The town of Banff is the first Canadian incorporated municipality located within a national park, and this makes it different than just about any other community in the country. Banff was established in 1885 as Canada’s first National Park, and third in the world.

Archaeological sites in the park show that people lived in this area as long as 10,000 years ago.  More recently, the Cree, Kootenay and Plain Blackfoot tribes used the mountain passes of the Rockies for hunting and fishing during the 18th century. The first known European to visit the area was George Simpson, governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company, in 1841.

In 1871 the Canadian government began construction of a national railway, which began to pass through the Banff area in 1883. Three Canadian Pacific Railway Company (CPR) workers, Frank McCabe, Tom McCardell and William McCardell, attempted to stake a claim to the natural hot springs on the side of Sulphur Mountain. A year later Lord Stephen, a director of the CPR, christened the area Banff, after his birthplace of Banffshire, Scotland.

The federal government set aside a reserve of land surrounding the hot springs discovered two years earlier as Canadian's first National Park. CPR and the government cooperated in promoting the area as an international resort and spa, in part as a way to support the railway. The reserve was gradually enlarged and the first version of the Banff Springs Hotel was built in 1888.  A network of roads served the community from the early years, but automobiles were not officially permitted in the park until 1909. 

After the second world war, automobile tourism began to dominate.   

And in 1990, after a referendum for local citizens, an agreement between the provincial and federal governments officially allowed Banff to become the first incorporated municipality within a Canadian National Park. 

Check out Mayor John Stutz explain the unique nature of Banff, Alberta, Canada, situated in the heart of the Canadian Rockies and surrounded by the world's finest national park in the YouTube video made March 2008.

There are several options for self-guided and guided walking tours in Banff:  print and follow one of the Walking through Banff's History tours or download the Banff Travel Guide App on your phone it offers an audio-guided historical tour of Banff and a list of locals restaurants.