Banff National Park is rich in history with many hidden gems to uncover during your visit. Are you ready to discover a ghost town that was once a thriving centre just outside the town of Banff? If you are looking for a little adventure along with some interesting historical sites, you need to visit Bankhead.
Coal Mining History
Bankhead, situated to the south of Lake Minnewanka, is known for its coal mining history.
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Established in 1903 by the Canadian Pacific Railway, Bankhead was bustling with coal miners and their families who came to work the mines. With coal being the major source of fuel, the railway set up a direct line to transport it from the prairies to the Pacific Ocean. The town grew rapidly with schools, houses and a host of buildings to supply the needs of the population as it expanded to around 1,000 people. At its peak, it was larger than the town of Banff.
The mines were rich with brittle coal-producing as much as 500 tons in a day. Extensive tunnels were forged through Cascade Mountain with around 320 kilometres excavated. The work was difficult, slow and dangerous for the miners and, as time went on, the coal that was being mined proved to be an expensive venture. Soon Cascade Mountain became a site of unhappy miners who went on strike for better and safer working conditions. This was the beginning of the end for the town of Bankhead.
What made this mountain so hard to defeat?
It was steep, intricately formed, and brittle making the day’s work long and gruelling. In June of 1922, the mine shut down due to the high costs and poor working conditions. Bankhead’s community of miners sought work at other locations, vacating this once booming town. Many of the town’s homes and public buildings were dismantled and transferred to Banff or Canmore, the rest were left to be occupied by the ghosts of the mining industry.
Strangely enough, Bankhead’s demise was part of the rise of Banff National Park. In 1930, the National Parks Act passed a law prohibiting mines and logging in any national park. You can still visit what remains of Bankhead today. You might feel the spirit of the many miners who lost their lives in the town or feel the wind shift through the ghostly remains of the decaying buildings still visible.
Take a day and explore the multiple trails and picnic areas to get a view of what the town looked like over a hundred years ago. Stop and read from the signs along the interpretive trail and visit the exhibits along the way to get a better understanding of life as it was in Bankhead many years ago. If you hike up far enough, you will be in awe of the beauty of Lake Minnewanka.
The Bankhead railway station was relocated along Tunnel Mountain Road in Banff and is one of the few buildings from the town that is still in use today. Next time you see a CP rail train, give some thought to the history behind this amazing Rocky Mountain zone.