Banff’s first hot spring – now the Cave and Basin National Historic Site – was discovered on November 8, 1883 by three railway navvies prospecting for gold on their day off. The government quickly bought them out, promoting travel to the springs as a means of contributing to the cost of the railway’s construction. A small reserve was established in 1885, from which the present park eventually evolved.
Banff soon boasted eight hot springs, and for a long time the next stop on the standard itinerary after the gondola ride was a plunge into the waters. In their early days the springs were vital to Banff’s rise and popularity, their reputedly therapeutic effects being of great appeal to Canada’s ailing Victorian gentry. Dr R.G. Brett, chief medical officer to the Canadian Pacific Railway, used his position to secure an immensely lucrative virtual monopoly on the best springs. In 1886 he constructed the Grandview Villa, a money-spinning sanatorium promising miracle cures and wonders such as “ice-cold temperance drinks”. Its handrails were reinforced with crutches abandoned by “cured” patients, though Brett reputedly issued crutches to all arrivals whether they needed them or not.