Exploring Alberta’s Ghost Towns: Bankhead

The Bankhead townsite (prairie-towns.com)

Bankhead, Alberta was an important part of the Banff region’s history. It was one of the largest coal mining towns in the Bow Valley and brought tons of workers and supplies into the Banff region. Today, visitors can explore the ruins of this Alberta town in Banff National Park.

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We have covered other Alberta Ghost Towns too!

The Creation of Bankhead

Bankhead was founded near the old Anthracite townsite after the town entered a state of decline and the mine was closing up. The town existed along Lake Minnewanka Road about 2km west of Anthracite at the base of Cascade Mountain[2]. Bankhead didn’t have the financing issues that many other mining towns faced because they were operated by Pacific Coal Company – a company created by the Canadian Pacific Railway to supply their operations with the high quality anthracite coal found in Cascade Mountain[1].

The mine and townsite were largely built using equipment and workers obtained from the nearby Anthracite townsite. Although it was mining another coal seam nearby Anthracite, Bankhead, Alberta didn’t suffer many of the pitfalls that the Anthracite mine experienced. For starters, it was constructed higher in elevation so flooding wasn’t as big of a concern. Additionally, the Canadian Pacific Railway liked that they could obtain cheap – yet high quality – coal from Bankhead and they began supplying the railway to power their locomotives[2]. In 1903, the CPR built a spur line off of the CPR mainline in order to transport coal out of Bankhead[3].

The Boom Times of Bankhead
Bankhead in 1909 (prairie-towns.com)

Fully built out, Bankhead quite a bit larger than Anthracite and offered more services to its citizens. At their peak, the town had homes for about 1000 residents, schools, a hotel, a pool house, a restaurant, a church, several stores and saloons[2]. Bankhead, Alberta became one of the largest towns in the Banff area (and even the Rocky Mountains). At the time, Bankhead was larger than both Canmore and Siding 29 (Banff). They installed a municipal water supply, electrical grids, and a sewer system which neither of the other towns had. Running water and electricity were considered luxuries at this time – especially in the west[1].

The Downfall of Bankhead
1926 Moving of the Railway Station to Banff. This building can still be found today in Banff. (prairie-towns.com)

The town’s existence was threatened when the coal mine was closed in 1922 due to difficulties mining the coal seams (they were very twisted and mangled resulting in structural issues). Further, the coal market was experiencing turmoil and there was strife among the workforce[3]. After the Bankhead mine closed, many of the buildings were relocated to Banff and Canmore (some of them still exist today!)[2].

Present Day Bankhead

Today, Bankhead is popular destination for people wanting to explore Alberta’s coal mining history. It is accessible fairly easily and the government has created interpretive trails through the former townsite.

Hiking the Lower Bankhead trail. The hardest part of the hike is right off the start and it is down 70 steps from the parking lot. At the bottom of the steps stands the old coal mining lamphouse building. Since the coal mines were so dangerous, the company needed a way to keep track of all of their miners. Before they headed into the mine, each miner was assigned a numbered mining lamp which were recorded. At the end of each day, they verified that all of the lamps were returned so that if anyone was missing, they could start a search. The lamphouse building is where all of this took place[1].


Further along the trail, the government has positioned several mining artifacts such as pumps used to get fresh air into the mines, old minecarts, and other mining relic salvaged from the townsite and mines. A large building was repurposed with interpretive displays about the town. Hikers will also find an old walls of a former power house, boiler house, briquette processing plant, and even a coal mining train. Further in the hike, you will find the remnants of the former tipple building (see image below) and even massive coal waste piles. Interesting note about the meadows past the tipple: there are wild rhubarb plants growing through the field that were planted by Chinese immigrant workers who had a separate community away from Bankhead (they weren’t popular among the locals)[1].

The Bankhead mining tipple. Its remnants are still visible today on the interpretive trail hike.
How to Get to Bankhead

Starting from the Banff Avenue / TransCanada Interchange (the first Banff interchange heading west)

  1. Head north on Range Road 115B (Banff Avenue but north). Follow this road straight until you see parking on the right side of the road. This is the trailhead for the interpretive hike.

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Research References

[1] Brewer, D., & Brewer, C. (2021, May 25). Bankhead Ghost Town – Travel Banff Canada. Travel Banff Canada. https://www.travelbanffcanada.com/bankhead-ghost-town-banff/

[2] RETROactive – Exploring Alberta’s Past. (2016, October 26). Haunted Heritage Part 2: Abandoned Ghost Towns of Alberta. Alberta Historic Places; RETROactive. https://albertashistoricplaces.com/2016/10/26/haunted-heritage-part-2-abandoned-ghost-towns-of-alberta/

[6] Atlas of Alberta Railways. (n.d.). Atlas of Alberta Railways — Small Resource Railways and Other Lines. Railways.library.ualberta.ca; University of Alberta. Retrieved January 29, 2023, from https://railways.library.ualberta.ca/Chapters-12-5/

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