How A Hot Spring Discovery Created A National Park

Banff National Park

In the fall of 1883, railway workers William McCardell and Frank McCabe decided to try their luck at trapping and prospecting. Instead of finding furs and ore, they found liquid gold; thermal springs they hoped would make them rich.

Cave and Basin discovery

They built Banff’s first hotel and, in their pursuit of fame and fortune, unwittingly helped create Canada’s National Parks system.

Arguments over the Banff thermal springs escalated into a legal battle, which the government decided to settle in 1885. Recognizing the ideal location and opportunity, the government declared the hot springs would belong to all Canadians – as part of a national park. Banff National Park was created November 25, 1885.

One year later a tunnel was blasted into the cave and two bathhouses and a caretaker’s cottage were built, the first national park buildings ever constructed in Canada. The bathhouses were framed in a rustic crossed log motif that would become Banff’s signature style of architecture. The Canadian Pacific Railway built the Banff Springs Hotel and Chateau Lake Louise to attract tourists and increase the number of rail passengers.

 Cave and Basin

The Cave and Basin catered to all of Banff’s visitors. Bathing in the mineral waters was thought to heal an array of health problems, and by 1912 watering holes sprung up along Banff Avenue offering local cocktails of mineral water and rye, gin, or rum.

Facilities were expanded in 1914, and the building boasted the largest outdoor pool in Canada at the time. Although swimming is no longer allowed at the historic Cave and Basin site, it offers access to the original cave pool and a replica of the 1887 bathhouse.

swimming at cave and basin

Again, you cannot swim at the Cave and Basin National Historic Site. Don’t show up at the door with a bag filled with swimsuits and towels. (I know, because I did this). It’s now just a museum like experience to learn about the history of Canada’s National Parks and to see the original cave and basin.

Instead, to get the hot springs experience while visiting Banff National Park, you travel a little further up Sulphur Mountain, to the Upper Hot Springs.

swimming at upper hot springs

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