The buildings at Banff East Gate are driven by millions of visitors, but there is a story behind them

Cottage Lane 1 at Banff National Park's East Gate is the most unaltered of the buildings, with wood paneled walls and a fireplace in the living room.  (Helen Pike/CBC - photo credit)

Cottage Lane 1 at Banff National Park’s East Gate is the most unaltered of the buildings, with wood paneled walls and a fireplace in the living room. (Helen Pike/CBC – photo credit)

About four million people visit Banff National Park every year – many driving through the East Gate.

But these buildings are not just for car traffic. They have served as homes and offices for Parks Canada employees since they were built in the 1930s.

Every building has its function and character.

“I see it as a portal from ordinary life to a special place,” said Steve Malins, the park’s cultural resource management consultant. “You knew you’d arrived somewhere when you got to Banff Gate. It answered that relentless question from the back seat, Are we there yet? Yes, you’ve arrived.”

Times are changing in the national park. Officers are excited and trying to decide how best to deal with visitors and people arriving in cars. It is decided what is sustainable in tourism and what is not.

But while policies are subject to change at the park, the three East Gate buildings won’t — they’re protected as federal monuments.

How we use them may change,” said Banff Visitor Experience Manager Daniella Rubeling. “You know, currently the hang tag and system we use for entry into the national park isn’t changing, but that’s what the agency is looking at. Where is this headed in the future and what role does the digital play in this?”

Helen Pike/CBC

Helen Pike/CBC

When the gates first opened, the highway they guarded was not twin. Cars had to register to get in and log out to exit. Now a through lane and hang tags ensure faster entry.

Rubeling says one thing has remained constant.

“The greeting — the ‘Hello Bonjour, welcome to Banff National Park’ — that hasn’t changed, and that’s a big part of what makes these gates so special to this day,” Rubeling said.

Submitted by the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Annie Staple Fund

Submitted by the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Annie Staple Fund

In its early days, when it was still known as Rocky Mountain Park, getting to Banff National Park was a bumpy ride for vehicles on the unpaved Banff Coach Road. Automobiles were not allowed until after 1911, when the federal government lifted a 1905 ban.

In the early years, motorists had to go to the RCMP department to register and pay for the privilege of being within park boundaries. But a gate was set up in 1916 because the police found that with the growing popularity of cars, this task was interrupting other work.

This is when the East Gate first appeared, but in a different location: near Exshaw, on what is now Highway 1A.

Gatekeeper Annie Staple started the job in 1916 while her husband worked as a game warden for the park. In the beginning, she sat down at a roadside table with a tent behind her to shelter from the rain, says historian and writer Rob Alexander.

Submitted by Parks Canada

Submitted by Parks Canada

She had no official uniform. The navy blue number didn’t come until almost a decade later, in 1925. So their roadside operation caught some off guard.

“If you suddenly get pulled over by someone on the side of the road and they ask you for money, it’s like that. Seems a bit iffy,” Alexander said. “The second driver she charged went straight to the police and reported her.”

At that time, visitors to the park had to stop at the gate and register their name; make, model and color of the vehicle; and your home address. On the way out, they had to confirm leaving the park by signing out. It costs $1 a day, Alexander said.

Just a year after they started, in their second summer, things started to take shape. A wooden post construction was pulled up to form a real gate, along with an alcove for Staple to sit in. Eventually a house was also built so she could have her family close by – although they lived a short walk away in Exshaw.

Submitted by CODA, Bruno Engler, Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies

Submitted by CODA, Bruno Engler, Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies

Unfortunately, her husband Tom Staple died in 1919 while Annie Staple was pregnant with their fourth child.

“Pretty remarkable that she did that, that job. And given the hours and demands, I’m not entirely sure how she managed,” Alexander said.

In 1930 the National Park Act came into force. It outlined how Rocky Mountains Park should be managed and enshrined conservation as a cornerstone. With the law came a revision of the park boundary. The east gate was moved about 35 kilometers to the west.

Canmore’s coal mines, a cement plant, and limestone operations — many of the familiar landmarks encountered on the Trans-Canada Highway before driving through Canmore to Banff — didn’t fit, Alexander said.

“They didn’t like the look of the communities because it didn’t fit that idea of ​​a tourist destination,” Alexander said. “They had a vision of what people wanted to see and they didn’t see that in Canmore and Exshaw.”

Helen Pike/CBC

Helen Pike/CBC

There is a photo of Annie Staple standing outside the new gates, but not much information that she lived there. A Calgary Herald article published to commemorate Banff’s Guardian of the Gate upon her retirement in 1948 mentioned that she and her daughter would find a home in Seebe.

“That period of history from 1916 to 1948…she would have seen the park throughout that pretty tumultuous period,” Alexander said. “The nature of the park’s growth and shrinking and the change in tourism and the nature of tourism, the change in protection ideals and the way protection and conservation is and should be.”

Auto boom despite economic crisis

Malins said the new gates were built for cars.

“Although the Depression lingered, you’re seeing the emergence of a new type of person across North America: the car owner,” Malins said. “Vehicles became more and more popular. And in response, the gate was set up.”

Designed by architect Harold C. Beckett, who also designed Parks Canada’s Banff administration building, the East Gate structures incorporate Tudor Revival elements to take on a more country-house-like vibe. The exterior is timber framing, stucco and knobbed wood columns with Rundle stone.

“The intention for the cottage at Lane 1 was a caretaker’s house and staff quarters,” said Malins.

Helen Pike/CBC

Helen Pike/CBC

When you enter the tiny house, you’ll first go through a kitchen that has been updated to serve the workers that are currently on site.

Then the main hallway leading to the living room is wood paneled. There is a set of stairs leading to two bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs. The living room is complete with a fireplace that is no longer used but would have heated the house when people lived there.

There is also a basement now used for storage and on site laundry.

“I think of all the kiosks we have today, the interior design of this one has probably remained the most original,” Malins said.

Today, Rubeling said, 30 to 50 people could work at the east gate. I’m no longer a one-woman operation. People no longer live at the gate. The pace has changed since the 1930s when these gates welcomed 134,000 visitors annually.

“It’s tighter, it’s faster,” said Rubeling.


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