Cave and Basin
Updated: Aug 28, 2020
On this day in 1885, Canada established its first national park. It was named after the Banffshire region in Scotland, where two of the original directors of the Canadian Pacific Railway were born. More than a century later, Banff remains the most popular national park in Canada, drawing more than four million visitors each year.
There are many interesting things to see in the park, but Cave and Basin should be high on your list. These pools of mineral-rich water are the origin of Canada's park system. Long regarded as a sacred site for Indigenous peoples, the hot springs were eventually discovered by three railway workers: Franklin McCabe, Thomas McCardell, and his brother William McCardell.
News of the hot springs spread fast. Miners, prospectors, and railway workers began flocking to the pools and it wasn't long before more people tried to declare rights to the land. After a tense legal battle, Alexander Burgess, the Deputy Minister of the Interior, rejected the claims of the feuding parties, believing that Cave and Basin should remain under the control of the government for the sake of public interest.
William Pearce was the one to submit a proposal outlining the boundaries for a nature reserve on Sulphur Mountain, officially marking the creation of Banff National Park. As well intentioned as these developments might have been, it is important to note that little regard was given to the rights of Indigenous peoples who called the mountains home. This is an unfortunate reality, but one that must be acknowledged when celebrating the otherwise momentous occasion of Canada’s first national park.
In 2013, Parks Canada commissioned Roland Rollinmud, a Stoney First Nations artist, to create a painting for display near the entrance to Cave and Basin. It shows traditional Indigenous uses for the hot springs, giving visitors a more complete depiction of the history of the site. You can read more about how the Nakoda peoples have maintained a connection to their ancestral land in Courtney W. Mason's book Spirits of the Rockies: Reasserting an Indigenous Presence in Banff National Park.
Today, Cave and Basin is open year round. Parks Canada offers free guided tours, as well as a special lantern tour on Saturday nights from May through August.