Friday, August 30, 2013


Trip Date: June 2013

As I've mentioned before, exploring ghost towns can be a really neat experience and it's something that I really enjoy doing.  I'd been wanting to get out to Banff and visit Lower Bankhead for quite some time, but always seemed to find something else to do instead.  One Saturday afternoon in June Christine and I finally made it out there to see it for ourselves.  

Between 1903 and 1922 Bankhead was a bustling coal-mining town located on the lower slopes of Cascade Mountain near Banff.  The Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) established the Bankhead coal mine and the town soon followed.  The town was divided into two parts with Lower Bankhead containing the industrial components, while Upper Bankhead was where most of the residential areas were.  At its peak, the mine employed three hundred men and the town was home to more than 1,000 residents.  The town was considered one of the most modern in all of Alberta.  It had more amenities and was typically busier than nearby Banff.  

The interpretive trail is an easy 1km loop that winds through the remains of a few buildings in Lower Bankhead.  The trailhead is the at the Lower Bankhead parking area, which is about 7km north of Banff along the Lake Minnewanka Road.  

This was the mine's Lamp House
The Lamp House played a very important role.  Each morning the miners were issued a lamp before entering the mine.  At day's end all the lamps were checked back in.  If any were unaccounted for a search was conducted to locate the missing miner.  Unfortunately many men lost their lives inside the mine.
An unknown foundation
The wall of a long forgotten building
This is a Coal Train, a compressed air locomotive used to haul coal.  Compressed air was used to power the locomotive to reduce the chance of igniting methane gas in the tunnels.
Each car contained about two tons of coal and each train typically had about 30 cars
These massive foundations are all that remains of the Power House.  The Power House contained steam engines, compressors, and generators that powered all of the mining operations as well as homes in both Bankhead and Banff.
There's one wall still standing from the Boiler House, which originally housed nine boilers that created steam to power mining machinery
This was once a Coke Oven used for making briquettes
The Briquette Building.  The coal from the Bankhead mine was very brittle and about 50% of it was converted into briquettes used to heat homes and power CPR locomotives.
All that remains of the 30m high Tipple, that was once the "pride of the Canadian Coal Industry".  The Tipple was used to sort the coal from rocks through a series of screens.  It was built in 1905 and could process 900 tons of coal per day. 
Slack Heaps are piles of rock and small chunks of low grade coal that the CPR couldn't sell.  There was also a shanty town built behind the heaps that was occupied by Chinese immigrants who worked in the Tipple.
This tree is covered in bear claw markings
We also ran into this fairly fresh pile of bear scat.  Guess we better keep our eyes open!
Chris and Rome sitting on the steps of Bankhead's Holy Trinity Church
The church was constructed in 1908, but all that's left is the foundation.  When the mine closed in 1922, most of Bankhead's houses were removed to Banff or Canmore.  The church, however, was sawn in half, loaded onto flat-cars, and transported to Calgary, where it remained in service until 1962!
We overheard the distinct call of a Red-Tailed Hawk and looked up to see this!  The hawk had its next meal firmly gripped in its talons.  Makes for an interesting picture!
The steps of the church
Standing inside the foundation
I think this was my favourite site out of all the old buildings that we saw
Just a quick note about the church's location.  It's not part of Lower Bankhead proper.  It's a little further along the Lake Minnewanka Road all by itself.  It is basically between the Lower Bankhead and Upper Bankhead parking areas on the eastern side of the road.  You can easily walk to the church from either parking area along the Lake Minnewanka Road.  If you'd like to see part of the Bankhead mine please refer to my post titled, C-Level Cirque.  There are a few skeletal remains of buildings located along that trail. 

The following are a few historical photos of Bankhead from the Glenbow Archives.  They'll give you a little better understanding of what the town looked like in its heyday.

Lower Bankhead with the slopes of Cascade Mountain in the background
Bankhead's Tipple
Holy Trinity Church


  1. Thanks for sharing some forgotten history. I've added it to my list of places to see. :)

    1. Glad you enjoyed the post and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Thanks for the comment & taking time to read my work, much appreciated!

  2. Thanks for posting the archive pictures as well as quite extensive list of different ruins!
    I haven't visited all the sites but I've seen from other posts that there are also jail ruins with bars sawed off.
    I came across your site because I was trying to find more info about the church, though. My daughter had her wedding ceremony there just 10 days ago :)
    I can't find any info re where exactly this church was moved to in Calgary and whether it's still standing or has it been demolished?
    What denomination was it? it looks like from the "R.C. Church" description in the corner of the archive pic it could likely stand for Roman Catholic.
    Do you have or know where I can get more info?
    Thanks in advance!

    1. Hi Kasia, thanks for stopping by my blog. Glad you enjoy this post. As for the church, my understanding was it was moved to the Forest Lawn area in Calgary and was in use until the early 1960's. I found this link ( that has a more detailed history, but it sounds like the old building is no longer there. Hope that link helps a bit and good luck with your search.