THOMAS FISHER RARE BOOK LIBRARY
Delusions of Peace in Banff
Cover of the American Express Banner Tour Dinner restaurant menu from Wednesday, August 21, 1946 at the Banff Springs Hotel, an extension of the Canadian Pacific Railway, in the Canadian Rockies, Alberta. Courtesy of the Mary Williamson Culinary Collection at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library.
The term “Noble Savage”  represents a romanticized view of Indigenous peoples and their pure and ‘noble’ relationship to the land in contrast to the ‘savagery’ of the colonial world. When looking at the cover of the 1946 Summer dinner menu, I see an Indigenous male overlooking the Rocky Mountains and the Banff Springs Hotel with pride and acceptance. To me, this image conveys peace and exhibits a relationship between the original inhabitants of the land and the institution of the hotel. However, for those visiting and experiencing Banff Springs Hotel and Banff National Park in 1946, this image presents a deceptive idea of peace, in contrast to the troubled reality.
Export Natives, Import Guests
The Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) was the first transcontinental railway in Canada, and was instrumental in the development of Western Canada. Transportation was modernized, and lavish vacationing was brought to the Rocky Mountains. Jaw-dropping landscapes were the driving force of inspiration for William van Horne’s amazing Banff Springs Hotel. This hotel would mainly appeal to upper class passengers who rode on the CPR trains. Van Horne’s desire to increase tourism came at the cost of drastic interference with the land, which resulted in catastrophic lifestyle changes to those who lived there first.
Banff National Park & the Banff Springs Hotel
In 1885, a few years after two CPR employees claimed to ‘discover’ hot springs on Sulphur Mountain, ownership of the land was granted to the Canadian Government and the Hot Springs Reserve was established, which later became known as Banff National Park. This land had been travelled and hunted on by tribes like the Nakoda for centuries; however, they were now excluded from the area. This was the first project completed by the CPR and the Canadian Government. The goal was to increase traffic on the railway and ultimately make Banff a tourist destination, securing future revenue for both the company and the government.
The Banff Springs Hotel opened on June 1, 1888 and quickly became a popular destination for wealthy tourists. Over the next few decades, the hotel would be faced with several challenges such as the Great Depression, a disastrous fire, and World War II, which would force the hotel to temporarily close. The luxurious lifestyle it previously sold was no longer practical, and the hotel was forced to change its objectives.
Centrefold of the American Express Banner Tour Dinner restaurant menu from Wednesday, August 21, 1946 at the Banff Springs Hotel in the Canadian Rockies, Alberta. Courtesy of the Mary Williamson Culinary Collection at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library.
Adapting to the Times
The Banff Springs Hotel needed to appeal to more than just the rich if it wanted to continue to operate. Luckily, Banff National Park presented an alternative strategy. Surrounded by the Canadian Rockies, the focus of the hotel shifted from glamour and indulgence to discovering the great outdoors. Even the dinner menu advertised the activities available to visitors. Without consent, the Indigenous communities of the area became a feature of the Park; an outlet for the ‘civilized’ world to indulge in a stereotypical view of the “Noble Savage.”
Aurora Cacioppo is a Masters of Museum Studies candidate at the University of Toronto. Before graduating with an honours degree in Fine Art from Ryerson University, Aurora curated the New Media thesis exhibition in April 2016 and hopes to pursue her childhood dream of becoming a curator upon graduating from the iSchool. Aurora is fascinated by the way stories can be told through different mediums and objects. She loves adding chapters to her own story through travel and adventure.