The 1928 hotel stands proud on Patricia Street, not far from the Jasper Park visitor centre. Many a weary traveler have spent the night in the Athabasca Hotel over the years. Let’s look a little more into its past.
An old brochure (from my collection) that appears to date back from the 1940s or 50s will serve as a tool from which to look further into the history of travel in Jasper National Park. The brochure was put out by Athabasca Motor Tours Ltd (now defunct as far as I can tell) which was based out of the Athabasca Hotel (possibly a service of the hotel).
The brochure offers potential Jasper National Park visitors a wide range of activities with both similarities and differences from today’s travel experience.
The brochure centers around staying at the Athabasca Hotel “a base for the enjoyment of Jasper’s famous scenic attractions”. Upon opening the brochure, the first spread is all about the Athabasca Hotel. “Fifty rooms of home-like comforts…Hot and cold running water, electric lighted, steam heated rooms…” Water, electricity and heat.
The Athabasca Hotel was advertised in the 1940s brochure as “A substantially built and charming modern hotel in the Canadian Rockies. The Athabasca caters alike to the tourist, the hunter, the fisherman, the Alpine climber, and the man of business.” What a wild assortment of people one might encounter.
- the tourist
- the hunter
- the fisherman
- the Alpine climber
- the man of business
Back then, rooms ranged from $3.50 to $6.00 a night for rooms without bath and 5.00 to $8.00 for rooms with a bath. Though the prices have substantially risen to the $70-$150 per night range (suites are higher), the good news is that the prices are reasonable for staying within Jasper National Park (which tends to be on the high side for hotel rooms).
Here’s a zoom in on the picture of the hotel.
Here’s a further zoom in on a doorway and car parked out front. You’ll also notice basement windows (which have since been sealed up). When you visit Jasper and pass by (or stay at) the Athabasca Hotel, try to see if you can find where the old basement windows used to be.
My understanding of Jasper National Park from this brochure, from reading “Culturing Wilderness in Jasper National Park“, and other historical materials, is that tourism in the 1940s centered around the train, horse and guided tour. At this point in Jasper National Park’s history, the roadways were limited and many were gravel. Many visitors arrived by train or bus. Upon arrival, travelers then went off on a variety of guided tours. The self-guided tour in one’s own “family truckster” would have to wait until the late 1950s to be popular.
A map on the inner pages of the brochure, which calls Jasper National Park “A Delightful Vacation Land”, shows a variety of “sightseeing motor drives” offered to the travelers of the era. A sightseeing motor drive involved being driven by a chauffeur to such sights as Maligne Canyon, Mt Edith Cavell and Miette Hot Springs. The tours ranged from 2 to 8 hours and gave tourists a chance to see parts of Jasper National Park only accessible by horseback 10 or 20 years prior. It must have been a splendid experience.
Besides the sightseeing tours, Athabasca Motor Tours offered multiple day “all expense tours” where tourists would see the sights, do motor tours and partake in activities like hiking and horseback riding during the day and then return to Athabasca Hotel for meals and spending the night.
While the Athabasca Motor Tours service is no longer, the Athabasca Hotel has maintained its charm even today. The Athabasca Hotel looks very similar to the hotel of old.
A few details have changed. For example, you’ll see in the modern pictures below red awnings over the doorways and green/yellow signs for O’Shea’s restaurant – both of which are absent from the 1940s picture of the hotel. But the overall character seems similar and this is a place many travelers will want to stay.
Check out this 1969 home movie of Jasper National Park and Yellowstone. At about 24 seconds into it, a few seconds capture the front of the Athabasca Hotel.
But 1969 in Jasper National Park, well, that is another era, another story, another day…