Banff and the Good Life

After a spirited discussion about Pamela Wallin, the Tory’s overspending senator, Ms Soapbox’s mother sighed and said ““Sometimes politics makes me so mad I need a rest!”

Brilliant!  A rest was exactly what Mr and Ms Soapbox needed so we packed up the car and set off on an over-night junket to Banff.

Soon we were inhaling sulphur fumes and peering through the gloom at a tiny opening in a cave ceiling.  The last thing on our minds was the political morass that passes for “government” in Alberta.

In the space of two days we discovered that the “good life” does not require an expensive lifestyle.

The Banff Springs Hotel

Okay, the Banff Springs Hotel is pricey, but we had a gift certificate and you don’t need to be a guest to enjoy the hotel’s amenities.

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View from our room

I love old hotels.  The Banff Spring Hotel was built by CP Rail in 1888.  It was rebuilt in 1911 in the Scottish Baronial style and is a huge sprawling castle, regal and mysterious, with corridors leading off of corridors and staircases leading to locked doors.  We got lost three times trying to find our way back to the lobby.  How can an entire bank of elevators go missing???

Apparently it is also haunted; although an American paranormal film crew, disguised as guests, failed to discover Sam the Bellman, or anyone else for that matter, tucked behind the false door that they hacked down before getting caught by hotel staff.

On an early morning prowl Mr Soapbox and I discovered a secret door set into the oak panelled walls.  Behind it were shelves packed with candy filled goblets and serving trays.  You could easily hide a body in there.   

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Marilyn Monroe at Banff Springs Hotel

There were only two things on our “must do” list:  the Whyte Museum and the Cave and Basin.  Soon we discovered two themes overlaying our mini-break.  The first was the critical importance of CP Rail to opening up the West and creating Canada’s National Parks system; the second was the pervasiveness of Star Trek lore in our everyday lives.  Disclosure: Mr Soapbox disavows any association with the Star Trek theme, he says it’s lunacy.

The Whyte Museum

This pretty little museum was inspired by landscape painter Peter Whyte and Boston socialite Catharine Robb.  They met in 1925 and carried on a secret liaison until they wed in 1930.  The story of the middle class Banff boy and the American debutant who gave up high society to live in a log cabin in the middle of nowhere is just as compelling as the museum’s exhibits.

The suggested cost of admission?  A $5.00 donation.

The Maple Leaf Grill

We’d forgotten to make dinner reservations and were faced the prospect of Wendy’s when we decided to try the Maple Leaf Grill.  Yes they could fit us in if we came at 5:30, just before the huge wedding party that was expected at 6:00.

Only in Banff is it possible to show up for dinner at 5:30 and not trip over a thicket of four-pronged canes and aluminum walkers.  The early start was worth it, although it wasn’t until the end of the meal that we figured out that the hint of something slightly sweet in the beef tenderloin was maple syrup.  One would have thought the word “maple” in the restaurant’s name would have been a clue, but, hey, we were thinking “leaf” not “syrup.”

Vulcan Mind Meld

Twice in the space of two hours Mr Soapbox declared “I was just going to say that” in response to a witty comment from Ms Soapbox.  Thinking he was on a roll, Mr Soapbox spent the rest of the evening beaming “I need a Porche” thoughts at his wife, but to no avail.  The crisp mountain air will go only so far when it comes to attempting the Vulcan mind meld with one’s spouse.

The Cave and Basin

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Skylight over pool

The Cave and Basin is a magical place.  It came to national attention in 1883 when two CPR workers, William McCardell and Frank McCabe, crawled through what appeared to be a hole in the ground, but was in reality a skylight entrance to a mysterious evil smelling cave.

Conflicting claims over who “owned” the hot springs were settled with the intervention of Prime Minister John A MacDonald.  The intercession of the federal government sparked the creation of Canada’s national parks system.

The hot springs are home to the Banff Springs snail, an endangered species no bigger than an unpopped popcorn kernel.  Its shell, for some strange reason, spirals to the left, instead of the right.

The Parks Department, like Starfleet Command, subscribes to the Prime Directive—non-interference with local cultures.  In a recent unseasonable drought (believed to be the result of climate change) many feared that the tiny Banff snail would perish.  Luckily it’s a tough little creature and crept ever so slowly into crevasses in the rock, re-emerging when water levels returned to normal and proving once again that size doesn’t matter if you’re resilient.

The cost of admission?   $4.00

The Good Life

We had a delightful mini-break.  Mr Soapbox is happy.  On the way through Canmore he picked up a cast iron Danish Aebleskiver skillet that he’ll use to make cornbread, not aebleskivers (whatever they are).  Ms Soapbox is happy, she’d learned that the cost of the good life was $17.80 plus gas, meals and accommodation.

The value of the good life?  Priceless. 

Have a wonderful Labour Day weekend!

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15 Responses to Banff and the Good Life

  1. Dear Ms. Soapbox, your mother said she gets so mad at politics, sometimes she needs a rest! That is awesome! I love that line.

    A very cool and informative blog. Loved it. Did you eat any of the candy in the goblet? Also, aren’t caves amazing. During our recent holiday we got to see a sea lion’s cave. It was something out of a Harry Potter movie. Also, three cheers for the snail! I’m reading a book now that says all creatures/animals have feelings. Well if a snail can clue in that things aren’t good in our ecosystem (is that the correct term) time to find better ground you gotta wonder. I will remember the snail when I do my training runs for the Victoria Half Marathon. Loved the post. Glad you and Mr Soapbox got some rest.

    • Joanna, funny you should ask about the candy in the goblet…I seriously thought about it…and decided to give it a pass just in case the ghosts had first dibs. Apparently the place is crawling (wisping?) with ghosts, everyone from the bride who died on her wedding night and Sam the Bellman who loved his job so much he swore he’d come back from the dead. I agree with your comment about the snail, there’s a reason why all these creatures are on this planet and we need to make sure that we don’t do something stupid to wipe them out.
      PS: Our mom is truly awesome!

  2. Jane Walker says:

    What a wonderful respite from helplessly worrying about the chaotic grind of right wing social disruption! I am thinking that we all needed this break even though for most of us it was a vicarious retreat. All in all it was a great one. Thanks so much to the Soapboxes! Stay in touch and count this as an appreciative vote for your value (and balance) in the lives of Albertans like me!!

    • Thanks Jane. I loved your description: “the chaotic grind of right wing social disruption” and couldn’t have said it better myself! And yes it’s so important to take a break, although I must admit as I was learning more about how the CPR linked Canada’s populated areas with the western Canada and both coasts, it brought home the fact that Redford’s effort to characterize TCPL’s Energy East pipeline as a historic nation-building project is utterly ludicrous. So we soldier on!

  3. Rose Marie MacKenzie-Kirkwood says:

    Nice to see that you and Mr. Soapbox found the time, in your busy schedule, to stop and smell the roses. I also love old hotels and would have reveled at the thought of an adventure through a haunted hotel. What is life if not an adventure?

    • Rose Marie, we should book a night there. We could go on the anniversary of the death of the dancing bride (poor dear fell down a flight of stairs on her wedding day) and try to capture her ectoplasmic cloud (??) on film. Who am I kidding. It will never happen. I’m one of those people who watches scary movies through my fingers. You’ll have to go without me and report back…are you up to it???

  4. mare donly says:

    Wonderful!! I feel similarly about old hotels and love the Banff Springs. I joined the Fairmont Club (free) and have loved our rooms each time since. Need to get back to the Whyte Museum. It is a treasure. Thanks for the tip on the Cave & Basin …

    Have a wonderful rest-of-the-weekend!


    Mare “If you’re going to be passionate about something, be passionate about learning. If you’re going to fight something, fight for those in need. If you’re going to question something, question authority. If you’re going to lose something, lose your inhibitions. If you’re going to gain something, gain respect and confidence. And if you’re going to hate something, hate the false idea that you are not capable of your dreams.”

    -Daniel Golston

  5. Carlos Beca says:

    Banff is one of those magical places. I think that it is not the ghosts but maybe a convergence of beauty and peace that makes anyone calmer and more in tune with the natural rythms of life. I personally prefer less commercial Jasper and even more the wonderful Waterton where sheep and deer consider us part of their family.

    Your post was as usual great with one concern I would like to highlight just in case 🙂 – it is not a good sign when men start talking about wanting a porche, if by this you meant the fast car!!

    In my case I became a radical which I do not consider a weird thing when just like Raymond Williams to be a radical is to make HOPE possible ran than DESPAIR convincing.

    Welcome back to reality

    • Excellent comments Carlos on all fronts! I especially liked the comment about Raymond Williams and the focus on making hope possible rather than despair convincing. I googled him and the first thing I found was this: Raymond Williams spent his life breaking down barriers between the everyday experience of ordinary people and the world of academia. Breaking down barriers is a wonderful pursuit. Thanks for the reference.
      PS. I’m sure we’re going to hear more about the Porche.

  6. Roy Wright says:

    A rest. A respite. And finally, some reflection. Often I hear people stating that they need a holiday, but don’t have the time or money. As Ms. Soapbox opined, you don’t need a lot of either to achieve the three “R’s”. I too enjoyed a brief escape from what will be the big final push for municipal elections. If I was able to put down my smart phone and not pick up newspapers, I could have also escaped the braying of provincial politicians as well (but being a news addict, the pain of not seeing the silliness swirling around is worse to not seeing it at all).

    The drive into the Park requires stopping at the Park gates in order to purchase your pass to stay in the Park. The small buildings that you drive up to, are made of wood and stone, likely constructed 80+ years ago, showed the care and attention to both design and construction technique. These entryways, while modest, were built to last, just like our first National Park. While I was waiting for the bilingual attendant to process our pass, it started me thinking about what Canada is known for…its huge landscapes, its wilderness and its internationally recognized National Parks system.

    The Maple Leaf restaurant was the second “trigger” that made me start thinking at a larger scale than usual. The maple leaf itself symbolizes our nation and is recognized world wide…the maple syrup nuances in the food also played to my increased sensitivity to what it means to be Canadian. I am sure there must be a saying floating around saying “If you can smell maple syrup, there must be a Canadian nearby”.

    The drive home the next day did not stop our discussion about what it means to be a Canadian. Yes…our National Parks and the iconic maple leaf (and its derivative syrup) capture some of our values. But our caring nature and our willingness to help each other touches the essence of what makes us Canadian. Our government and its policies is supposed to reflect the values of us. As we got closer to Calgary, the conversation drifted into the morass better known as Alberta Health Services (which is quite typical in the Soapbox household). Is not universal health care one of our iconic values that the rest of the world knows us for? It strikes me that if our provincial government continues to try to privatize our health care under the guise of efficiencies etc., it is not in tune of who we are. I think it is time for us to collectively tell our government what our values are and that they had better get in line with those values right now! Our values, like the National Parks Service kiosks, are meant to last and are not for sale and are not to be changed based on political expediency.

    Ps: perhaps if all of you can collectively attempt to beam thoughts of a Porsche 911 (used) to
    Ms. Soapbox, it might help bolster my solo efforts. Meanwhile I am trying to work on my Vulcan hand greeting to see if that, in combination with mind melding might get me to convertible land.

    • I liked your perspective Mr Soapbox, particularly how you expanded the thread to focus on the things that are near and dear to us as Canadians. The National Park, the Maple Leaf Grill, the Banff Springs hotel (part of the CP chain of hotels)–the trip couldn’t have been more iconically Canadian if we tried (well I guess it could have if we’d spotted a beaver ambling across the highway). You’re absolutely right, we need to remember what distinguishes us as Canadians from the rest of the world and fight to keep these values intact. That means learning more about the issues. There’s a great hue and cry in the press right now about the College of Physicians and Surgeons’ recommendation to put a stop to private MRI clinics–so far it appears that the public wants to maintain its access to private MRI clinics, without fully understanding the implications of this decision. A group of us will be at the meeting of the College later this week and will have an opportunity to hear the debate first hand. I’ll report back on what we heard in this Sunday’s Soapbox.

      PS I regret to inform you that your effort to engage the Soapbox audience in a collective Vulcan mind meld was unsuccessful. Ms Soapbox is not even remotely interested in seeing a Porche 911 (used) vehicle in our garage and suggests that Mr Soapbox trade in his SUV for a Mini Cooper. Then Mr and Mrs Soapbox would have matching cars–wouldn’t that be sweet.

  7. Carlos Beca says:

    I did not expect this post to be so quiet. So here is an article worth reading

    Have a great weekend

  8. Carlos Beca says:

    This one is for health care and it will make you wondering


    • Carlos, thank you for the two links…I’m going to read them today. I just got back from the College of Physicians and Surgeons meeting in Edmonton where the topic of amendments to the Standards of Practice (to address charging additional fees etc) was discussed. It was interesting to see the media focus on private MRIs and CT tests when, in fact, that wasn’t the underlying reason for the College’s recommendation that the Standards be clarified. More on this topic this weekend.

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