The stillness inside the Cave and Basin National Historic Site almost takes my breath away. I watch light play on the cave walls. It feels primal. Water gently gurgles as we move along the walkway.
“This is where it all began,” the guide announces, leading our intimate group by the light of a lantern that casts ghostly shadows on the cavern walls.
We’re here on an evening tour. Gazing into the steaming mineral springs below, I imagine I am one of the three railway workers who discovered this very cavern back in 1883. What a surprise it must have been. Learning how the discovery of hot springs deep inside Sulphur Mountain initiated a chain of events that blossomed into one of Canada’s greatest treasures – the national park system that began with Banff National Park’s creation in 1885 – sends tingles up my spine.
Beautifully Restored Historic Site
The site underwent an extensive rehabilitation in 2013. Strolling along the barrier-free accessible walkways, we tour indoor and outdoor exhibits, from giant HD screens showcasing Canada’s network of protected places to the 1914 Bathing Pavilion. Soaking in the ambience, I sense the soothing powers of the public bathing pool that operated here until 1992.
People came from around the world to “take the waters,” convinced of the healing properties of the mineral-laden hot springs. Peering up into the cave’s vent hole, I feel transported back in time, watching plumes of sulphurous steam billowing into the air, as they have for centuries.
Staring upward, the only word I can think of to describe the architecture of the 1935 Alcove is “exquisite.” In the Story Hall, I’m stunned to see the original vaulted ceilings. As always, I’m impressed by the timeless value of the site, where images and artifacts enliven the story of Canada’s national parks, historic sites and marine conservation areas.
First Nations Connections
I am totally captivated by two giant paintings. Complementing the original mural of the three labourers shinnying down a tree into the cavern is a splendid piece by celebrated present-day Morley artist Roland Rollinmud. The painting illustrates the Stoney Nakoda’s long and deep relationship with this place. His scene of their annual summer pilgrimage to be blessed by and communicate with the spirits brings the room to life.
Outside on the boardwalk, zillions of stars twinkle in the unfettered night sky. I’m already anticipating a daytime saunter around the site’s marshlands to enjoy the wildflowers and do some birdwatching. We’ve also planned a half-day hike from the town of Banff and I’m looking forward to soaking in the mineral waters at Banff Upper Hot Springs afterwards.