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The History

Canmore

Prior to the arrival of Europeans, aboriginal peoples hunted bison in the Bow Valley, leaving behind some of the oldest archaeological sites in Canada dating back more than 8,000 years. The Stoney Nakoda, Siksika, Blood, and Kootenai First Nations all have deep connections to Canmore Kananaskis. Visitors can find 1000 year old pictographs left by First Nations in nearby  Grotto Canyon.

Canmore was established in 1884 as a hard-working coal mining town servicing Canadian Pacific Railway trains. The community thrived as a mining town due to the rich coal seams that dominate the eastern ranges of the Canadian Rockies – and boasted championship hockey teams – until the last of the coal mines shut down in 1979.

The town of Canmore was named in honour of King Malcolm of Scotland, from the Gaelic word, Ceann  Mór, which translates to mean Big Head, in reference to one’s elevated height or stature. Be sure to check out Canmore’s favourite big head next to the Policeman’s Creek Bridge on Main Street.

One of the most recognizable and photographed chain of mountains in the area is the iconic Three Sisters. They were originally called the Three Nuns after a heavy snowfall left them resembling nuns in white veils. George Dawson, head of the Geological Survey of Canada officially named them the Three Sisters on his 1886 map. Individually they are known as the Big Sister (Faith), Middle Sister (Charity) and Little Sister (Hope). Alternately they are known as Frances, Olive and Grace, for the three daughters of George Stewart, the first superintendent of Rocky Mountain National Park, later known as Banff National Park.

Another popular mountain is Ha Ling Peak. It is named in honour of a railway worker who climbed the peak in an allotted time in 1886. He then climbed it a second, equally speedy time, planting a flag on its summit as proof to dispel doubts as to the veracity of his first ascent.

Linking Banff and Canmore, Mount Rundle was named by explorer John Palliser for the Reverend Robert Rundle who travelled from England to Canada in 1840 to work with the First Nations peoples.

Mount Lady Macdonald is named for the wife of Canada’s first Prime Minister, John A. Macdonald after she insisted on riding on the locomotive’s cowcatcher during a railroad trip through the Rockies.

Grassi Lakes were named for Lawrence Grassi, a keen hiker and climber who emigrated from Italy to work in Canmore’s coal mines, but left his indelible mark as one of the Rockies’ most skilled trail builders.

Canmore’s fortunes and character were transformed when the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympic Games selected the town to host the cross-country and biathlon events. Canmore and its brand new Nordic Centre drew not just TV cameras but also tourists, property developers and young families looking to purchase homes.

Since the Olympics, Camore has more than tripled its population and is now a vibrant mountain lifestyle community and a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts. 

Today, Canmore embraces a vibrant mix of business owners and professionals, tourism operators and mountain guides, world-class athletes and families, artists, filmmakers, NGO headquarters, writers and impressively active retirees.

Kananaskis

The impressive peaks of Kananaskis were formed some 200 million years ago by the pressure of shifting tectonic plates. The rock is mainly limestone, created from layers of fossilized sea creatures. Limestone is very soft and 12,000 years ago during the last ice age glaciers carved the limestone into the spectacular mountains we see today. Marine fossils are still abundant in the Canmore Kananaskis area including ancient coral reefs, oyster beds and shark teeth.

There is evidence that humans have inhabited this area dating back to 4500 BC.  It was still inhabited by the Stoney and Blackfoot First Nations as recently as the early 1800’s and still holds significant spiritual meaning to First Nations people.
One of the great explorers of the Canadian Rockies, Captain John Palliser, chose the name Kananaskis more than 150 years ago on his expedition through the area.  Kananaskis is derived from the name “Kin-e-a-kis,” a warrior who survived an axe blow to the head spurred by a fight to win the attention of a woman.

In 1930, the provincial government gained control of portions of land once controlled by the federal government and at one time, part of Rocky Mountain National Park (now Banff National Park). 

In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s a series of provincial parks were created and soon after the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains were the topic of debate. Some recognized the region as critical area that needed to be protected while others had envisioned massive development including a highway upgrade to service a potential growing population.

A Calgary-based environmentalist lobbied the provincial government create a large protected area in order to preserve the magnificent ranges and valleys, flourishing forests and emerald-green waterways. Peter Lougheed was Premier at that time and once he flew over this vast wilderness in a helicopter he was inspired to preserve the landscape and fragile ecosystem. Premier Lougheed established Kananaskis Country as a protected, ecological reserve and recreation area. 

Today Kananaskis covers 4000 square kilometres (1544 square miles) and is comprised of a collection of formally designated wildland parks, provincial parks, recreation parks, ecological reserves and cultural zones, each of which enjoys a different level of protection and bears a different set of specific regulations and restrictions. Check in at the Visitor Information Centre to learn where you might pursue your favourite outdoor activities, including hiking, canoeing, snowshoeing, xc-skiing and sightseeing.