The year in Banff
Thursday, Dec 28, 2017 10:28 am
JANUARY: An investigation into the cause of the Mount Royal Hotel fire deemed it an accident. It was determined a propane torch used by workers as part of construction work on the hotel’s roof ignited combustible material that smouldered for hours before growing into a raging fire. With flames reaching 15 to 20 feet high from the roof of the 135-room hotel, Banff firefighters were joined by other fire departments throughout the valley for what turned out to be a gruelling 10-hour battle to get the blaze under control Dec. 29.
Banff RCMP shut down an illegal marijuana dispensary in Banff on Jan. 10, executing a search warrant on a recently opened Canna Clinic smoke shop that had opened in Bear Street Mall the month before.
A contentious policy allowing for reduced parking as a way to encourage development of apartment housing in Banff is now law. Despite appeal hearings and frustrations over what was initially known as bylaw 380 – with residents concerned about parking and traffic concerns in their street – the Town skirted around a development appeal board decision and put the policy into legislation.
Bison were returned to Banff National Park to wander their historic range for the first time in 140 years.
Ten pregnant females and six bulls were brought from Elk Island’s disease-free herd to a soft-release pasture in the backcountry in Panther Valley, located about 40 kilometres north of the Banff townsite. Ten healthy calves were born between April 22 and throughout May, bringing the bison herd number to 26. All bison in the herd remain alive and well.
The results of a five-year, $1 million study by Parks Canada and Canadian Pacific Railway to investigate ways to address unsustainable rates of grizzly bear mortality on the tracks are released.
The amount of grain spilled on the CP line in Banff and Yoho parks is stated as enough to meet the yearly nutritional needs of about 50 grizzly bears.
It also shows Banff’s grizzly bear population appears to be relatively stable, but survival rates of young bears are very low.
Bow Valley Naturalists celebrate 50 years. The group has been a strong and constant voice championing preservation of nature and wild places from Kananaskis River to Bow Lake. Starting out as a traditional group on March 22, 1967, it wasn’t long before BVN also took on an environmental activist role as development pressures exploded in the Bow Valley.
Now that all appeals have been dropped against Banff’s $23.8 million affordable housing development, the municipality announces it’s set to break ground.
The affordable housing in Coyote Lane, dubbed Ti’nu, gets an $11.9 million boost in provincial funding. The money was announced in the provincial budget and amounts to about half of the $23.8 million construction costs for the 132-unit apartment complex.
As Parks gets feedback on an $87 million paved bike trail along Icefields Parkway from Jasper to the Columbia Icefield, the federal agency gears up for a plan to extend it to Lake Louise. By fall, it looks like the project may be off the table due to funding hurdles.
A 106-year-old icebox building on Canadian Pacific Railway lands has been saved from demolition and is intended to form part of a larger revitalization project for the dilapidated train station lands. After the Town of Banff slapped CP with a stop order the previous fall to prevent imminent demolition of the icebox – one of few remaining original refrigerator buildings in Western Canada – it’s been working to come up with a solution.
With Banff National Park continuing to see record visitation numbers, human-wildlife occurrences in Canada’s flagship national park, including those involving bears and wolves, keep increasing year over year.
The number of wildlife occurrences in 2016, involving anything from roadside bear jams to bold wolves approaching campers to up close encounters with habituated elk – have more than doubled in the past four years.
An historic avalanche cycle which led to the deaths of two American tourists snowshoeing in Banff Park prompted a warning for outdoor enthusiasts to keep out of avalanche terrain. Massive natural slides ran everywhere throughout the national parks and Kananaskis Country, including a class 4 on Cascade Mountain near Banff and a class 3.5 that thundered across Lake Louise, breaking the ice on the famous lake.
A parliamentary standing committee on the environment and sustainable development released a report, calling calls on Parks Canada to be more transparent and accountable in its decision making process and to stick to development limits in national parks.
Known as 1502, a two-year-old male wolf from the troubled Bow Valley wolf pack travels more than 500 linear kilometres from Banff National Park to the Arrow Lakes area of B.C. in about 15 days; then was shot and killed by a hunter.
Emergency crews in Banff, including local fire departments and emergency room doctors, express fears that patient safety is being jeopardized under Alberta Health Services’ new centralized dispatch centre for ambulance.
A black bear, likely stressed at a roadside bear jam in Banff where several people had gotten out of their vehicles to view the animal, bit and deflated a tire on a vehicle.
Banff’s newest child care space opens. Puzzles was officially opened by the Banff Child Care Centre as a satellite campus at Banff’s YWCA. It offers care five days a week with hours earlier in the morning and later in the day to offer families that work non-traditional hours support.
Thousands of fish in Johnson Lake have been caught and killed as part of Parks Canada’s ambitious plan to eradicate whirling disease from the small lake to protect a threatened native trout species of westslope cutthroat in the nearby Upper Cascade watershed. In 2016, Johnson Lake was the first place the deadly fish disease was detected in Canada. The lake has since reopened for winter 2017-18.
Two grizzly bears thought struck and killed by a train in Banff National Park last fall show up alive and well. Canadian Pacific Railway reported striking one, possibly two, young-of-the-year cubs last October in the Muleshoe area about 10 kms west of the Banff townsite. In spring there were sightings of bear 130 and her two young cubs.
A cow elk protecting her newborn calf charged and licked a local Banff man in the head when he inadvertently got too close. The elk, defending a nearby calf tucked into the woods, chased the man and kicked him in the head twice, leaving him briefly unconscious.
Lightning sparks a fire in the remote Verdant Creek Valley of Kootenay National Park and was first discovered on July 15. Throughout summer and into early fall, the fire burned 18,017 hectares, shutting down backcountry areas, closing Highway 93 South, and forcing evacuation of Sunshine Village and the historic Kootenay Park Lodge.
It completely burned down a backcountry warden cabin as 70 km/h winds spread the fire quickly. At the height of the fire, under extreme conditions, there were nine helicopters working with two additional machines available for initial attack, and more than 100 personnel.
During budget discussions later in the year, Banff town council unanimously voted to kick in $15,000 to Parks Canada’s $94,000 study to look at the likelihood of wildfire and possible measures to reduce the threat to Banff.
A pilot and three firefighters were left shaken, but not seriously injured, when a helicopter went down while working the Verdant Creek wildfire in Kootenay National Park. Officials referred to the Aug. 24 incident as a hard landing, noting the pilot managed to land the Mustang Helicopters’ A-Star B2 machine on its skids. There was extensive damage to the machine, with the tail boom ripped off.
Banff records one of the hottest and driest summers on record. According to Environment Canada, Banff recorded the 13th driest summer since 1887 when records were first kept. The driest was 2003. In August, only 7.6 mm of rain fell, making it the third driest August on record. It was also an unusually hot summer. The hottest summer day was July 7 when the mercury soared to 31.4 C.
A 65-year-old Calgary man is dead after falling while scrambling on steep rocky terrain in an area near Turquoise Lake off Highway 93 North, north of Lake Louise.
Feeding a grizzly bear French fries in Kootenay National Park has cost an Edmonton man $2,500, signalling the courts are taking the illegal feeding of wildlife seriously. Valentin Ruse, who pleaded guilty in B.C. Provincial Court in Invermere, was slapped with the hefty fine for tossing a sub-adult grizzly bear French fries from the window of his vehicle on May 28.
Rob Crosby, born into one of Banff’s pioneering families, has died at age 95. Born on Nov. 12, 1921, Crosby passed away peacefully on Aug. 15 surrounded by family.
A story that dominated the news for much of summer came to a tragic ending this month. A tourist hunter shot female grizzly bear 148 on Sept. 24 near McBride, B.C. as part of the province’s legal hunt (the province has now banned the hunt).
Bear 148 spent most of her life in Banff National Park, occasionally wandering onto unprotected Alberta provincial lands in Canmore to feast on buffalo berries.
This summer, she came in close contact with hikers, runners, mountain bikers and dogs almost daily as she spent time on the south side of the Bow Valley, a very popular area for recreationalists.
At first, bear 148 was relocated from Canmore to the edge of her home range in Kootenay National Park, but she was back in Canmore within 10 days. Again, there were several more encounters, including one at the Canmore Nordic Centre with Lea McCroy, the 17-year-old daughter of Isabelle Dubé who was killed by a grizzly bear in Canmore in 2005.
Despite consensus among three government departments to close the area to keep bear 148 and people safe, a political decision was made by high-ranking officials to relocate 148 to remote Kakwa Wildland Provincial Park on July 28. From there, she wandered into B.C. and was shot.
Her death prompted the formation of a task force – plus a technical working group – of major players in the Bow Valley, including politicians and wildlife experts, to find a way to better co-exist with wildfire.
A federal court overturned a decision by Parks Canada to ban parking on the lower access road to Sunshine Village, saying it was an unreasonable decision to make without any alternatives found to address the loss of parking.
Prominent Banff businessman and conservationist Peter Poole has lost a battle in Alberta’s court system over the national park townsite’s residential population cap. The Alberta Court of Appeal dismissed Poole’s application to seek leave to appeal the Town of Banff’s decision to approve redevelopment of the Homestead Inn and renovation of Melissa’s restaurant.
A record number of 16 council candidates vie for a seat on Banff council in the municipal election – and there’s a two-way mayoral race between incumbent Karen Sorensen and hopeful Hugh Pettigrew.
YWCA Banff opens new transitional housing for those leaving violent situations at home and seeking a new life in the community in an undisclosed neighbourhood in Banff. Known as YWCA Banff’s Bridge House , it belonged to the Anglican Diocese of Calgary and St. George-in-the-Pines church in Banff.
After 10 years, Banff Councillor Stavros Karlos announces he is quitting politics – for now. The colourful councillor decides against seeking a fourth term on council, wanting to dedicate more time to his young family and take a step back from what’s been a contentious term on council regarding transportation and paid parking.
The first of three dead bats in Banff National Park is found at Banff’s Cave and Basin National Historic Site tested positive for rabies. The silver-haired bat was observed displaying abnormal behaviour and a few hours later was found dead. Two more silver-haired bats found in Lake Louise were also positive for rabies.
Banff town council was given a strong vote of confidence in the Oct. 16 election, with residents electing Karen Sorensen for a third term as Banff’s mayor, along with all five incumbent councillors.
Sorensen defeated challenger Hugh Pettigrew 1,223 to 958 votes. Newcomer Peter Poole was also elected to the council table with 873 votes in an election that saw record voter turnout.
Poole joined top vote getter Corrie DiManno (1,324), Ted Christensen (1,036), Grant Canning (1,023), Brian Standish (991) and Chip Olver (920).
Paid parking, affordable housing, transportation were among the top election issues.
Banff was crazy busy this summer, but local authorities say public transit in the townsite and surrounding national park saved the day. The number of vehicles entering and exiting Banff in July and August was 1.7 million, a seven per cent increase over the same period last year.
In an apparent murder-suicide involving a prominent couple from Saint John, New Brunswick, police confirmed a woman was killed at Chateau Lake Louise, while her partner’s body was found near Emerald Lake, B.C. last weekend. Cindy McCormick was found murdered in her hotel room at about 2:40 p.m. Sunday (Oct. 22). Robert (Bobby) Kaine’s body was found in a vehicle along Emerald Lake Road later that evening.
It was a crappy week in Banff with two sewage spills into local rivers. A sewer pipe clogged with clumps of grease, rags, paper towels, baby wipes, even rubber gloves, forced an estimated 7.2 cubic metres of raw sewage out of a manhole under the bridge over the Spray River over a two-hour period early Nov. 12. In a separate incident four days earlier, human error led to an estimated 19 cubic metres of untreated sewage going into the Bow River over a 6.5-hour period on Nov. 8, when crews connected the wrong pipes during a sewage bypass from 1:30-7 p.m.
Unexplained deaths of at least four ungulates around the Banff townsite has led Parks Canada to test for possible disease in the local deer population. The federal agency isn’t speculating until tests come back from the lab on the causes of the death of one elk and three white-tailed deer, including whether or not it could be chronic wasting disease – a fatal disease that has yet to be detected west of Calgary or Edmonton.
Banff town council has been in the thick of budget discussions for much of November and into December. Final decisions on capital and operating budgets will be made in January.