Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 7/9/2014 (1047 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
REVELSTOKE, B.C. -- When we think of Canada's mountain national parks, we often think of pristine, undisturbed landscapes unsullied by human hands. But, just like 130 years ago, developers are once again eager to pave paradise.
The first wave of development came on the heels of the Canadian Pacific Railroad, which was completed in 1885. As it was built, CP looked to offset some of the enormous costs of construction by building a series of lodges and hotels along the route.
Some of that legacy is absolutely worth cherishing, like the world-famous Banff Springs hotel (now Fairmont Banff Springs) in the town of Banff. In other places, the grand ambitions of those early pioneers are nothing more today than remnants in the ground. Such is the ruins of Glacier House, once an exclusive tourist destination located high in Rogers Pass in what is now Glacier National Park.
After the park was legally established in 1886, the first Glacier House was built near the north end of the stunning Illecillewaet Glacier. It grew in size and popularity over the years until the year 1907, when it was described as the most visited glacier in the Americas.
As luck would have it, the hotel's fate was sealed by a series of lethal avalanches. CP finally decided to move the rail line to a less dangerous location, and the number of visitors to Glacier House dropped off rapidly. Within a few years, it closed its doors and was eventually torn down. You can walk among the stone foundations of this once-grand hotel and imagine the hive of activity that once was there.
Today, another pristine national park site is under pressure to develop. A private consortium called Maligne Tours has aggressively lobbied Parks Canada to build overnight accommodation on Maligne Lake, a stunningly beautiful lake about 45 kilometres from the town of Jasper.
Although the proposal for a hotel on the site was denied, Parks gave permission to further consider the construction of tent cabins on the lake. Critics fear this is the thin edge of the wedge that will lead to further development and rapid destruction of the lake as we know it. In fact, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) has teamed up with the Jasper Environmental Association to seek a judicial review of the government's decision to approve the development.
Opponents cite a number of reasons for their objection. First, the 2010 Jasper National Park management plan outlined that no new land is to be released for commercial accommodations. Second, at-risk wildlife, such as woodland caribou, will be threatened by increased vehicular traffic. Finally, a survey of visitors to the lake found no evidence of interest in such accommodations.
So why is the government letting the proposal move to the next phase? Parks Canada talks openly about the imperative to attract more visitors to our national parks. It's the same rationale that is behind the approval of via ferratas (steel cables that run along a climbing route that climbers can use to limit any fall) and the controversial Glacier Skywalk on the nearby Icefields Parkway. The theory goes that tourists just won't rough it these days to experience the wild, so Parks is entertaining a broad range of ideas to make the outdoors a little tamer in the hopes visitors respond. The folly in this logic, of course, is adding the comforts of home does indeed make these destinations a little less of what we cherish in them so much. To tourists who think they can have their cake -- wildlife and scenic vistas -- and eat it, too -- i.e. hot showers and cosy beds -- the truth is they can't. Taming the wild will always make it a diminished experience.
We've been down this road before, as the Glacier House history reveals. We don't need to go there again. But, to avoid it, Parks Canada will have to reawaken to its mandate -- protecting our world-famous natural areas from the forces that would make them less so, all in the name of profit.
The battle line is drawn at Maligne Lake.
Doug Firby is editor-in-chief of Troy Media and national affairs columnist.