized we’d unwittingly ventured upon a reception for someone who was obviously more important than we. We turned to see Pierre Trudeau, his wife Margaret and their two small offspring, Alexandre, called Sacha, and Justin, now Canada’s Prime Minister, coming into the lobby. The famous family was hastily whisked away to a waiting elevator as we stood blank-faced and wondering what we could do to amuse the crowd. The cheering stopped once folks realized we had nothing much to offer, except perhaps the blank looks on our faces. We had no choice then but to retreat the way we’d come. The piper did not pipe us out.
But my question is this. How is it that a slim-built young man wearing suspenders to keep his pants from drooping to half-mast (a style preferred by some young men today), could not escape the notice of hotel authorities while a pair of tourists dressed for a hike in the wilderness were able to haplessly wander unrestricted into a reception for a famous public figure?
In the words of that other Alice whose adventures took her to her own wonderland, “it’s curiouser and curiouser”!