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YEAR IN REVIEW: Banff and Lake Louise 2021

Banff and Lake Louise's year in review for 2021.
Town of Banff from Norquay1
The view of the Town of Banff from Mount Norquay. GREG COLGAN RMO PHOTO

A second nesting site of the endangered black swift is discovered in Banff National Park. Up until now, the only known nesting site in the park was at Johnston Canyon; however, researchers find another location in the Egypt Lake region.

During budget discussions, Banff’s mayor and councillors plan on a wage freeze for themselves for the remainder of their term in recognition of the financial challenges residents and businesses are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A train carrying grain derails about 10 kilometres west of Field in Yoho National Park on January 26, with 34 cars off the tracks. The cleanup operation, which involved hauling away spilled legumes, specifically yellow peas, so as not to attract wildlife went well into February.

Cougar activity around town has residents being extra vigilant. On Jan. 13, Parks Canada euthanized a sick and emaciated female cougar after it had been hunting deer in town and closely followed a man walking his dog. Another female cougar died in the late stages of recovery during a drugging procedure to fit her with a tracking collar on Jan. 22. While a necropsy determined the adult wild cat’s cause of death was acute respiratory failure, additional testing by an independent diagnostic lab in Calgary found the animal had a pre-existing lung condition. Earlier in the day on Jan. 22, that female cougar’s kitten had been found dead on Tunnel Mountain, with a necropsy showing it had a broken femur and perforated stomach lining. January also marked the 20th anniversary of the fatal attack on Canmore’s Frances Frost as she cross-country skied near Lake Minnewanka on Jan. 2, 2001.

A campaign is underway to stop trains blasting their horns through the Banff townsite, amid concerns the loud whistle is highly intrusive and can impact residents’ physical health and well-being and can cause physiological and behavioural responses in wildlife.

The Town of Banff is looking to hire an independent consultant to help come up with options for new community activities and amenities in a space at the Banff Fenlands recreation centre left vacant by a former hockey school – the Banff Hockey Academy.

An earthquake measuring a magnitude of 3.9 near the Banff townsite rocked homes and buildings throughout the region on Feb. 13. Earthquake experts say the epicentre of the quake was about six kilometres north of the townsite near Cascade Mountain and recorded at a depth of 17.3 kilometres.

The Banff YWCA COVID-19 isolation facility is at capacity with travellers returning to Canada ahead of the federal government’s rollout of tougher restrictions.

A new inter-agency study, including researchers from Parks Canada and Alberta Parks, shows wildlife connectivity in the Bow Valley for wolves has decreased by 25 per cent and for grizzly bears by 21 per cent since historic, pre-development times. The study concluded connectivity will decrease a further six percent with the proposed expansion of Canmore, including at Three Sisters.

Parks Canada announces visitors to the lakeshore of Lake Louise will have to pay for parking this year as part of a two-year pilot project to try to ease congestion at the tourist hotspot. The fee is a flat rate of $11.70 per vehicle per day.

Parks Canada announces the Minnewanka Loop will be closed to vehicles weekdays from Monday to Thursday from May 1-20 as part of a pilot project to test a new cycling initiative in Banff National Park.

A wolf from the Bow Valley pack fitted with a GPS tracking collar made an epic 500-kilometre journey to Montana over the course of a week where it was shot and killed by a hunter on March 8. The hunter had a tag to legally hunt wolves.

Two cougar kittens, thought to be about five months old, are struck and killed on the train tracks near Vermilion Lakes about three kilometres west of the Banff townsite on March 18. There was no sign of the mother cougar.

Banff RCMP break up an indoor house party of about 50 people on St. Patrick’s Day for violating COVID-19 provincial public health rules, sending partiers fleeing out windows and doors. Two partiers were fined $1,200 each following the indoor party on Wolf Street on March 17.

Rapidly rising COVID-19 cases in the Bow Valley has the Town of Banff lobbying for mass vaccinations and Alberta Health Services doing on-site testing at Sunshine Village and Lake Louise ski resorts.

Delivery of emergency services on the busy Trans-Canada Highway through Yoho National Park has been finalized after Parks Canada turned down the demoralized Field fire department’s request for a full-time paid fire chief. The federal agency has reached agreements with Golden and Lake Louise fire departments to respond to road accidents involving people trapped inside vehicles who require extrication. Two serious accidents on the highway west of Field in 2020 resulted in men trapped inside their trucks for many hours.

Lake Louise firefighters had a hoot of a time saving an owl egg over the Easter long weekend. Parks Canada wildlife experts called on the fire department to help when a barred owl laid an egg in an ashtray of a local staff accommodation. The department’s ladder was used to put the egg in a nearby tree.

Banff National Park is the No. 1 COVID-19 hotspot in Alberta. With a case rate of 1,025.9 per 100,000 compared to the provincial per capita rate of 417, the Banff and Lake Louise region has the highest rate per capita as of April 20 when active cases soared.

Parks Canada released the draft management plan for Banff National Park on April 14, which includes an emphasis on tackling congestion and over-crowding at Lake Louise and Moraine Lake to improve the experience for visitors and protect wildlife. It considers paid parking at Moraine Lake, which follows an earlier announcement for a trial paid parking program at the lakeshore of Lake Louise for mid-May to mid-October 2021. The plan also calls for vehicle restrictions at certain times of the year, or day, on the busy roads leading to the two lakes which cut through movement corridors for wildlife such as grizzly bears. The draft plan indicates Parks Canada will also evaluate the feasibility of relocating the existing park-and-ride lot on the Trans-Canada Highway east of Lake Louise to the Lake Louise ski hill.

Banff’s downtown pedestrian zone opens April 30, quite a bit earlier than planned following calls from the business and tourism industry struggling under the provincial government’s latest COVID-19 public health restrictions.

Parks Canada appoints an expert panel to come up with a fundamental top-to-bottom overhaul of the way people experience, access and move around Banff National Park. The panel is tasked with looking at transportation as well as demand management, such as quotas, access restrictions and paid parking.

The Town of Banff asks visitors to stay away until after the May long weekend as the community and province battle to get the COVID-19 spike under control. In the absence of a provincial travel ban, council stopped short of setting up check-stops, but decided to actively discourage visitation.

Five staff members partying after hours at a local pub have been slapped with $1,200 fines for violating Alberta’s ban on indoor social gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Well-known female grizzly bear No. 156 is killed on the Trans-Canada Highway on kilometre east of Field in Yoho National Park on May 29, leaving behind two orphaned yearling cubs. The cubs, a male and a female, were relocated into a remote backcountry area within their mother’s home range to try to give them a chance of survival.

Fees for sidewalk seating patios and outdoor merchandising have been scrapped this year for Bear Street retailers and restaurants experiencing a double-whammy from the financial fallout of COVID-19 and the area’s $9.5 million redevelopment.

Banff’s mayor and council will be getting a small pay hike after the October municipal election. Council voted 4-3 to boost wages based on the recommendations of an independent public council remuneration review committee. The mayor’s salary was six per cent below comparable municipalities while councillor wages were about 25 per cent below average.

A mama grizzly bear that has had at least four sets of cubs, including several killed on the railway line, was struck and killed by a train in Banff National Park on June 24. The well-known bear known as No. 130 and one of her two yearling cubs were killed. The surviving cub was alive and uninjured.

Banff National Park goes into extreme fire danger. With blistering record temperatures beginning in June and no sign of rain in the foreseeable future, Parks Canada has two fire crews working extended hours and two helicopters stationed in Banff ready to bucket water on any fires. Both Banff and Canmore obliterated temperature records on six days during the unprecedented heatwave. Banff had its hottest day in recorded history on June 29 as the mercury soared to 37.8 Celsius.

Paid parking is introduced in downtown Banff in July. Rates are $3 per hour in summer and $2 per hour in winter. Banff residents who have a resident vehicle parking permit can park for free for up to three hours per day in the paid zone, if they have registered their licence plates with the Town of Banff.

Wolves, cougars and grizzly bears are putting a significant dent in Banff’s elk population. A survey showed the cow-calf ratio was down 13 per cent, indicating higher elk mortality, including in the roads and railway line, or natural death due to lower calf survival in spring or lower pregnancy rates.

Banff’s outdoor mask bylaw was lifted by Banff town council and the indoor mask mandate was lifted in line with provincial regulations on July 1 in what was a highly contentious and divisive decision, particularly given the recent emergence of the COVID-19 delta variant.

Parks Canada confirms that at least 16 new bison babies were born this spring as part of Banff’s bison reintroduction program, bringing the total number of bison to 66.

A new $5.5 million pedestrian bridge to be built across the Bow River will be named in honour of longtime community philanthropist Nancy Pauw who passed away in 2018 after a long battle with cancer. But some believe the naming the Nancy Pauw Bridge is a missed opportunity to support Indigenous heritage and reflect in the wake of the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves of children at former residential schools. Stoney Nakoda asked council to hold off on the naming until after a cultural assessment had been completed.

A conflict of interest allegation levelled against former councillor Peter Poole becomes public. Liricon’s Adam Waterous complained Poole’s ownership of the Juniper Hotel on the lower slopes of Mount Norquay would limit his ability to participate in discussions on the area redevelopment plan for the train statin lands leased by Liricon. Poole had been vocal that a gondola terminus should not be part of an ARP because Parks Canada had turned down a gondola from the townsite to Mount Norquay. Poole was later cleared of any conflict.

The newly formed Banff Inclusive Housing Committee is advocating for future development of new accommodations for seniors and people with disabilities as many residents continue to be forced to leave Banff due to lack of appropriate housing.

The local tourism industry got a much-needed shot in the arm with the federal government’s announcement to open the Canada-US border to fully vaccinated Americans on Aug. 9 and to fully vaccinated international visitors on Sept. 7.

The long-awaited $9.5 million redevelopment and beautification of Bear Street is complete. The newly designed 200 block of Bear Street has been turned into an outdoor plaza-like area and is now fully open to pedestrians and slow-moving vehicle traffic.

A fire that broke out at Baker Creek Mountain Resort during the early morning hours of July 25 destroyed the popular Bistro restaurant building. Several staff were in the log building at the time of the blaze, but managed to safely escape.

Longtime Banff Mayor Karen Sorensen has been appointed to the Canadian Senate, leading to her resignation on July 29. At the Aug. 9 meeting of council, Corrie DiManno is elected by a majority of her council colleagues to be the mayor leading up to the October municipal election.

A new report and results from a public survey will aim to help the Banff RCMP better communicate with the public and focus on proactive policing, including the creation of a new Facebook page that will allow people to hear from the local police, but also allow the police to reach out to the community.

The Town of Banff rolls out a mandatory vaccination policy for all employees, except for those staff with a medical or religious exemption. The Town’s roughly 300 employees have until Sept. 23 to get vaccinated or risk losing their jobs. Come Sept. 23, the Town let go a handful of employees.

Parks Canada shot and killed a young bison that wandered out of Banff National Park onto Alberta provincial lands on Aug. 5. The three-and-a-half-year-old bull had travelled about nine kilometres outside the park into the Clearwater area, which has high human use, numerous trails and camping areas.

An estimated 5,000 non-native Yellowstone cutthroat trout were poisoned with rotenone in Katherine Lake to protect a threatened native fish species and its habitat.

A third female grizzly bear is killed this summer. The bear, which emerged from the den in spring with cubs, was struck on the Icefields Parkway near Bow Lake on Aug. 20. Her newborn cubs were killed earlier in the year, likely by a large male bear.

Liricon Capital’s hopes for an aerial gondola from the Banff train station to the Mount Norquay ski and sightseeing resort continue to be mired in controversy. Town council supports keeping a gondola terminus as part of any plans for the train station lands – even though Parks Canada has said it is unlikely a gondola will be approved under existing legislation and policies.

Banff’s mayoral race heats up with Corrie DiManno, Karen Thomas, Brian Standish and Garry Gilmour all vying for Banff’s top seat. Stavros Karlos withdrew from the race Sept. 7 due to ongoing health concerns associated with a concussion sustained in a mountain bike crash.

A mountain goat turned the tables on a 70-kilogram grizzly bear that was hunting it, by using its sharp stiletto-like horns to kill the attacking bear. A hiker discovered the grizzly bear carcass on Sept. 4 just metres off the Burgess Pass trail near Field.

The Town of Banff is investigating the creation of an independent ethics commissioner or committee to oversee public complaints of misconduct against councillors. Administration will bring back options for consideration as part of a review of the council code of conduct bylaw in the first three months of 2022.

Heading into the October municipal election, Banff fields four mayoral hopefuls and 14 council candidates. Peter Poole is the only incumbent not seeking re-election. Issues were varied, from the tax rate split, the gondola proposal, housing, living where the world visits among others.

Based on the current rate of completing energy efficient projects in the 10-year capital plan, the Town of Banff will likely meet and exceed its goal of reducing corporate emissions by 50 per cent by 2030. Administration is now striving to achieve a 70 per cent reduction in corporate emissions.

Banff RCMP issued a public advisory to warn of women’s drinks being spiked at local bars. BarWatch, Banff YWCA and Town of Banff were involved in talks with the RCMP to help tackle the issue.

A walk-thru COVID-19 testing clinic for travellers opened in the Bear Street Mall, offering rapid antigen and molecular PCR tests with results in less than 15 minutes.

The sale of new below-market homes near downtown Banff will be determined through a lottery because of the high interest in homeownership. There are 33 units being built as part of the $13.2 million Aster apartment development.

With food insecurity and high food prices leaving many people struggling, the Town of Banff signed a Bow Valley food charter, a framework that coveys what people want their food systems to look like, including how they grow, harvest, eat and dispose of food.

Corrie DiManno won the mayor’s seat in the Oct. 18 municipal election. Incumbent councillors Chip Olver, Ted Christensen and Grant Canning retained their seats. Newcomers voted to council were Kaylee Ram, Barb Pelham and Hugh Pettigrew.

The Saskatchewan Glacier in Banff National Park melted this year at a rate never seen before – up to 10 metres on some parts of the glacier. The alarming discovery was made by a team of researchers using technology known as laser altimetry operated from an airplane to measure elevations changes of glaciers.

Efforts to recover and save endangered black swifts in the tourist hotspot of Johnston Canyon may be paying off. Five nests were confirmed in the canyon this year, up from three in 2020 and only one or two each year between 2005-19.

Banff’s tourism industry welcomes new federal government financial support programs specifically to help tourism-based businesses still struggling from the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. The new program will provide support through wage and rent subsidy programs to hotels, tour operators, travel agencies, and restaurants and bars with a subsidy rate of up to 75 per cent.

Banff police investigate a sexual assault on Halloween night near the pedestrian bridge across the Bow River. The RCMP report a group of teenage girls was walking near the bridge on Oct. 31 when was one assaulted by a man in a Halloween costume.

Bow Valley communities don’t support Alberta’s bid to remove equalization from the Canadian Constitution. While the majority of Albertans province-wide who cast a ballot in the Oct. 18 referendum – estimated to be about 39 per cent of eligible voters – voted to scrap equalization, the communities of Banff, Canmore, Jasper, Waterton and Edmonton stood alone on the no vote.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appoints Quebec’s Steven Guilbeault as the environment and climate change minister as part of a cabinet shakeup. With a colourful past of arrest and civil disobedience in a bid to bring attention to key environmental issues, Guilbeault’s portfolio includes overseeing Parks Canada and Banff National Park.

As service review gets underway, Town of Banff employees look set to get a small 1.6 per cent inflationary wage increase in 2022.

Gross revenues from paid parking are estimated to be $162,000 for 2021, $1.6 million in 2022, $1.7 million in 2023 and $1.8 million in 2024.

Town of Banff data shows traffic volumes were up 15 per cent this summer, but still 18 per cent below 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020. The busiest days this July and August saw a maximum daily volume of 30,053 vehicles.

Parks Canada is planning a full review of events that unfolded over the course of a major winter snowstorm from Nov. 13-15 that shut down Highway 93 South through Kootenay National Park, forcing some people to spend the night in their vehicles. Environment Canada reported up to 60 cms of snow in some areas.

The Town of Banff’s emergency management team for the COVID-19 pandemic stands down given there are high vaccination rates and low number of active cases. However, if there is another wave, the team would quickly get back together.

The Town of Banff delivered $37.4 million worth of capital projects for 2021 – and only one was over budget. A major project was the completion of the $9.5 million redevelopment of Bear Street.

During service review, council tentatively gives the go-ahead for free transit for residents on Banff local Roam routes. Also approved was an increase in winter service on local routes 1 and 2 from 40 minutes to 20 minutes, bringing it in line with summer frequency. The transit-related initiatives are to be paid for by paid parking revenues.

A 73-year-old woman is lucky to be alive thanks to the tracking efforts of Parks Canada’s search and rescue dog and his human handler over 22 kilometres of rough terrain and at least five river crossings in the backcountry of Banff National Park. Leroy, a German shepherd and his handler Logan Bennett, went through blustering winds and driving snow for about nine hours, first picking up the trail of the missing woman on the Pipestone cross-country ski trails.

Council delays a decision on how best to deal with an illegal shortcut that residents take across the train tracks between the townsite and industrial compound until getting further clarity from Canadian Pacific Railway and Parks Canada. The railway giant’s preference is for a multi-million dollar overpass, which needs to be 200 metres long and more than seven metres high for clearance for double railcar trains. The less expensive option on the discussion table is an at-grade signalized crossing.

Banff’s elected officials tentatively approve creating a new full-time position for a municipal energy coordinator when the current two-year contract position comes to an end in May to oversee the municipality’s environmental and climate action goals. The position comes with a $64,500 price tag for 2022 because the position begins mid-way through the year, before jumping to $112,300 and $114,500 in 2023 and 2024 respectively. It will be funded from the non-taxpayer funded environmental reserve.

A new rebate program for e-bikes may be rolled out as a pilot program in 2022. With the average price for an electric bike $3,500, administration recommends a 30 per cent rebate on the total purchase up to $750 per residential household, a 20 per cent rebate capped at $750 for businesses, with a maximum of two e-bikes per business. There would be a greater rebate for residents on the Banff Access program.

Parks Canada quietly approved pedal-assisted e-bikes on several trails, including at least two into Banff’s backcountry to Shadow Lake Lodge and Sundance Lodge. The conservation community has called on Parks to rescind the policy change.

The Town is set to implement a town-wide 30-km/h speed limit, passing first and second reading of a bylaw. Third reading is expected Jan. 10, 2022. The proposed bylaw also eliminates existing exclusionary zones for skateboards.

The Town of Banff hits the brakes on a train whistle ban given Canadian Pacific Railway indicates it is unlikely to support whistle cessation until a solution is found to the illegal pedestrian crossing across the train tracks between the industrial compound and townsite.

The downtown pedestrian zone gets the go-ahead to happen for the next two summers. While the majority of businesses and the tourism industry support the move, residents on nearby streets are unhappy about the extra traffic diverted through their neighbourhoods and residents on the south side of the Bow River are concerned about the traffic jams that make it difficult to get across the bridge.

The Town tries to allay residents' fears that the pedestrian zone won't hinder evacuation efforts from the south side in the event of an emergency. They say they would take control of the vehicle bridge, making two north-bound lanes instead of one, have the ability to use pedestrian bridges, and bulldoze down street furniture on Banff Avenue if it came to that.

A one-year pilot reservation system for Johnston Canyon (Route 9), Lake Louise Scenic (Route 8) and Moraine Lake (Route 10) showed initial success in 2021 and will return for 2022.

The Banff Fire Department has seen an increase in call-outs to accidents on Highway 93 South with the various closures of the Trans-Canada Highway during construction in Kicking Horse Pass east of Golden, B.C., including a two-vehicle head-on collision that left seven people injured.