Bankhead Interpretive - Trail Particulars: At the Banff turnoff by Cascade Mountain, take the turn toward Lake Minnewanka. Continue along this road for about 10 minutes until you see the sign for the Lower Bankhead parking lot (right side of the road).
This excursion isn't a hike per se, but D and I had been looking for a nice change of pace and we'd been meaning to take another stroll around Bankhead.
Now, if you'll excuse me while my inner coal mining and history geek takes over:
Bankhead was established around 1903/1904 near the foot of Cascade Mountain as a coal-mining town. Its main purpose was to supply coal to the CP Rail locomotives. At its peak, Bankhead was bigger and busier than nearby Banff. It was the first town in the region to have electricity. Around 1500 people made Bankhead home.
Unfortunately the coal that was mined from Cascade Mountain wasn't of the quality expected, and tended to crumble, making it poor for burning. To solve this problem, pitch was imported from Philadelphia, and the coal was made into briquettes. An expensive solution, and since the mine's purpose was to serve the railway, not a very practical one.
The coal seams were also twisted and difficult to remove. The deeper the miners went, the more difficult it was to remove the coal. Couple this with a number of miners' strikes, and the mine's fate was sealed. The mine was closed in 1922. Many of the town's structures were moved to Banff.
Lower Bankhead is where the mine operation was and is the area that has been preserved. Upper Bankhead was the residential section of the town, and there is not much evidence left to see.
Try to do Lower Bankhead on a cool day. The whole site still has slack heaps and coal equipment and on those super-hot days the whole area seems to be thick with coal. D and I picked this day because it was overcast and breezy.
When you first step into Bankhead, there's a viewing platform to see the entire area from above. As you take the stairs down to the trail, you first pass by the lamphouse, where the miners used to pick up and drop off their lamps -- one way of keeping track who was still in the mine.
After the lamphouse, the path wanders for a little until you reach what used to be the transformer building. The original building stands, but in what is the only "modernization" of the site, the building serves as an exhibit, with some of the town history, some history on coal mining and the complications in mining that doomed the town.
Beside the transformer building is a selection of some of the original mining equipment, with plaques explaining their uses, such as this "tugger hoist" (used to move coal cars when they weren't hooked up to locomotives).
Beyond the transformer house is where the power house used to sit. All that's left now of this massive building is the foundation:
Even the trail looks be made of coal slack. There is a fork in the trail that leads another 2.5 km to a lake, but we opted to leave that for another day. Beautiful view of Mt. Rundle as well:
Next up was the remains of the boiler house, another massive building left to ruin. Most interpretive signs here have photos of the original structures. The boiler house was used to generate steam for power:
Another shot of the coal path. The entire site is marked with wild rhubarb. There is an interesting story behind this. Chinese coal miners lived behind the slack heaps (leftover coal), and many planted and tended gardens. When the mine closed and the town moved, the rhubarb in the gardens spread, and now it's nearly everywhere you look. The rhubarb was going to seed when we were there and it's easy to see how it spreads so easily. It's amazing to think something planted over a hundred years ago is still taking root and growing there today:
Remember that crumbly coal? Here's the briquette building, where imported pitch was used to try to salvage the coal that wasn't "usable":
Here's a look at Cascade Mountain from Lower Bankhead. Bankhead wasn't the only mine digging for coal in the mountain. Another mining town, Anthracite, also set up near the base of the mountain, about 6k east of Banff (close to where the turnoff is now). That town was vacated around the time Bankhead was established, thanks to flooding and (surprise!) low-quality coal. Nothing remains of Anthracite today.
Next stop along the tour is the mine tipple -- the heart of most coal mining operations. The structure was once 30 feet tall and was considered one of the best in Canada:
Here are the slack heaps mentioned before. These heaps fill most of the eastern part of the site. Even in 100 years, not much has grown over here:
An example of an air-powered coal train from this era. This is not the original Bankhead train, but from the Canmore mine. They were air-powered to reduce chances of explosions in the mine.
It's hard to believe, but the mine entrance was right here, the same spot the stairs are built into.
And what hike would be complete without a flower shot?