The Town of Banff is celebrating World Heritage Day on April 18 by encouraging residents and visitors to experience the rich history of the mountain community by touring the many heritage buildings in Banff.
The municipality has launched a new Heritage Finder website to help people explore Banff’s heritage treasures from the comfort of their own home. The Town also offers a series of self-guided heritage walking tours online to help people explore at their own pace.
“Our heritage buildings tell Banff’s story as the birthplace of Canada’s national parks system and as the home to a wide range of unique characters, adventurers, and entrepreneurs. Of course, before this designation, Banff has long been a gathering place for Indigenous Peoples and a place to create a new life for new Canadians,” said Corrie DiManno, Mayor of Banff. “Our built heritage reflects the spirit of making a life in these rugged Rockies, and they embody key ingredients for our community’s sense of place.”
In 1983, the General Assembly of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) approved April 18 as an international day of observance of built heritage and monuments. A year later, Banff and this area of the Canadian Rockies was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Town of Banff was officially incorporated as a municipality with an elected council in 1990, through an agreement between the Government of Canada and the Province of Alberta – making the municipality one of the “youngest” in Alberta, with one of the “oldest” heritages with Indigenous Peoples living in the area for 10,000 years.
The Heritage Finder site has an interactive map of 180 heritage sites, each with property photos, background information, and digitized documents. This digital historical database aims to stimulate interest in local history and reinforce a sense of community pride and identity.
Since incorporation, the Town of Banff has officially designated 15 properties as Municipal Historic Resources and listed 180 properties on the Municipal Heritage Inventory, which identifies properties that have heritage value to the community. The large number of recorded sites shows the wealth of Banff’s built heritage in a town less than four square kilometres in area, and demonstrates the efforts of the Town and the Banff Heritage Corporation in honouring Banff’s unique past.
The Town also provides five online guides for Historical walking tours in Banff. The tours include public buildings and structures, highlights of the Old Banff Cemetery, downtown commercial features, as well as tours involving private residences. Also online, the Town has in-depth feature profiles on more than 25 Landmarks and Legends.
The Town will host a Historical Bike Tour of Banff on June 22 from 6 to 8 p.m. as part of activities for Bike Month.
New protection tools explored
“Banff’s residents, cultural organizations, tourism operators, property owners, and all Canadians share in the benefits of heritage protection in Banff,” said Mayor DiManno. “With a fixed land area for our town, there is significant tension between our desire to preserve heritage homes and the right of private property owners to pursue new development. Especially because we know new development increases housing density and improves energy efficiency and accessibility. We need to work on ways to retain our heritage properties in balance with town-wide redevelopment to address the housing crisis and other community needs.”
Later this summer, the Town of Banff will launch a public engagement process to gather feedback on tools to spur heritage protection. A new Heritage Resource Action Plan will identify tools and tactics to assist property owners who choose to preserve heritage. Through 2022-23, the Town has been seeking advice from experts such as heritage consultants, architects/developers, property owners, planners and policy advisors to identify options to motivate heritage protection that could be successful in Banff.
Potential tactics include financial incentives, motivated action from awareness-building, flexible land use planning requirements, and facilitation of connections for partnerships with interested organizations. All building types with heritage value within the Town of Banff’s boundaries are in scope. This year, the Town will engage residents and organizations to gain feedback on the initial ideas and determine if there are other possibilities for Council to consider.
Public engagement opportunities will be promoted in the community and identified at BanffViewpoints.ca/HeritagePlan.
The recommendations from the Banff Heritage Resource Action Plan are anticipated to be presented to Town Council in late 2023.
“Heritage resources tell the story of Banff, allowing people to connect with ancestors, connect with the fabric of this town, or to connect with a higher, timeless appreciation for this special place,” said DiManno.