We urge visitors to check out one of the most fascinating coal mining ghost towns in Banff National Park, Alberta. Only minutes away from the Econolodge Canmore Mountain Lodge, Bankhead was a thriving mine site and residential area which opened in 1903 and closed twenty glorious years later in 1922. Three hundred underground coal miners traveled daily from their unique town of 1500 to haul out coal for the steam locomotives of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Their output was an amazing 600 tons a day! Closure of the mine was sudden and announced without a reason, although the low quality of the coal and strikes at the site were known to have affected its profitability.
While entrances to the mine shafts were closed off, plenty of the foundations and original remnants can be seen. Well-groomed self-guiding trails are accompanied by signs, displays, and interpretive information that allow walkers and hikers to identify the buildings and features they encounter, and obtain a first-class understanding of what mining in Lower Bankhead was all about. Visitors can walk atop 300 kilometers of the visible tunnels. Photographers will appreciate the many authentic displays and factual information about geology and mining visible through the windows of the transformer building, the lone remaining intact building. Besides buildings, camera bugs will be fascinated by other objects left behind such as one of the coal trains they are free to climb aboard.
Nothing remains of a once-flourishing town but ruins, accounts and memories. A planned company town, Bankhead was stylish and modern with features far ahead of other turn-of-the century towns, features which neither Banff nor Canmore had. Unique to this model town were a municipal water supply, a sewage system, indoor plumbing, and electrical lighting in many homes and on the streets.
Fortunately, not all needs to be left to one’s imagination. Rather than destroy all of its unwanted buildings, a Calgary contractor moved 38 of the original 100 or so houses 6 miles in 40 days to Banff. Bankhead Railway Station is now relocated on Tunnel Mountain Road, and has a map of the town site on its front door. Other buildings in 1926 were moved to Canmore.
Old timer ex-residents have recounted histories of the towns after they moved to those cities. They would have been children during the glorious twenty years of Bankhead. Besides their stories, dozens of photographs of then and now can be found in Ben Gadd’s excellent book, Bankhead: The Twenty Year Town. Mr. Gadd relates many amazing details of the town and home life, and gives explanations of the uniqueness of this mine’s techniques. He also makes readers want to investigate how the CPR was able to achieve what today would be unthinkable: creating a coal mining operation and town in a National Park.
Enroute to or from Bankhead, travelers can enjoy walking, hiking, or biking along the longest lake in the Canadian Rocky Mountain parks, Lake Minnewanka. Boat tours are also available. Sharp-eyed visitors may even catch a glimpse of some of the animal life in the area: elk, mule deer, mountain sheep, and bears!