Eleanor Luxton was born to Norman Luxton and Georgina McDougall Luxton on July 31, 1908, in Banff, Alberta. Before taking her first step, she already had a family legacy behind her, yet she forged her own unique path, propelled by great curiosity and determination. Eleanor lived her life suffering from the symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis, but did not let this stand in her way.* She is remembered today as an accomplished renaissance woman.
*World MS Day is officially marked on May 30. It brings the global Multiple Sclerosis (MS) community together to share stories raise awareness and campaign with everyone affected by MS.
Family Heritage and Upbringing
1908 – 1926
Eleanor’s ties to the history of Banff, the Bow Valley and Western Canada ran deep. Her maternal great grandparents, George and Elizabeth McDougall, were Methodist missionaries who settled in what is now Morley, Alberta. Eleanor’s grandparents, David and Annie McDougall, ran the trading post in what was then called Morleyville. David and Annie gave birth to Eleanor’s mother Georgina McDougall, in 1872.
Norman Luxton was born to a newspaper family, his father, William Luxton, being the co-founder of the Winnipeg Free Press. Norman worked for both the Calgary Herald and the Vancouver Sun before setting off on an adventurous pacific voyage in a dug-out canoe. After requiring medical attention mid-voyage, Norman was drawn to the healing waters of Banff, where he established his home. He became known to many as “Mr. Banff,” for his significant role in establishing Banff as an international tourism destination. In 1904, Norman married Georgina McDougall and Eleanor was born four years later.
From a young age, Norman and Georgina told Eleanor that she could accomplish whatever she set her mind to, an uncommon perspective for women during this time period. Embracing this way of thinking, Eleanor went on to be a teacher, engineer, historian, author and significant individual in the history of Banff.
University and Teaching Days
1926 – 1940
Following her high school graduation in Banff in 1926, Eleanor began her post-secondary education at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, where her life-long love of learning blossomed. During her studies, Eleanor kept busy in other areas of her life. She was employed as a librarian for the university’s student newspaper, “The Gateway,” and served on both the House Committee and the Women’s Disciplinary Committee. Socially, she was a member of the Delta Delta Delta sorority. She graduated with a bachelor of arts, majoring in English and history in 1930. Two years later, Eleanor received her high school teaching certificate from the University of Alberta, followed by her master’s degree in history.
Eleanor returned to Banff in the summer of 1933. The University of Alberta’s Department of Extension hosted a summer drama course in Banff which would later lead to the creation of Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. With a keen interest in the arts, Eleanor attended this course held in the former Auditorium Building on Banff Avenue, used today by Parks Canada as the Visitor Information Centre.
The following seven years of Eleanor’s life were devoted to teaching. She spent a year at Mount Star School in Sexsmith, Alberta, then returned to her home in Banff, where she taught at the Banff Public School until 1940. As a teacher, Eleanor shared, with her students, her knowledge and love of history, literature, and music. She also shared stories of her many travels—with her family as a child, and more recently as a young adult.
In 1937, Eleanor journeyed by steam ship to Japan, China, and Hawaii on the Empress of Japan. While she was in China, war broke out between the Chinese and the Japanese. Eleanor escaped on one of the last trains out of Shanghai. In 1939, Eleanor embarked on another adventure, this time to Panama and Hawaii.
Shift in Studies
1940 – 1946
In 1940, Eleanor left her home in the mountains and moved east to Ottawa. She began her year teaching at Elmwood Private School but was hospitalized towards the end of the year for exhaustion and persistent headaches.
The new year brought about great changes, as she enrolled in a machine drafting course at Ottawa Technical High School. This was a very unusual career path for a woman of this era, yet Eleanor showed no hesitation. An instructor from her program stated that “Miss Luxton is one of the few women who understands mechanics from a draughtsman’s point of view.” It was clear she showed great aptitude for this trade and found it to be stimulating work.
Eleanor moved to Montreal in the summer of 1941 and was hired by Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) to design locomotives. While employed by CPR, Eleanor pursued a bachelor of Science in engineering degree from Sir George Williams College (now Concordia University), which she completed in 1946.
Her days in Montreal came to an end when she was hospitalized due to symptoms that were later diagnosed as Multiple Sclerosis. And so began an era of struggle and strength.
Illness, Determination, and a Passion for the Past
1946 – 1995
“You know Jane, I get up every morning and I say okay Eleanor, is today the day you’re going to become a vegetable and I say to myself —not on your life” 1
– Eleanor G. Luxton.
Upon her return to Banff in 1946, Eleanor’s symptoms worsened. Without a clear diagnosis, she travelled to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and to Jasper for hydrotherapy. She checked in to the Spears Sanitarium in Denver, Colorado in May of 1950. The Spears Sanitarium was a chiropractic hospital, established by Leo Spears in 1943 and was said to be the largest chiropractic hospital in the world at this time. He claimed to offer a treatment for almost every disease, especially the incurable.
Neither the chronic pain, nor the setback in her career, could slow Eleanor down. She set off for Montreal once again following her release from the Spears Sanitarium in the fall of 1950 and spent the following five years feeding her love for both learning and educating, working as a lecturer and instructor at McGill University. She occupied her spare time by learning German and writing a manuscript for Latch String Out, a book telling the story of her maternal grandmother, which would be published in 2015, some 20 years following her passing.
In 1956, Eleanor was hired as a field researcher by the Glenbow Foundation of Calgary, and was based in High River, Alberta. The goal of this newly founded organization was to preserve the history of Canada through historical research, books, art, and crafts. Eleanor was tasked with collecting information from old diaries, letters, leases, maps in archives, museums, art galleries and from personal collections.
As a field researcher, Eleanor spent much of her time conducting interviews with ‘old timers’ within southern Alberta. She believed that it was only through such conversation that she could truly acquire the local colour that was necessary to accurately recount history.
Her work conducting interviews throughout the region included a great deal of time on the road. To many, this would have seemed an exhausting task, but Eleanor saw romance in both the stories she collected and the scenery she travelled.
Throughout her time working for the Glenbow Foundation, Eleanor lectured on various themes to organizations such as the Alberta Old Timers’ Association, the Women’s Canadian Club, the High River Pioneers, the Teacher’s Association, and the Southern Alberta Pioneers. She was invited to speak on a multitude of topics, though her passion and interest in history, culture and the arts often shone through.
In 1959, she was admitted to hospital in Calgary for spinal fusion surgery and remained in hospital for several months of recovery. Eleanor moved to Calgary and was hospitalized again for further back surgery from 1961 to 1962, during which time she regretfully left her position with the Glenbow Foundation.
Eleanor’s father Norman passed away in 1962, while Eleanor was living in Calgary, prompting her to return to Banff. In his will, Norman left a significant portion of his estate to the Glenbow Foundation. After contesting this for almost five years in court, Eleanor was granted ownership of several notable properties in Banff once owned by her father, such as the Old Crag Cabin and 203 Caribou Street (now the Magpie and Stump restaurant). Her mother, Georgina, passed away in 1965, following which Eleanor inherited her childhood home at 206 Beaver Street.
Despite her determination to continue to achieve, Eleanor’s illness progressed to the point that she could no longer walk without the aid of a wheelchair or a cane. Though she stood at the lectern for every lecture she delivered, her health continued to decline.
By the late 1960s Eleanor lived in her childhood home, spending her days in her beloved Banff. In 1971, she edited and published her father’s diaries of his pacific crossing, originally titled Luxton’s Pacific Crossing. Four years later, she published her own book, Banff, Canada’s First National Park, describing a broad history of Banff; , its geology, its peoples, and its growth as the first national park of our country.
In 1985, Eleanor’s health further deteriorated. She was hospitalized with pneumonia, which led to the diagnosis of a heart condition. She had open-heart surgery the following year at the Holy Cross Hospital in Calgary.
In 1994 she was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer, yet she didn’t let this stop her from creating a foundation that would carry her legacy for years to come.
Months prior to her death, Eleanor established the Eleanor Luxton Historical Foundation with the desire to preserve her family home as well as its contents.
Over the years, both Eleanor and her parents had collected various items from around the world and received many as gifts. Fine furniture, valuable silver and chinaware, rare books, animal trophy heads from Norman’s collection, Indigenous artwork, and much more. Eleanor stressed the importance of preserving the property with its greenery and flowers. Eleanor’s mother, Georgina, had taken great pride in planting a garden around the Luxton Home.
Eleanor Georgina Luxton passed away peacefully in her home on June 22, 1995. She leaves behind her a legacy as a lifelong learner with a deep love and respect for her heritage.
Today, the Foundation continues efforts to preserve and commemorate the Luxton legacy and the built heritage on Beaver Street, including the Luxton Home, which is open to the public as a museum. More information about the foundation is available at LuxtonFoundation.org and the Luxton Home can be visited online in the new Heritage Finder website at HeritageFinder.Banff.ca.
The Luxton Home was designated a Municipal Historic Resource by the Town of Banff in 2002, highlighting its heritage value and protecting its character defining elements. More information about this historic resource and other Town of Banff Municipal Historic Resources can be found here: https://banff.ca/HeritageResources.
1 Jane Hayes Interview by Judy Larmour, 23 March 2000, Box LUX/II F3i (printed transcripts) EL 15:1 to EL-6, Folder LUX/II/F3i Transcript 15:1 Jane Hayes Interview, Luxton Family Fonds, II. Eleanor Luxton, Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Banff, Alberta, Canada.
In partnership with the Archives at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, the Banff Heritage Corporation is proud to present this article as part of the Landmarks & Legends series.