Banff Jasper Collection

Step Into History: A Modern Hotel with a Rich Past

There's a lot of history at the corner of Banff Avenue and Caribou Street.  And as preparations ramp up for the reopening of the Mount Royal Hotel on July 1, this history remains ever-present. After all, the landmark hotel has stood at the heart of Banff since 1906.

For a building that occupies a large portion of one of the principal blocks on such an iconic main street, the bar has been set high. The design team leading the Mount Royal Hotel's re-imagining for 2018 has known from the beginning that history would play a big role. They sent researchers to the venerable Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies in Banff to search through the archives and they combed through historic video footage at Calgary's Glenbow Museum. They spoke with locals and historians. In the process, a story came to life.

"The more we delved into the research and the beautiful imagery, the more it became much more than just about the hotel," James Carless, art director for Evans Hunt, the creative agency overseeing the historical displays.

For decades, the hotel served as a community hub for public events, visiting artists and important gatherings. Through the rich history of Banff, the Mount Royal Hotel's own past is highlighted over and over again. And that has influenced everything from branding to guest experience.

A museum researcher looks at historic blueprints in the Whyte Museum archives.

Photo: The original blueprints from the Mount Royal Hotel as it was built in 1908 were discovered in a suitcase recently donated to the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies.

"We have this huge wealth of history that we're drawing on," Carless says.

The question then became how to bring this history to life. A centrepiece will be the historic display that will live in the lobby museum. It will include archival maps, old hotel brochures, video footage dating to the 1920s and even a Mount Royal Hotel guest book from the 1960s. Guests may be struck by what drew travellers and residents to Banff in the 1920s, for example, is really the same things that draws them today, Carless says. 

"There's a timeless quality to the community of Banff and I think this display really helps capture that," Carless says.

One of Banff's "anchors"

Elizabeth Kundert Cameron, head of archives at the Whyte Museum, describes the Mount Royal as a 'fixture' in the Rocky Mountain town. It's located right in the middle of the action at the corner of Caribou Street and Banff Avenue. "It's always been at the very hub of Banff," she says. "It's one of our anchors."

She recognizes the efforts the Mount Royal Hotel is making to honour and celebrate the history of both the hotel and the town, and considers it a responsibility that has been embraced.

It was a real collaboration between the Mount Royal Hotel's researchers and the Whyte's team of archivists, who are true experts on Banff history and were patient and eager to share their knowledge and identify key artifacts and historic images.

A researcher looks through historic documents from the Mount Royal Hotel.

Photo: Reviewing the original Mount Royal Hotel guest registry that dates to the 1960s.

"We're thrilled about it," she says. "They're building on the history, and I think what the architects and interior designers have done is take the Mount Royal Hotel and give a modern twist to an on-going story."

In the end, guests to the new Mount Royal Hotel will get an authentic opportunity to connect with the stories of Banff.

More than an historic hotel

The goal is that guests feel like they've arrived at a place that's deeply authentic and true to place. And while the hotel has a contemporary feel that appeals to the most modern of travellers, it's balanced with historic details in a very deliberate way. That means history is brought into many details, from the library display to decor and from the guest room directories to the way the hallways transition between decades.

"We really want guests to feel that they’re stepping into history and that they’re getting these little narrative hooks as the move throughout the hotel," Cardless says. "So, more than just simply saying, 'We’re an historic hotel', we want to showcase the history of the hotel and also a sense of Banff's history."

Historically, people are drawn to Banff for adventure, exploration and the transformative power of the mountains. It's something that hasn't changed since 1908 when the Mount Royal Hotel was first built.

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