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Banff Park Museum and National Historic Site

Banff Park MuseumThe Banff Park Museum is of national historic significance because this "museum of museums" developed by Norman Bethune Sanson reflects an early approach to the interpretation of natural history in Canada and because of the architectural style and detailing so characteristic of the early federal buildings in the Park.

Lured by the hot springs and the newly created Rocky Mountain Park, early visitors to Banff were wealthy, educated and exploding with curiosity. Great admirers of mountain scenery and wildlife, they would however, never explore this new frontier at the expense of comfort and luxury. An opportunity prevailed, the government would construct a natural history museum, travelers could view the beasts of the wild west in civilized fashion without danger or discomfort.


Banff Museum Archive Photo In 1895, the Geological Survey of Canada supplied the museum with a shipment of mounted and labeled specimens comprising of eight mammals, 259 birds, a turtle, 57 specimens of wood, 814 plants and 201 mineral samples. John Macoun of the Natural History Branch described these specimens as "an almost complete representation of the birds and flowering plants found within the limits of the park". 

As a principal attraction for Banff, the Banff Park Museum was moved to a new museum building in 1903 to replace the smaller and less centrally located 1895 museum. Today, the 1903 museum building is the largest and most elaborate example of the early phase of park design utilizing decorative cross-log construction. The museum's designer was a former engineer for the railway. Overhanging verandas, carved brackets, and cross-log motifs are all characteristic of early railway stations. The large windows, lantern skylights in the upper pagoda and large windows throughout the museum demonstrate a unique approach for natural light before electricity came to Banff. The high quality of materials and craftsmanship throughout indicates that the building was clearly intended as a showpiece for the park. Its distinctive appearance and location makes the museum a local landmark. Its graceful design, elaborate use of Douglas Fir and the setting contributes strongly to the character of the town.

Hired in 1896 as the museum curator, Norman Bethune Sanson actively collected specimens in the field and was largely responsible for the expansion of the collection. During his career Sanson hiked over 20,000 kilometres in the mountains searching for animals, plants, rocks, fossils and curiosities to fill the museum. He wanted to make the park museum the best of its kind in Canada, a University of the Hills, and on all accounts he did. Sanson retired in 1937 and was never replaced.

Although the building, the collection, and the grounds have been modified over time in response to the demands of the day, the developments and treatments are "in keeping" with the historical significance of the building and collections themselves. Today the displays present an extensive collection of natural history specimens (more than 5,000) which are characteristic of the Canadian Rocky Mountains and of early museum practices during the 1914 era.

The Banff Park Museum has great promotions that give the tourist excellent exposure to the history of the Rocky Mountains. The Banff Heritage Passport lets you meet Banff's heroes and heroines or discover its mammals, birds and insects in a turn-of-the-century setting. Purchase the Banff Heritage Passport for one great price and explore three of Banff's premier heritage attractions - the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, the Cave and Basin National Historic Site and the Banff Park Museum National Historic Site. Guided tours and special events are offered at all three year-round! 

The Banff Park Museum is open year-round! In the summertime (mid-May to September 30) it is open daily between 10 am and 6pm. In the winter (October 1 to mid-May), hours are daily from 1pm to 5pm. Admission fees are $4.00 for adults, $3.50 for seniors, $2.00 for youth, $10.00 for a family/group, $3.00 per person for commercial group, $2.00 per student for school group and $3.00 per student for school group and Heritage Presentation Special Program. Of course, hours and admission fees are subject to change, so contact the museum for up-to-date information. 
The Banff Park Museum may be contacted at the following address:

Banff Park Museum National Historic Site
P.O. Box 900
Banff, AB
T0L 0C0
(403) 762-1558

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