Sunshine Village: Where Skiing Meets History

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Written by Patrick J. Smith posted on Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

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With views like this to draw them, is it any wonder travelers flocked from all over the world to visit Sunshine Meadows?

With views like this to draw them, is it any wonder travelers flocked from all over the world to visit Sunshine Meadows?

Hello again, ski hounds. Last time, we introduced you to one of North America’s premier ski establishments: Sunshine Village (click here if you missed it). Now, for all of you history buffs, we’d like to take a look at the history that makes Sunshine Village in Banff National Park what it is today.

It was Sir George Simpson, then governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company, who discovered the region for Europeans while on expedition in 1841, though his party was more interested in getting to the Pacific Ocean. Some twenty years later, the Palliser Expedition came through, taking more time to explore the area and naming the peaks.

Like most other places in the Canadian Rockies, it was the coming of the Canadian Pacific Railroad that really opened up the area to more people for the first time. Construction of the railroad reached Banff in 1883, prompting a spate of exploration and thoughts of tourism possibilities.

As for Sunshine itself, an eccentric trapper and prospector named Bill Peyto is believed to have been the first “tour guide” of the Sunshine area. He was a skilled guide and took many parties of campers and climbers through Sunshine Meadows to the base of Mt. Assiniboine in the 1890s.

Some three decades later, Sunshine Meadows had become a very popular destination, with interest in overnight camping surging. Indeed, there were so many tents being erected in the area that it became known as Tee Pee Town. If you take the Tee Pee Town chair lift today, when you reach the top you’ll be looking over the very same area that was so popular so many decades earlier.

Sunshine Village itself also has a history that dates back to the 1920s. 1928, to be precise. That’s when the Canadian Pacific Railroad built a log cabin lodge for a group of horse-riding enthusiasts. While not the oldest building in the area at the time, it is the oldest in what is now Sunshine Village. It’s now known as the Old Sunshine Lodge, and Mad Trapper’s Saloon and Bruno’s Bistro are located inside it. Next time you’re in Sunshine Village, you should stop by for a visit!

The CPR cabin also figures in the story of the first skiers in Sunshine Village. In 1929, two locals, Cliff White and Cyril Paris, wanted to use the cabin as an overnight location in a plan to ski across the continental divide. But they couldn’t find the cabin that night and had to make a dug-out in the snow. It was a long, cold night. Nor were they reassured to wake up the next morning to find that they’d been practically right outside the door when they gave up looking! They survived, though, and had themselves a nice little story to tell … and the distinction of being the first two people to ski Sunshine Village.

They would not, obviously, be the last. As the 1930’s rolled along, the lodge was expanded and its new owners were compelled to hire ski guides. One of them, Bruno Engler, was the first Swiss to be hired on when he joined in 1939; he became Sunshine’s first full-time ski instructor. Some of his photographs are still displayed on the cabin’s walls.

Much has changed since then, of course. Ownership of the resort has changed hands several times, and lifts have been installed, then upgraded, then upgraded again. So it goes. But when you stay there, you’ll notice how much history is still alive in Sunshine Village. Take a look around … when you’re not skiing down the hills, of course! You’ll find that there’s a lot more to see than just Canada’s finest powder.

Alberta Adventure Guide

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