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Yesterday & Today

Declared a National Historic Site in 1988, Fairmont Banff Springs is known as a symbol in Canada’s rich and diverse history.

“The Banff Springs Hotel is absolutely palatial with the grandest view of mountain scenery we could ask to see, laying at our feet.” – Reverend James Carmichael


The Beginning

In 1881 the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) was founded to unite the east coast of Canada to the west. Within the same year, the company appointed William Van Horne to oversee the transcontinental railway’s construction over the Prairies & through the Canadian Rockies.

THE 1880’s

Towards the end of 1883, the railway had reached the Canadian Rocky Mountains.

Through his time in the Canadian Rockies, William Van Horne began to recognize the tourism opportunity of the Rockies. With his vision of building grand hotels across Canada, the CPR began to advertise the scenic mountain ranges of the west & made luxury hotels for travellers to visit.

In 1887, Van Horne commissioned blueprints for a grand hotel on a site personally chosen and named by him. During the same year, Banff became Canada’s first national park.

Since we can’t export the scenery, we’ll have to import the tourists.” – William Van Horne

A Castle is born


In 1888 the Banff Springs Hotel opened its doors. With mountains surrounding it and at the base of the Bow and Spray River, the luxury hotel had turned into one of the top three mountain getaways in North America. Boasting guests from countries like South Africa, Paris, France, the United States and more, the hotel made an international name for itself.
Guests staying at the hotel participated in an array of activities. For instance, swimming, hiking, golfing, climbing, canoeing or just sat back and admired the scenery, just to name a few. It was thus cementing the opening season that the Banff Springs Hotel a success.


By the turn of the century, the popularity of the hotel was undeniable. It became apparent that to accommodate all those wishing to stay renovations and expansions would be needed.

From 1900 – 1910, changes were made to the original building and from 1910-1928 when alterations were of the design for a ‘new hotel.’

After an extremely busy 1910-1911 season, it became evident to the CPR that a new building be added to the site.

In 1914 a new central tower was made. This tower housed, a large dining room, the lobby and 300 guest bedrooms.

Deciding that even more expansion was necessary, plans to expand in 1926-1927 were set in motion.

Unfortunately, in April of 1926, a fire burned down the old north wing of the hotel. By mid-1928, the Banff Springs that we know it today were once again open to the public.


With the opening of the “new hotel” the late 1920s and 1930s were deemed the ‘Golden Era’ in the hotel’s history.

The hotel flooded with people who would arrive with letters of credit worth upwards of $50,000 for stays ranging from 60-90 days.

In 1928 the newly designed Stanley Thompson Golf Course was opened to the public.

The golf course’s evolution is a strong example of the lengths to which the hotel would go to cater to its guests.

The depression played a part in the ‘Golden Era.’

An unsure future forced people to examine their lives and lead them to live life to the fullest.


The glory days of the ‘Golden Era’ came to a grinding halt with World War II devastation.

With travel patterns changing, travel restrictions & European investment losses -due to the war – combined for a nearly fatal blow to the hotel and tourism in the Canadian Rockies.

In 1942, management decided to close the doors of the hotel for the duration of the war.

With the hotel reopening after the war, in 1945, a new era of tourism and travel was upon the Banff Springs Hotel.

1950’s – Present

The 1950s, and ’60s were not kind to the CPR hotels and the Banff Springs Hotel. Classified as out-of-date, the hotel struggled in comparison to more modern hotels.

In 1969 it was decided that the Banff Springs Hotel would remain open year-round. The aim was to showcase Banff National Park as a winter locale as well. The move proved to be a significant success.
In 1988, the hotel became a National Historic Site.

The future would hold significant pivotal moments for the hotel. With renovation and renewal being the focus, the hotel would undergo another expansion, building a conference centre, a spa and much more.

Today, the hotel continues to deliver superior service while still showcasing growth and adaptability.

“A haven of gracious living in a setting of breath-taking beauty, where visitors from all over the world return year after year; once visited, Banff Springs calls again.” – Castle in the Air, CPR brochure, 1935

Telling Our Stories


Carol Shipley worked as a chambermaid at the Banff Springs Hotel in 1955. Sixty-four years later, she returned to Fairmont Banff Springs and shared her story of what it was like living and working in Banff National Park in the 1950s.

*Please note, some of the imagery above was provided by Canadian Pacific Railway.

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