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Monday, August 5, 2019

Jasper, Banff and CP Hotels Part One by Elizabeth Clements #prairierosepubs #canada #travel #history


Jasper Highway
 August is such a special month for me because it reminds me of our yearly two-week vacations in Jasper and Banff.  Anticipation of the trip to the Rocky Mountains kept our four boys excited for the holidays all summer, like presents for Christmas. It meant lots of exploring and campfire marshmallow roasts, playing board games and staying up until midnight. We’d load the car top carrier with luggage, stow a big blue Coleman cooler chest in the trunk with lots of ice to keep the frozen meat for a few days, and head up to Jasper National Park for the first week of our holiday of roughing it in a cabin that had no tv, dishwasher nor a/c, just a small fridge and stove and a bbq outside. The fireplace was a nice touch if it became chilly.

We love the town of Jasper because it’s much quieter and laid-back than Banff, which has become a full-blown tourist town. Jasper was named after a trading post operator, Jasper Hawes. Although established as a park in 1907, it wasn’t until  1930 that it was granted national park status. The park covers over 4,200 square miles and is a protected area in the Rocky Mountains because of its beautiful scenery, lakes, waterfalls and glaciers. We spent a week there for years and never tired of seeing the same things again while discovering new wonders. Jasper truly has something for everyone for summer fun and has fabulous ski slopes, etc for winter sports. One summer we took the Gondola up the mountain, then walked the rest of the way to the top. What an amazing mountain-top view (and my legs felt it the next day <grin>).

We love our rustic cabin at the Pine Cabins and have reserved the same unit many times when the boys were still in school. The Athabasca River rushes by just a couple of hundred feet from our cabin door. At night, when all was dark and quiet and the screened window pushed way up, I’d listen  to the rapids gurgling and chuckling their endless tune over the boulders. In the morning, Doug would rise early, make a pot of tea and carry a mug out to the bench to watch the moose and elk forage across the river while I started making breakfast. At the link below you can see a pic of the cabin….ours was to the left out of sight, but it gives you an idea.

Every day brought a new exploring adventure. One afternoon we came back to the cabin a little early and heard yells and excitement a couple cabins over. When the housekeeping staff do their chores, they leave the cabin door open. Well, an inquisitive little bear cub wandered in from the woods to check things out. Where there’s a cub, there’s bound to be a protective mama nearby and she will not be asking questions first! Luckily, the mischievous cub was shooed out and peace was restored without mishap. Oh, did I mention that deer and elk calmly rested on the lawns in front of the office, undisturbed, nor intimidated by humans and cars?

Over the years we’ve walked the length of Maligne Canyon several times, always amazed anew by the deep narrow channel and the fury of the water foaming and boiling over the rocks. Click HERE for images.  

Maligne Lake is a scenic 30-mile drive from our cabin just outside of Jasper. There is so much breathtaking scenery along the way it’s best to allow lots of time for camera stops, like wanting to check out Maligne Canyon before you take the turn turnoff for the Maligne Lake Boathouse. As it happened, the boat was out on a trip across the lake, so we had to wait for the next cruise.
To our dismay, we realized the fare for all six of us to take the two-hour boat cruise down Maligne Lake to Spirit Island was too expensive. So, Doug being the gentleman he always is, took the boys fishing and I went on the cruise alone. Doug didn’t get much fishing done—too busy untangling the boys’ lines—but they had fun. And I had an exciting time fulfilling my childhood dream of finally seeing Spirit Island.

I’d been enchanted with the beauty of Spirit Island since my childhood when I saw the 1954  movie musical, Rose Marie with Howard Keel and Ann Blythe. He played Sgt Mike, a red-coated Mountie who always got his man and Ann was a beautiful mountain girl, wearing buckskin and a coon hat. Of course any good story has to have a villain, I assume played by Fernando Lamas, a mountain man. Now I want to see the movie again. Here’s a trailer to get the gist of this wonderful musical:

If one wished to take a canoe across the lake to Spirit Island, it would take a good four hours paddling one way. Thus the cruise is popular and runs several times a day beginning in late May. However, for serious photographers, the best time is around 4:30 p.m. when the light is just right (or late afternoon depending on the summer month, though) A special cruise, guided by a professional photographer, is offered three times a week for this specific chance for photographers to capture the beauty of Spirit Island and the lake in ideal light. No wonder there are so many photos of it in travel books and magazines.

In 1908, Mary Schaffer, a writer, photographer, artist and botanist, was the first European to see Maligne Lake. “She was a trailblazer of exploration at a time when women generally weren’t permitted to travel beyond the comforts of a railway car or luxury hotel unless accompanied by a male family member.” (Thankfully, how far we’ve come since then, eh?)

She called Maligne Lake “the Hall of Gods” because the lake is situated in a long box canyon, surrounded by mountains. She’s also been quoted saying, “If Lake Louise is a pearl, Maligne is the entire pearl necklace.” I’ll take that one step further…pearls gleam, but diamonds sparkle and for me, Maligne Lake with Spirit Island, is the Hope diamond necklace of beautiful lakes. (When the Hope diamond was donated to the  Smithsonian Institute by jeweler, Henry Winston, in 1958, it ended the curse associated with the famous 45-carat blue diamond that had graced the throats of many wealthy women, including the unfortunate Queen Marie Antoinette.)
Maligne Lake is famous for its incredible color that changes the further one travels across the lake. At the dock, the water is blue, but further south, as you get closer to the glaciers, the water deepens into various shades of emerald, depending on the weather, due to the presence of “rock flour” from the glaciers. The Athabasca River by our cabin is quite white, most likely for this same reason.
Another interesting fact about Maligne Lake is the derivation of it name. “Maligne Lake, as well as Maligne River, Maligne Mountain, and Maligne Pass, takes its name from the French word for malignant or wicked. ... It is also possible that early French traders applied the name to the river for its treacherous confluence with the Athabasca River.”

Spirit Island  Maligne Lake
Spirit Island is one of the most photographed sites in the world. It sits on the southern half of Maligne Lake and is 8.7 miles from the boating dock. It’s only an island part of the year, when heavy rains and deep snow from the surrounding mountains and glaciers melt into Maligne Lake, bringing the water level high enough to turn this little pine-wooded land into an island. By the time August rolls around, Spirit Island can be easily accessed via the isthmus that connects it to land. A 30 or 60-minute stop is made for passengers to disembark and wander about, taking pictures.

When I stepped off the boat, I distanced myself a bit from the rest of the passengers because I wanted to soak in the peace and tranquility amongst the fragrant pines and savor this moment of quiet joy. The island is a spiritual place for the Stoney Nakoda First Nation, who believe mountains are physical representations of their ancestors. The fact that Spirit Island is surrounded on three sides by the same mountain range is very rare and makes it particularly significant to the Stoney.”  

Check out this link for some beautiful night pictures HERE.
My research of the history of the area and its indigenous people reveals there’s evidence of habitation dating back 10,000 years.  There were several tribes that wandered in the valleys, hunting for food. By the 1600’s the Cree had established themselves in the area and by the 1700’s the Stoney-Nakoda also took up residence. With the influx of Europeans who came to hunt for furs, intermarriage was inevitable and the Métis population grew.
“In 1813, Jasper House was built (now a National Historic Site in Jasper National Park) as a place where fur traders could stock up on provisions before traversing the mountains through Athabasca Pass, or refuel if they had just completed the journey. In 1821, the Hudson’s Bay Company took control of the North West Company and posts such as Jasper House. Jasper House closed in 1884.”

For more information about Jasper, please click this link: HERE

Next year, for our special anniversary, we have discussed among the family to plan a special vacation celebration by returning to Jasper. We’d rent the same cabin by the river, but we’d have to get two cabins now, side-by-side. And we still have that car-top carrier for the luggage!
My love of Jasper has rambled on far too long, which seems to be my habit—wordiness—so I shall halt here in Jasper and continue the journey to Banff next month with Part 2.

In closing, I’ll just share a little tidbit about Banff which indirectly relates to my novella, Diamond Jack’s Angel in the Hot Western Nights anthology just released on July 4th.
Back in the 1990’s at the tail end of our vacation in Banff, we took a detour and visited the Frank Slide mining disaster in the Crowsnest Pass of the Rocky Mountains. I experienced a special “moment” there, which inspired a western historical romance. That book did have a mining disaster in it, with the heroine leaving town (and the hero) because she’d accepted an invitation to sing at the newly opened Banff Springs Hotel in 1888 (now known as the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel). I never published that book, just started a new book. But I resurrected that story this year from memory, partly changed the story line, drastically reduced the length and relocated it to a gold mining town in Colorado.

Here is a brief excerpt from Diamond Jack’s Angel in  the anthology, Hot Western Nights:

Angela kept gazing at the sapphire gown. She’d never owned anything so beautiful. Eagerly she undressed, but when she stood only in her shift, shyness overcame her.
“What is it, my dear?” Lil said.
“I-I…only my mother’s seen me….”
Lil’s expression softened into a tender smile. “I was shy once, too.”
Angela’s eyes widened. “You were? I can’t imagine that.”
Lil cradled the gown, her rouged lips pursed in a rueful smile. “I wasn’t always a madam. Sometimes life kicks you in the backside and you do whatever you must to survive. Now, no more talk. Hold out your arms and lean forward. And close your eyes.”
Angela complied, excitement building inside her. She’d never owned a dress so fine. She heard the whisper of material being gathered, a whoosh of cool slippery cloth over her head and sliding down over her body. She smoothed her hands over the skirt and stopped as her fingers rasped on the material. She bit her lip, embarrassed.
“Don’t fret. The cream’s working nicely. Your hands will be good as new in a few more days.” Lil deftly buttoned the bodice and stood back.
“Can I look now?”
“No, I’m not done yet. Lean your head forward.”
“Why? Is something wrong?”
“No, of course not.” Lil started pulling out the hairpins that held the thick braids in a coronet and tossed the pins onto a table. It took her a few minutes to loosen the plaits and fluff them around Angela’s shoulders. “Oh, my, oh my.”
“What is it? What’s wrong?”
“Just give me another minute. No peeking.” Lil hurried to the door and opened it. “Arthur, dash upstairs and fetch my full-length mirror. Hurry.”
Angela giggled, trying to imagine the dignified butler dashing anywhere. But she hoped he’d hurry. The suspense of seeing herself in this gown made her tremble. She realized with her eyes closed the rest of her senses kicked in…footsteps on the stairs…the rose scent of a burning candle…the rapid beating of her heart…a movement of air…an indrawn breath….
Suddenly her skin prickled, as if an invisible hand had brushed over her like a caress. Of their own will, her eyes flew open. Jack stood in the doorway, looking so tall and dashing in a black suit and silver vest, his black Stetson resting at a rakish angle. Why have I never noticed how handsome he is? And why is he standing so still as if struck by lightning?
His smoky eyes blazed with an inner fire that shot a melting tingle straight to her core. Her mouth dried up. An uncontrollable hot and cold feeling flashed from her head to her knees.
Jack rushed across the carpet and caught her in his strong arms. She gazed up at him. He was speaking, as if through water. She looked at his mouth. Wanted him to kiss her like the other night. “Yes,” she breathed.
Warmth caressed her cheeks, as if Jack had been holding his breath. And then his lips covered hers and she succumbed to the thrill of his kiss.

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  1. Your family trips to Jasper sure sounds like good times. I wouldn't miss AC, dishwashers, or TV if I were enjoying that cabin and canoe trips as well as board games. Except for the canoe trips, it actually sounds like my childhood--sans the moose and elk which do not inhabit Charlotte, NC. LOL Actually, I think you had me at "roasted marshmallows". LOL
    Spirit Lake looks like such an interesting and beautiful place.
    I've read 2 of these 3 stories and I liked them very much. Keep writing and taking those trips, my friend. I certainly enjoyed this delightful blog.

    1. Those holidays were the best, Sarah, reconnecting with nature and having fun as a family. It cost nothing but the necessities like food, shelter and gas. I wish everyone could go to Jasper and take that boat ride to see Spirit Island. It's so beautiful and truly captures the imagination of thousands, confirmed by all the photographs of it around the world. I think that movie back in the 50's also helped advertise this beautiful place. I love the mountains and feel my spirits lift as we approach them on our way to Banff. Thanks for stopping by, Sarah.

  2. Looks so beautiful! I hope to visit one day. And I loved your story in the collection. Jack and Angela are the perfect couple. So romantic.

  3. I hope you can make that trip to Jasper one day, and Banff has breathtaking scenery and lakes, too. I think Lake Louise probably competes with Maligne Lake for beauty. Both lakes are fed by glaciers. More about Banff in my next blog. Thanks for stopping by.

  4. What a wonderful time you had. That is what trips should be. Thank you for sharing. Also, loved the excerpt. Doris

  5. Great holidays and great memories. I really miss those trips now, but looking forward to another next year, hopefully. Thanks for stopping by, Doris. You're always so kind and encouraging. Love your story in the anthology.

  6. Such a beautiful place. That photograph of the island is simply sublime. I've seen Rose Marie and thought the scenery was stunning. I do love those old movies. Thank you for haring these lovely memories.

  7. We have beautiful scenery everywhere, if we just look, yet why is it one certain view captures one's imagination? I can't explain it, but it's obvious I'm not alone with my love of this beautiful (island) on Maligne Lake, judging from the many times I see pictures of it in magazines. I would love to go back, hopefully next year. Thanks for stopping by, Christine.