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Across the Canadian Prairies
Among the Rockies

After leaving Fort McLeod we returned to Calgary, but only remained in that town a short time, the train for Banff, to which place we were bound, being timed to leave a few hours after our arrival. The Rocky Mountains commence about sixty miles from Calgary, but the greater part of the intervening country is known as the “Foot Hills,” a range of low hills which extend north and south of Calgary for a considerable distance. They are covered in many parts with excellent grass, and there is also a considerable quantity of timber of various sizes. The Foot Hills, from the excellent pasturage they afford, as well as shelter, are favourite sites for ranches, and large numbers of cattle and sheep may be seen grazing as the train passes through the district.

The Rocky Mountains are actually entered at Kananaskis, and what is known as the Gap is situated eight miles further westward. It will be seen, from what has been said, that the approach to the mountains from Calgary is gradual. In the first place, for a short distance there is the level prairie, although it is at a considerable altitude, then come the Foot Hills, and finally the “sea of mountains” themselves. For a considerable distance the railway follows the valley of the Bow River, and mountains are to be seen on every side—several snow-capped monsters being continually in view. The distance from Kananaskis to Banff is less then thirty miles, but the scenery for the whole distance is of wonderful grandeur. The train is timed to pass over this part of the route at dawn, and its entry into the mountains is frequently accompanied by the most brilliant sunrise effects, which are nowhere to be seen to greater advantage than amongst the peaks of the Rocky Mountains.

After leaving the Gap, and passing amidst the grand scenery for ten or fifteen miles, the train reaches Canmore and Anthracite, which are not only remarkable for the splendour of the surrounding scenery, but as being the site of several coal mines, which have received much attention in recent years. An immense quantity of coal of many kinds, from the ordinary bituminous variety to anthracite, is found. These mines are destined to play an important part in the future of Canada, particularly in that portion of it on the Pacific coast. So far as at present known, there are no other anthracite mines west of Pennsylvania, and it is evident, therefore, that in the future, if not in the immediate present, there will be a great demand for the coal, both for shipping purposes at Vancouver and Victoria, as well as in the cities on the Pacific Slope of the United States.

Five miles further on from Anthracite, Banff is reached. That place has become very well known in most parts of the world from the wonderful medicinal sulphur springs found there, and on account of an excellent hotel which has been erected by the Canadian Pacific Railway Company. It is rather surprising to find in the middle of the Rocky Mountains a large and splendid hotel with all the conveniences and comforts of those in the largest of cities. The village is about a mile from the station, and is prettily situated on the bank of the Bow River near its junction with the Spray. In addition to the Canadian Pacific Railway Hotel there is a Sanatorium, to which is also attached an hotel, both being carried on under the supervision of Dr. Brett, a well-known medical practitioner who resides permanently in Banff. The curative qualities of the hot springs, the temperature of which ranges from 90 degs. to considerably over 100 degs., have attracted invalids from many parts of the world, and some wonderful cures have been effected. In addition to the baths which are to be found 1,000 feet or more above the valley, on the side of Sulphur Mountain, and in those attached to the hotels in the valley (the water being conveyed thence by pipes), there are two other bathing places supplied by springs near the river. One is known as “The Basin,” which is quite open, and yet in a measure secluded; and the other as “The Cave.” In the latter, the entrance was formerly through a hole in the top, but now an opening has been tunneled in the side, which is naturally more convenient. The whole of the village is situated in what is known as the Rocky Mountain Park, an area of about 26 miles long by 10 miles w-de, which has been reserved by the Dominion Government as a National Domain. The baths at the Basin and at the Cave are under Government supervision. Since the park was established a considerable sum of money has been expended in cutting roads through it, which was necessary in order to make its beauties accessible. At the present time there is a very good road to the Devil’s Lake—or Lake Minnewanka, to use the more euphonious Indian name— which is situated about nine miles from Banff. The road passes through some very pretty scenery, and no one visits Banff without making the drive. Roads have also been made in the valley along the Bow River for some distance. There is also a road up to the top of Tunnel Mountain, from which magnificent views are obtained, and a road is in course of construction along the banks of the River Spray through a dense forest of pine trees. This latter road, when completed, will be nine miles in length, and through country of singular beauty. In addition to the roads that have been cut for carriage parties, innumerable bridle-paths have been made, and Mr. Stewart, the Ranger, is to be congratulated on his work. Banff seems to lie in a hollow completely surrounded by mountains, the only break apparently being that made by the Bow River, and the view down the valley, with the Peechee range in the distance, is one which will not readily be forgotten by those who have seen it. Among the mountains which are visible from the vicinity are the Cascade Mountain, Mount Inglismaldie, the Fairholme Range, Squaw Mountain, Sulphur Mountain, Rundle Peak, and Tunnel Mountain. Most of them range from 8,000 to 10,000 feet high, but in this connection it must be remembered that Banff itself lies at an altitude of 4,500 feet.

The Canadian Pacific Hotel is only open from May to October, but in those months it is generally crowded with guests. The air is the purest of the pure, the scenery magnificent, and, as will be readily understood, there are splendid walks, rides, and drives, in the neighbourhood. As regards the drives, if anyone is fortunate enough to make the acquaintance of Major Harper, who commands the police force at Banff, he will meet probably one of the finest whips on the continent. To go up and down the Tunnel Mountain in Major Harper’s four-in-hand wagon is an adventure not to be forgotten. In many places the road turns like a corkscrew, and the gradients are very steep. The road is cut out of the solid rock, and on one side of it is always a steep precipice.

Major Harper thinks nothing of going down the mountain at full speed, and the experience is enough to make one’s hair stand on end. Still, it is impossible to sit beside Major Harper without feeling the utmost confidence in him, and it is hardly necessary to say that he always looks over the harness very carefully himself before he starts.

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