Mountain Majesty and Royal Retreat

Posted on: May 21st, 2012

Imagine this day: while still recovering from jet lag from an overseas trip, you begin your day in the nation’s capital by carrying on a great Canadian tradition of tree planting at Rideau Hall.


This memorable moment is followed by a reception with Canadian veterans and their families at the Canadian War Museum, a tour of the museum, a flight to Montreal, a visit to a hospital to meet patients and their families, a cooking workshop, and finally, a voyage aboard the HMCS Montréal to Québec City. Exhausting? Absolutely. Fortunately, for this lucky couple (hint: they’re famous royalty) some rest and relaxation awaits in Canada’s mountain parks.

While not every day of their nine-day Canadian tour was as busy as the one described, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (or Will and Kate as we like to call them) experienced precisely this schedule during their first state visit after their 2011 wedding. When royalty visits Canada, be it an official or a personal visit, their time is valuable and those putting together itineraries for them want to make sure they see and do as much as possible during their stays.

Fortunately, for Will and Kate, they had a much-needed rest stop built into their hectic schedule. Not surprisingly, they chose beautiful Skoki Lodge for their personal retreat. Located near the Lake Louise Ski Area, Skoki Lodge hosts hikers and skiers who arrive via an 11km trail amongst the towering peaks of the Canadian Rockies. While they had no published itinerary that day (other than being flown in via helicopter as opposed to hiking the distance – and who could blame them!), they certainly savoured their valuable time in this serene setting.


The mountain parks have often been the setting of rest stops for royalty on whirlwind Canadian tours. With the completion of the railway, members of the royal family were able to travel from Halifax to Victoria in a single trip. This allowed them to view the majestic Rocky Mountains up close from the comfort of their train car. In 1901 the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York (later King George V and Queen Mary) did just that. Interestingly, they were the first members of the royal family to visit Banff and toured much of the area in horse-drawn carriages. During this visit the Duchess and her ladies in waiting enjoyed a couple of days rest while the Duke went on a hunting trip at Poplar Point.

Over the years the royals have enjoyed participating in many of the leisure activities that lure visitors to the mountain parks. For example, in his 1914 visit, Prince Arthur (3rd son of Queen Victoria and also known as the Duke of Connaught), his wife the Duchess of Connaught, and their twenty-five year old daughter Princess Patricia, spent time camping, fishing and canoeing.

So successful was the Prince during his fishing adventure at Consolation Lake, located near Banff, that he quickly exceeded the legal per–day quota. A park warden took notice, approached him, and suggested that perhaps the Prince should stop. The Prince’s tongue-in-cheek reply further endeared him to Canadians: “Per angler, per day, perdition; my good man, I ask you what is the sense of me being governor of this widespread, far-flung, sea-to-sea dominion if I cannot catch all the fish I have a mind to?” However, the good-natured Prince did, in fact, stop fishing.


Prince Edward, Queen Elizabeth II’s great grandfather, found Canada’s west so inspiring that, after his 1919 visit to the Rockies, he purchased a ranch in the foothills. During his stay in Banff, he had the honour of being made Chief Morning Star by the chief of the Stoney First Nations Tribe. In a later speech he was quoted as saying, “The free, vigorous, hopeful spirit of westerners not only inspires me, but makes me feel happy and at home.

In 1939, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth I (the Queen Mother) were the first reigning monarchs to stop in Banff for some rest and relaxation from their demanding schedule. On this excursion to Banff, the royal couple so badly wanted some time to themselves that they agreed to pose for the official cameraman in exchange for a few hours by themselves to explore the area. Interestingly, during their “free time” the King himself enjoyed photographing the splendour of the Rockies with his own camera.

Enjoying the Rockies while hiking one of the many trails in Banff National Park appeals to nearly everyone who visits the mountain parks. And, not surprisingly, King George VI was no different. Led by a competent guide, their Highnesses made the trek to the fire lookout at the top of Tunnel Mountain, which later became known as “King’s Lookout”. Unquestionably, this spot offers the kind of peace and calm that royalty – and everyone else for that matter – so often crave during a “restful” vacation.
Later in this historic 1939 tour their Majesties enjoyed another day of tranquility in stunning Jasper National Park. While out walking with the Queen, the King was fortunate enough to have his camera along to capture an exciting encounter with a mother bear and her cub. The playful cub kept peeking around a tree at the visitors until finally the nervous mother hustled her baby up into the safety of a nearby tree. During the same trip the King was also able to capture images at spectacular Maligne Canyon, Mount Edith Cavell, and the Glacier of the Angel. No doubt his photos were prized possessions for years!

Their majesties’ accommodation while in Jasper was Outlook Cabin, now known as “The Royal Retreat”. At the time of their stay it was a log cabin outfitted with an electric warming oven and an electric refrigerator, both luxuries at the time. (While the original cabin was destroyed by fire in 2000, it was beautifully rebuilt using the 1930 floor plans.)
Interestingly, the Queen was so impressed with the magnificence of the area that, upon arriving back in England, she told both her daughters they had to visit at least once in their lives. Princess Margaret did so in 1980 (enjoying a restful ten days in the parks) and Queen Elizabeth II visited for three rewarding days in 2005.


In his book, “The Royal Family” (1954), the eminent Canadian historian Pierre Berton wrote this about the 33-day, 1951 visit of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip. “She shook hands at the rate of 30,000 times per week, heard the national anthem played 150 times, met 54 mayors, and accepted official bouquets from 23 little girls.” Hearing these numbers, it’s no surprise that the Royal Family looks forward to a little rest and relaxation while on tour. And to those who know the area, it’s no surprise that the mountain parks are the perfect place for exactly that.

~By Dawn Penner
(See our contributors’ page to know more about Dawn Penner

Top; Prince of Wales (right) and George Lane (left) – Courtesy of Glenbow Archives; NA-3752-39

Second from top; George Church driving Prince Philip in a stagecoach – Courtesy of Glenbow Archives; PA-2270-70
Third from top; Prince Charles and Prince Andrew arrive for the Calgary Stampede – Courtesy of Glenbow Archives; NA-2864-16941A-25
Bottom; Royal Tour 2011 / Duke & Duchess of Cambridge –
Courtesy of the Government of Alberta

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