The Mount Royal Hotel was something of a Grand Central Station for the Town of Banff. Situated for more than a century right in the heart of town, the hotel has always been a meeting and resting place for travellers—it was where carriages converged after a tour of Lake Minnewanka in the early 1900s and where adventurers would gather for an Alberta sirloin after a toil on the rugged trails of the park.
But not only was it a refuge for guests and world travellers, according to a former business owner and manager on Banff Avenue, it was a hot spot for locals as well.
What began as a brick, 60-room hotel in 1908 would, over time, expand to stretch across half a block of Banff Avenue’s east side and function like a meeting spot for all walks of life.
Photo: Historical images courtesy of the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies.
Banff Avenue's on/off ramp
It was typical to see business owners of the attached commercial block out clearing their sidewalks for the crowds. And the lobby became a hot-spot for arriving travellers. For a while, the bus depot was located behind the hotel, so people getting off would go through the back door, pass right through the hotel lobby and walk out onto Banff Avenue.
Andrew Whittick, who worked at the Mount Royal through the 1970s and 1980s, says Frank Gourlay, owner of a pharmacy across from the Mount Royal Hotel, would sweep or shovel a path along the meridian of Banff Avenue leading from the Mount Royal straight to his store.
“It was sort of a thoroughfare,” Whittick said. “It can be seen in two ways. It was maybe an annoyance for the hotel to have so much traffic. But it made the Mount Royal Hotel a real meeting place.”
At the corner of Caribou & Banff
The Mount Royal Hotel, ideally located right on the corner of Caribou Street and Banff Avenue, was also a popular gathering place for locals in the 1970s and 1980s, according to Bill Hope. The former operations manager for Brewster Travel Canada said tradesmen and local park wardens would drop in at lunch for the "Blue Plate Special" of hot sandwiches and mashed potatoes. A group of prominent locals would meet there every day after work.
The hotel was not the only Brewster business to dwell on that famous corner. Across from the Mount Royal on the other side of Caribou, where “Caribou Corner” is now emblazoned in neon lights, was once the Brewster Transportation Co. building. On the northwest corner of the intersection stood a Texaco service station, built in the mid-1930s and leased by Bill Brewster. Museum archives show the Brewster family had leases on the property in 1910 and 1915 as well.
Fascinating stories originated at the corner of Banff and Caribou. Rich in history and bubbling with life, the stories drawn from this corner of town come through in the architecture seeping from the cracks in the buildings and concrete. The Mount Royal Hotel has been part of the lifeblood of this story for over a century.
The designers behind the hotel renovation have kept that top of mind. "Modern travellers want to feel the place they’re in", says Alison McNeil of design firm Dialog. “You want to feel like you have had the most real experience possible in the location.”
The new hotel will soon open its doors to everyone wanting to meet up on the corner of Banff and Caribou, share a good story and be a part of history.