Saturday 24th January – Monday 2nd February
I was extremely happy that our passing through Lake Louise coincided with the Banff and Lake Louise Ice Magic Festival, which is part of Snow Days, a celebration of all things Winter. Artists from around the world have 34 hours of carving time, to transform fifteen blocks of ice into themed masterpieces. Although we’d missed the actual carving, the sculptures were still on display at Château Lake Louise, so we made our way to the square to find out where to go.
It was while scoping things out that we discovered the ‘Little Chippers Zone’, where children could create their own ‘masterpiece’ with a small block of ice. Of course we both wanted to have a go, so the supervisors humoured us by supplying us with our very own block of ice each and a carving tool. It was great fun chipping away at it, although I couldn’t decide what to make. I ended up carving a flower, which most people on Facebook thought was an Italian testicle cooler.
Ed of course decided to do his very own ninety, and did an incredibly good job of it I do have to say. I thought it was brilliant, especially as Ed doesn’t consider himself artistic.
After we’d finished our sculptures, we jumped on the free bus and headed to the château, to see how the professionals had done. Let’s just say that they made our ice sculptures look pathetic. The sculptures on display were absolutely unbelievable, ranging from incredible to mind blowing.
I’d have loved to have seen all the carvers in action, watching them delicately balance gruelling physical labour with precision artistry.
We spent quite some time wandering around, gazing in awe at the tiniest of details, and what seemed like the impossible; a two foot long ice chain for instance.
After spending so much time handling ice, and then looking at ice, we decided that we should probably go and skate on some, and where better than on Lake Louise. It wins the most dramatic ice rink I’ve even seen by a long way, with the château on one side, and a backdrop of mountains on the other. Not to mention the mini ice castle in the middle. But what made it for us, however, was the opportunity to skate in any direction we liked; having spent our lives only being able to skate anti-clockwise, this really was quite a treat.
People of all ages were having a great time, whether they were skating, or sliding along on their shoes. Even their four legged friends got to have some fun, with one being pulled along in its very own sled.
Ed decided it would be fun to hire some hockey sticks and a puck, so after getting our fix of skating, we headed over to the hockey rink and had a play. We soon discovered that I was rather violent when it came to tackles, which had been displayed once before when Ed’s friends talked me in to playing football with them. I think they regretted it quite quickly, as my advances were met with an ‘Oh no!’, and one of them even ended up saying ‘just have the ball’, so I wouldn’t tackle him for it.
We had a good play, hitting the puck backwards and forwards, and I soon learnt how to stop after landing in the snow bank.
It was after a short while playing that Ed had a brilliant idea; we could use the camera on the mono-pod as a hockey stick, and get a really cool camera angle. After checking that the puck wouldn’t touch the lens, he gently hit it towards me, only for me to whack it back and crack the lens. Goodbye camera, it’s been emotional.
After spending another night in the hostel, we woke in the morning and packed up our stuff, ready to head to Canmore.
Not wanting to ride on the Trans-Canada, we decided to take the Bow Valley Parkway, a 30 mile, scenic, secondary highway, that runs parallel to the Trans-Canada. It wasn’t a bad day, mild and overcast, but as soon as we got on to the parkway something didn’t seem right. The road was covered in ice and slush, and I was having a particularly hard time riding on it. Why was it so terrible? I started doubting our route, thinking that there was no way I could keep riding on the road without having some sort of mini mental breakdown. I was therefore rather relieved to discover that it wasn’t just horrific to ride on, I had in fact got a flat rear tyre. After my initial relief that the road wasn’t actually as bad as I thought it was, it suddenly dawned on me that I had a flat to fix.
We rode slowly to a safer location, and with the supervision and guidance of Ed, I set to work fixing my puncture. Unfortunately the valve had been torn out, due to too low tyre pressure and the tube going walkies, but luckily we had a spare. It took a while but I did it, and was filled with that sweet satisfaction that you get from fixing something yourself. I wanted to make an effort to fix my bike myself on the trip, not wanting to have to rely on Ed or other people all the time. Ed subsequently vowed to teach me how to fix it, but said he wouldn’t teach me everything, otherwise I might leave him. I told him he needn’t worry, considering I wasn’t exactly renowned for my impeccable sense of direction, I’d be literally lost without him.
As we were attending to my bike, a silver BMW car went flying past at breakneck speed. ‘I’d be going mental if I was in that passenger seat!’ I said, considering the driver to be driving recklessly given the conditions. This statement and observation made it particularly amusing when we later came round a corner, and found that he’d crashed in to a snow bank. He was lucky the snow bank was there, otherwise he’d have been launched down the side of steep hill, and probably wouldn’t be standing there laughing with his girlfriend like he was. I don’t know if it was stupidity or embarrassment that caused them both to laugh about it when we stopped, and I later thought that it was probably a bit of both. We normally help people out along the way, but after seeing that they were both fine, and mutually deciding without talking that the guy was a dick and deserved a few hours of digging, we took a photo and went on our way.
I loved the Bow Valley Parkway, despite it being overcast all day, it was one of my favourite roads. It was a fairly narrow road, that meandered smoothly through the forest, with trees towering above us on both sides. It was very icy for long stretches at a time, but with solid compacted ice and freshly studded tyres, it was an absolute pleasure to ride; I could even go as far as saying that it was magical, for me at least.
It reminded me of south east Germany a little, and after spotting a memorial on the side of the road, we were surprised to discover a Germany related little-known episode in Canadian history.
In August 1914, Canada entered in to the First World War against Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey and Bulgaria. At this time, over half a million people originating from those countries were living in Canada. They had been invited in to Canada to work as labourers, to construct roads and railways, and work in forestry, agriculture and mining, but the depression of 1913 put large numbers of them out of work. Because of public fear of enemy subversion, in 1914 the Canadian government established a national system of civil registration centres, where enemy aliens were required to register & report monthly. If they failed to report, tried to leave the country without permission, or were considered a threat, they were imprisoned.
In total, 8,579 men became prisoners of war in twenty four camps across Canada. The majority were non-combatant, unemployed civillians – victims of the 1913 depression, racial prejudice and wartime hysteria. One of these camps was built at the base of Castle Mountain, along what is now called the Bow Valley Parkway, and held immigrants from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the majority of Ukrainian origin, and some citizens from Canada. While internment operations lasted from 1914 to 1920, the Castle Mountain Camp held enemy aliens from 1915-1917.
It’s worth remembering all of this if you ever find yourself in western Canada, as through their labour, the internees played an important part in building Canada’s western national parks. The government reduced the budget for national parks during the war, and Parks Commissioner J.B. Harkin obtained permission to use enemy alien internees as low-cost labour. Four internment camps opened in Canada’s western national parks, at Banff, Jasper, Mount Revelstoke and Yoho, and internees did a variety of work, including constructing roads and clearing land. It was by no means an easy life, living and working in basic conditions, and there were numerous reports of rough treatment by guards, not to mention the rough treatment by the weather.
It was a thought provoking and educational experience finding that memorial, and for me highlighted the importance of knowing the history of an area or country; it makes for a richer experience, with a greater understanding and appreciation of the world around you.
Although we didn’t have far to go to get to our friends’ house in Canmore, the arrival of slush and water on the road delayed us somewhat. This was due to Ed’s bike not liking water in its air filter, demonstrated by the constant coughing and spluttering, and a painfully slow speed. With Ed getting increasingly irritated with his bike, we stopped several times to try and dry it out, but it made no difference and we soldiered on. Thankfully the last stretch was on the Trans-Canada Highway, which brought with it dry tarmac and a decent speed, finally depositing us in Canmore at around 6pm.
It was great to be back at Nevil and Michelle’s house, having stayed with them for three weeks over Christmas, it felt like a home away from home. We were only supposed to stay for a few days, but it ended up being over a week. While this was partly due to our uselessness, and partly due to their brilliant company, it was mainly due to them throwing a big party the night before we were supposed to leave, and me drinking too much gin. Luckily I wasn’t the only one that drank too much…
Needless to say that we were all feeling a little worse for wear the following day, and we only managed to get as far as the all-you-can-eat buffet in town.
We attempted to leave the following day, but a problem with my carb soon halted proceedings. Time was already getting on before we discovered that something was wrong with my bike, and by the time we’d unblocked the jet and gone to fuel up, we both knew it was too late to leave. I basically worked out that if we left then, we would only have an hour of daylight before we’d have to stop, and then because we’d be camping, we’d undoubtedly get up late. My conclusion therefore, strange as it may seem, was that we’d be better off staying in Canmore and leaving early in the morning. ‘Don’t say it!’, Ed said, referring to me asking if we should stay another night. He knew what his answer would be; and with that we rode back to the house.