Gosh it feels like a storm’ she said to a friend as they left Calgary airport in search of the coach to Banff. Little did Anna Hyman know that evening of 19 June 2013 just how prophetic that statement was to be, or the incredible kindnesses that she and her friend would receive.
Marooned in Banff
By the time we reached our hotel, the Banff Caribou Lodge and Spa, some two hours after leaving Calgary airport the heavens had opened. But it was not until the next morning as we waited for our Explore Banff sightseeing coach tour that we began to realise just how much it had rained. Indeed it was still raining. The coach depot appeared to have been built in the middle of a mini-lake.
Nevertheless an hour or so late we, and a somewhat worried looking coach driver, set off on our familiarisation tour of Banff and environs. We did make it to Sulpher Mountain and even to its summit, but the spectacular view over the mountains and the Bow Valley was obliterated by sheets of rain.
Back in Banff we stood beside a raging Bow river that was already in a state of flood. Back in the coach our super driver tried to keep us amused as police road block after road block halted our progress.
No traffic was being allowed in or out of Banff; roads and bridges had been swept away. We began to realise just how lucky we had been the night before. We must have been one of the last vehicles to have crossed the bridge at Canmore before it was washed away.
It rained for three days
It rained solidly and torrentially for almost three days. We spent our time trudging damply around Banff visiting the museums that were open, eating too much and visiting the shops. There are some very nice shops and restaurants in Banff. We lunched at the Maple Leaf Grill and Lounge (www.banffmapleleaf.com) .
One evening we had a superb meal at The Bison. Executive Chef Liz Gagnon knows more than a thing or two about cooking www.thebison.ca. We also shopped till we dropped in the excellent gift and gallery About Canada www.aboutcanada.ca.
The staff at the Banff Caribou Lodge tried so hard to help. They too were worried about the floods, some of them unable to get home to their own families. Provisions in the hotel were beginning to run low; as were the shops. Nobody knew how long the watery siege was likely to last.
But it was Regan Oxford who worked in the hotel’s Keg restaurant and bar who went quite literally the extra mile for us. He had looked after us brilliantly in the restaurant, but on learning that we should have been leaving the next day he surpassed himself.
He had heard that some roads would be open for light vehicles, and volunteered to drive us the hour long journey to Lake Louise in his car.
And that is exactly what he did, even stopping for us to take bear photos en route. We shall be forever grateful to Regan for heroically giving up his day off, and his kindness to strangers.
Regan deposited two supremely grateful and relieved travellers into the care of Chateau Lake Louise, the grand and palatial Fairmont hotel. Lake Louise with its magnificent Victoria Glacier at the far end of this green lake is beautiful, stunningly beautiful.
The hotel was at least half empty, other guests not having been able to get through either; we not only had the lake virtually to ourselves, but the Fairmont kindly upgraded us to two lake view rooms. The sun shone.
After a light lunch we opted for one of the guided hotel tours led by their Swiss Guide, Jeff Douglas, who told us not only about the history of the hotel but of the lake itself.
An emerald green lake
Way back in about 1880, a young man working on the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), camping out at the confluence of the valley rivers, was told by some local Stoney Indians of a beautiful lake high in the valley’s mountains. When he saw it, enchanted by its colour, he called it Emerald Lake.
However, the name was eventually changed, to Louise in honour of one of Queen Victoria’s daughters, who was also the wife of the then Governor General of Canada.
Soon after a log cabin was built for adventurous visitors who wanted to explore the mountains. Sadly one of those early tourists died whilst attempting to reach one of the summits. Consequently two professional Swiss alpine guides were employed to escort those early guests through the mountains; just as Jeff Douglas does to this very day.
From its humble log cabin origins the magnificent Chateau Lake Louise hotel has emerged. The staff’s loyalty to their hotel and guests is incredible. They go out of their way to help. During the flooding when delivery vans were unable to get through, the staff drove their own cars to the nearest supply stores so that guests were not inconvenienced. They succeeded – our meals were stunning.
We were only staying two nights and apart from enjoying ‘our lake’ we were longing to see the Moraine Lake with its backdrop of 10 peaks. We went to book a trip, but again we were thwarted, as coaches were still unable to get through. We were disappointed but resigned.
However, the fantastic Lake Louise staff were made of sterner stuff and as the hotel was so quiet– we were whisked away in the hotel car for a quick glimpse of this other magical lake.
Next morning we were back on the road and heading for Jasper. Relieved as we were to be on our way, our thoughts were with the people of Alberta who had been so tragically affected by the catastrophic flooding that killed at least four people, displaced over 100,000 and was to be described as the worst flooding in Alberta’s history.
Banff Caribou Lodge and Spa: www.banffcariboulodge.com
Chateau Lake Louise: www.fairmont.com/lake-louise