Historical Photographs of Banff’s Cave and Basin

Banff’s Cave and Basin is the birthplace of Canada’s national park system. In 1883 three railway workers, brothers William and Tom McCardell and their partner Frank McCabe, “discovered” the cave and basin on the lower slopes of Sulphur Mountain. Considering First Nation stories exist about the cave’s warm waters and human activity was present long before Europeans arrived, we know that these three were not the first to actually discover the thermal springs. They were, however, the first to realize the potential profit flowing in the warm mineral water. The Government of Canada ultimately refuted the trio’s claim to the site when they created the Hot Springs Reserve in 1885. Two years later the reserve was expanded exponentially, becoming Rocky Mountains National Park, the first of its kind in Canada. In 1930 the park was renamed Banff National Park and has become one of the flagship parks for Parks Canada. In 1981 the Cave and Basin was awarded National Historic Site status by the Minister of the Environment as recommended by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.

You can read more about the Cave and Basin and how its discovery created this country’s national park system in my story, The Birthplace of Canada’s National Parks. What follows here is a collection of historical photos from the original shack built by the McCabe’s and McCardell, to the popular tourist destination that followed. You’ll notice that many of these photographs depict people swimming in the hot springs. This was originally allowed and it was believed that the mineral water carried strong healing powers. Today, humans are banned from entering any of the thermal springs at the Cave and Basin site as we pose a significant threat to the park’s most at-risk species, the Banff Springs Snail. If you’re keen on experiencing the hot springs while you’re in Banff, look no further than the popular Banff Upper Hot Springs.

The next time you’re in Banff consider visiting the site where everything got started, the Cave and Basin.

Banff's Cave and Basin
Shack built by McCabe and McCardell, Banff, Alberta, 1883
Winter carnival, Banff, Alberta,1925
Upper Hot Springs, Cave and Basin pool, Banff, Alberta, 1908
Cave and Basin, large pool, Banff, Alberta, 1920-1939
View of Upper Bow Valley, Banff, Alberta, Cave and Basin in Foreground, 1880s-1890s
Cave and Basin swimming pool (hot springs), Sulphur Springs Basin, Banff, Alberta, 1900-1903
Cave and Basin swimming pool (hot springs), Sulphur Springs Basin, Banff, Alberta, 1890
Democrat outside Cave and Basin pool, Banff, Alberta, 1910s
Holidaying group bathing in Cave and Basin pool, Banff, Alberta, 1903
“The Cave”, Banff, Alberta, 1880s-1890s
Banff's Cave and Basin
Cave and Basin, Banff, Alberta, 1880s-1890s
Banff's Cave and Basin
Cave and Basin swimming pool (hot springs), Sulphur Springs Basin, Banff, Alberta, 1910-1918
Banff's Cave and Basin
Cave and Basin swimming pool (hot springs), Sulphur Springs Basin, Banff, Alberta, 1910-1918
Banff's Cave and Basin
Cave and Basin swimming pool, Sulphur Springs Basin, Banff, Alberta, 1910-1918
Banff's Cave and Basin
Swimmer in Cave and Basin swimming pool (hot springs), Banff, Alberta, 1893
Banff's Cave and Basin
Cave and Basin building, Banff, Alberta, 1886-1894
Banff's Cave and Basin
Cave and Basin building, Banff, Alberta, 1886-1894
Banff's Cave and Basin
Cave and Basin pool, Banff, Alberta, 1913
Banff's Cave and Basin
Cave and Basin pool, Banff, Alberta, 1913
Banff's Cave and Basin
Women sitting on diving board at the Cave and Basin swimming pool, Banff, Alberta, 1915-1920

The photos above were collected from the Glenbow Archives. Additional information can be found for each photograph on the Glenbow website by searching the identification number that is printed on each photo. There is also the option to purchase a high resolution copy. Stay tuned for additional posts featuring historical photos from across Alberta. We’d love to know what you think in the comment section below.

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About Tyler Dixon 110 Articles
Tyler is originally from Saskatchewan, and yes he cheers for the Roughriders, but don’t hold that against him as Calgary has been his home for the past eight years. He is a teacher working at a wilderness- based treatment program for youth working to overcome addiction. Tyler is also a volunteer with the GOT Parks initiative, which aims at reconnecting Canada’s youth with our national, provincial, and territorial parks. During his time away from work, Tyler enjoys outdoor activities, such as hiking, biking, and snowboarding, team sports, travelling, photography, spending time with good friends, and being at home with his wife and German Shepherd, Rome.