HISTORY OF CHATEAU LAKE LOUISEThe body of water that the Stoney Indian people knew as Ho-run-num-nay, the “Lake of the Little Fishes,” lies in a valley close to some of the higher peaks in the Canadian Rockies. The first non-native to behold it was Tom Wilson (a Canadian Pacific Railway employee), who – led by a Stoney guide – reached its eastern shore in 1882. One night, while camped with a group of Stoney Indians, he heard the rumble of avalanches. Having a limited vocabulary of native words, Wilson learned that the noise was coming from “Snow Mountains above the lake of little fishes.” The next day Wilson rode to the lake on horseback and was immediately captivated by the sparkling blue green waters. He sat and took in the view, and stated, “As God is my judge, I never in all my explorations saw such a matchless scene.” Eventually, the emerald lake was renamed Lake Louise in honor of Queen Victoria’s fourth daughter, Princess Louise Caroline Alberta.
It wasn’t until 1885 when the transcontinental line on the Canadian Pacific Railway was completed and the first accommodation was erected that the area attracted visitors to take in the views that Tom Wilson had enjoyed three years prior.
The inspiration for the Chateau Lake Louise started with the vision of Cornelius Van Horne, general Manager of CPR. “A hotel for outdoor adventure and alpinist,” was what he envisioned and the first structure was built on the shore of Lake Louise in 1890. It consisted of a one-story log cabin, a central area that served as a dining room, office, and bar, a kitchen and two small bedrooms with large picture windows facing the lake. The original Chalet Lake Louise saw visitors from different stations along the railway line as well as day visitors from the Banff Springs Hotel. In its first year the chalet had a total of 50 registered guests, by 1912, the Chalet had hosted 50,000 overnight guests. Through the years the Chalet saw two fires and four architects. Over time the small summer cabin evolved into today’s Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise which dates as far back as 1911.
Lake Louise was an attractive destination for alpinists and pioneers who explored and mapped the mountains. Their outdoor activities achieved notoriety when Philip Stanley Abbott became the first person to die in a rock climbing accident in North America in 1896. This tragic event led Canadian Pacific to hire their first two professional Swiss mountain guides with the mission of bringing guests safely to the summits. From 1899 to 1954 generations of Swiss mountaineers taught thousands of guests and locals to climb and, of course, later, to ski. From fondues to hikes, the Swiss influence can still be felt today.
The breathtaking landscape brought many painters to respond to the area, among them included Lawren Harris of the group of Seven and Banff locals, Peter and Catharine Whyte. It was their work that further nurtured awareness of the area. Once road construction was complete, visitors began to congregate to see the scenery for themselves.
From the beginning, a vacation in Lake Louise meant outdoor adventures and gazing at the stars – both natural and human. In 1928, Lake Louise was site to the shooting of “Eternal Love” starring actor John Barrymore, 1942 “Springtime in the Rockies” with Betty Grable and Carmen Miranda. Hundreds of stars have come to Lake Louise for filming and holidays, including Mary Pickford, Alfred Hitchcock, Marilyn Monroe, Christopher Reeve and many of the latest celebrities.
Due to gas rationing and patriotism, Chateau Lake Louise was closed to the public during WWII, but scientists from the Universities of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba used the lake and some surrounding facilities to develop the ''Pykrete,' a difficult to break and slow to melt mixture of wood pulp and ice that was part of plans for a potential Allied invasion through Northern Europe. ''Project Habbakuk'' involved the creation of floating ice platforms for equipment transport. What ''Maclean's'' magazine termed ''the weirdest secret weapon of the war,'' was seriously considered by Churchill and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but abandoned in favor of other, faster techniques.
Ski took root in the area in the year of 1909 by the teachings of Swiss and Austrian mountain guides. The Banff Ski Club was founded in 1917. And by the early 1920s adventurous Albertans and their guests were carving the logging trails and flying over jumps at Tunnel Mountain. Full-scale ski areas at Mount Norquay, Sunshine Village and Lake Louise were all in operation by the 1930s.
Although we were conceived as a summer-only resort, the Chateau Lake Louise opened for skiers on a trial basis during the peak winter holiday seasons of the 1970s, breathing new life into both luxury hotels. A decade later the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics would showcase Banff National Park's ski resorts to the world. Today, this hotel is one of the highlights of the international ski circuit, hosting the Lake Louise World Cup racers each November, and welcoming eager skiers, snowboarders and winter sport enthusiasts from as close as Calgary and the United States and as far away as Great Britain, Australia and Japan.