Canadian Rockies a History in Photographs
Book Review

Canadian Rockies a History in Photographs is a photographic history of the Canadian Rockies, most of it about Banff and the surrounding territory.

For those on a budget looking for a high quality but short history of Banff National Park, this is it. Internet used books stores including those associated with Amazon often sell it for less than a dollar. We paid full price in the Banff Visitor Center, but we tend to buy our books so the author gets some benefit from his hard work.

When we started our summer 2006 trip to Banff, we were determined to find the best short history of Banff for our readers. Coming in from the west, we started looking at books at visitor center gift shops and book stores as soon as we hit the National Park complex. Clerk after clerk recommended Canadian Rockies: A History in Photographs as the best fit to our needs.

We bought the book the second day in Banff, read it, and agreed that it fit our needs well and was a good choice for our readers. Later a librarian at the Banff Townsite library also confirmed it was a good choice.

Contents include: Rails into the wild, the comforts of home, the high frontier, professions and pastimes, and wonder roads.

Rails Into the Wild

The book briefly mentions the pre-history, fur traders and others who formed the early history of Banff and then proceeds with the most salient feature of the modern history of the Rockies around Banff.

"But it was the contact between man and mountains during construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway in the 1880's which brought the Rockies into the limelight."

Then the author, Graeme Pole, proceeds with a series of concise, well structured, and interesting sentences to describe the role of the Canadian Pacific Railway in opening up the Rockies. Sprinkled among the events are pithy descriptions of the key players, a feature throughout the book.

"With an outlandish moustache, a profane vocabulary, a diet of raw beans and chewing tobacco, and unstoppable drive, "Hell's Bell's" Rogers was one of the most colourful characters to grace the pages of Rockies history."

This section gives you the background to greater enjoy what you will see in Banff and leaves you with a desire to explore the railroad impact on Banff to a much greater depth.

The Comforts of Home

"The history of the Canadian Pacific Railway, Canada's national park system, and the town of Banff are inextricably entwined in a remarkable fabric of endeavour, circumstance and discovery."

This section covers the accommodations developed for the visitor to Banff. Included are historical descriptions and photographs of the places. Included are the hot springs, the Banff Springs Hotel, Brett's Sanatorium, the Chalet Lake Louise (now Chateau Lake Louise), the first hydroelectric plant, the coming of the automobile, the Moraine Lake Lodge, and the Jasper Park Lodge. Again, mini-biographies and pictures are provided of the key personalities.

The High Frontier

"It was inevitable mountaineering would become popular in the Rockies. The Canadian Pacific Railway was constructed through some of the most spectacular and challenging mountain scenery in the world. .. all unclimbed, most were also unnamed."

This section covers the mountaineers who made the first ascents of the key mountains in the Rockies and the trail guides who led the sportsmen (mountaineers, hunters, and fishermen) into the mostly uncharted wilderness. An appreciation of their achievements lends enjoyment to the mountain scenery you will see because many of the peaks, lakes, and streams are named after these pioneers. The photographs will help you identify some of the peaks you will see. When roads and the automobile reduced the need for trail guides, many went into other businesses that still thrive in Banff.

Professions and Pastimes

"Ever since the wife of Prime Minister John A. Macdonald rode on the cowcatcher of a train from Lake Louise to Vancouver in the summer of 1886, the Rockies have seen an array of professionals and pastimes -- everything from basic industry to madcap novelty."

This catchall chapter covers what is left except for the roads. It describes the development of tourism and business and the pioneers responsible. Everything to the still-thriving "Banff Crag & Canyon" weekly newspaper (established in 1900 by Norman Luxton) to the defunct coal mines that supported the railroad.

Wonder Roads

"The advent of the automobile ushered in a new era in Rockies' tourism, and challenged the CPR's twenty-five year old dominance."

Horseless carriages and automobiles were first banned from the park but eventually roads were built to give the automobile tourist access to the spectacular scenery. The building of the railroad has to take the top award for an engineering marvel, but building the roads was no easy task. This chapter tells the story including the building of the Icefields Parkway, mostly with hand tools, during the depression with construction workers paid $5 per month and room and board. Many of the work camps where they stayed are now campgrounds along the parkway.


This was the first concise history we read of the Banff area. We read it both before and after the more complete and recent Banff & Lake Louise History Explorer. Both these books are highly recommended, but if you only want to get one and want it short, concise, and inexpensive, this is the book for you.

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