Banff’s Mountain Top Historic Sites

Shayne Thiessen

Outside of the town of Banff, an old stone weather station can be seen at the peak of Sulphur Mountain. Constructed in 1902, it is built of limestone rocks that were gathered from the top of the mountain. Situated right next to the weather station lies an old cement slab, which was once the location of a cosmic ray station.

The cosmic ray station was built to study radiation created from the sun and other stars. This was one of nine sites built in Canada. This site was considered the most significant out of the group because it sat at 2,450 meters above sea level, making it the highest of the nine cosmic ray stations.

In 1982 the site was listed as a Canadian National Historic Site in order to celebrate Canada’s participation in what was known as the International Geophysical Year.

From 1957 to 1958 a combined total of 67 countries came together to study eleven different Earth sciences. This event, dubbed the International Geophysical Year, included studying the following sciences: auroras, cosmic rays, geomagnetism, gravity, ionospheric physics, longitude and latitude, meteorology, oceanography, seismology, and solar activity.

The timing of these studies coincided with the peak of the current solar cycle. The solar radiation levels reached their peak on February 11th, 1958 when the solar radiation levels caused red aurora to be visible in many US cities including New York, Las Angeles and Washington. The geomagnetic storm also caused a radio blackout over North America that lasted for over an hour.

The station was run by National Research Council until 1960 when the University of Calgary took over its operations. The station ceased operation in 1978 and the building was dismantled in 1981. The following year it was designated as a National Historic Site. A plaque now marks the spot of the cosmic ray station’s location.

The weather station, which is still present at the top of Sulphur Mountain, was also given National Historic Site status in 1986, four years after the cosmic ray station.

Visitors that want to reach the site of the cosmic ray station, and the still intact weather station, can do so by riding the Sulphur Mountain Gondola up to the mountain peak. The gondola starts at the visitor centre at the mountain base and stops at the visitor centre at the mountain peak. Once you’ve arrived at the top there is a short and easy hike to the historic sites. The entire trail is made up of a wide boardwalk, which follows the mountain ridge to the historic sites.

Be warned though, if you’re planning on taking the hike during early spring, late fall, or during the winter months, the temperature at the top of the mountain is usually 10°c colder than the temperature at the bottom.

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