Canmore history begins with the Hudson’s Bay Company, who explored the Bow Valley corridor and attempted, without success, to establish a fur trade with Stoney for most of the 1840s. In 1858, an expedition from the east, led by Captain John Palliser, sent back discouraging reports about the climate and prospects of agriculture in the valley. A few decades later the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) chose the Bow Valley Corridor as the route through the mountains, and the first divisional point west of Calgary was established in 1883. It was named Canmore for the 11th-century Scottish king Malcolm of Canmore.
The CPR was delighted to discover that the valley was rich with coal, which it could use in the steam engines. Mining on the lower slopes of the Three Sisters and Mount Rundle commenced in 1886, attracting hundreds of miners and their families. Within a few years numerous mines operated around Canmore. In 1899 the CPR moved its divisional point to Laggan (now Lake Louise), but the mines continued to operate, with the most productive mine located on Canmore Creek. Hotels and businesses were established, and a hospital, North West Mounted Police (NWMP) post, and opera house were built. The Canmore Opera House–reputed to be the only log movie house in the world–still stands and has been relocated to Calgary’s Heritage Park.
Many British and European miners were attracted to the area, and the population continued to increase. A small contingent of Chinese miners also lived in Canmore. They didn’t stay long, but their memory lives on in the name Chinaman’s Peak. A Chinese cook, Ha Ling, was bet $50 that he couldn’t climb the peak and return to Canmore in fewer than six hours. He did, and it’s been known as Chinaman’s Peak ever since. In 1912, the Canadian Anthracite Coal Company relocated its operation from near present-day Banff to the west side of the Bow River, five kilometers (3.1 miles) from the rail line. Georgetown, a bustling little village, sprang up beside the mine. Workers enjoyed electricity and running water in cozy cabins along with their own company store, post office, and a school for the kids. Three short years later, markets dried up and the anthracite mine closed. Georgetown was abandoned, and the buildings were barged downstream to Canmore.
A little more than 100 years after mining commenced and less than 30 years after the last mine closed, Canmore experienced its second boom–tourism–which today shows no sign of slowing. When the last of Canmore’s mines closed in 1979, the population stood at 3,500; by 2012 that number had more than tripled. Half the current residents have lived in town for fewer than five years.
Canmore is a popular spot for moviemakers; big-budget movies filmed in and around town have included Shanghai Noon; Grizzly Falls; Mystery, Alaska; The Edge; Wild America; The Last of the Dogmen; Legends of the Fall; Snow Dogs; Open Range; and the 2006 Brad Pitt film The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.
More Canmore History Sources
One of the most knowledgeable Canmore locals is journalist Rob Alexander, who was born in town and devotes a large part of his working life to writing about the history of Canmore. His book History of Canmore is the most comprehensive local history book available and can be purchased at local bookstores or through Summerthought Publishing.
Alexander also maintains a Canmore History blog with regular posts on local history issues and discoveries.