And that’s a wrap…. for this year

Foods of Banff Tours been a mostly fun and most rewarding (in a broad sense of that word) journey. Jeff and I started with a trip West and a few conversations last summer. The plan got some momentum in the form of one Kari Raymer Bishop jumping on board somewhere around New Year’s Eve. Not only a social media star, Kari is also an unfailingly patient mentor to me, a social media dropout. She is also the undaunted business partner you want to have in those days in which customers and confidence (mine) are non-existent.

But then two Dutch women registered for a tour.

It went well! They told me they had a great time, and even better, they told Tripadvisor. “I can still taste that delicious steak sandwich…Mary was passionate about Banff and it’s food…” Wonderful and kind words that began to generate more interest and to connect me to some cool foodies, visiting Banff. I met a couple, a widower and a widow battling cancer again, now just doing fun things and eating good food. They were inspiring, hilarious and hungry — the perfect food tour participants. I met Larry, Louise, Liz, and Lloyd — two brothers married two sisters 50 years ago and then took my tour as a part of the celebration of finally getting to Banff as they intended to on their honeymoons. I will wear out your patience if I detail each customer group’s most impressive qualities so suffice to say that as the summer went on, I found myself meeting and reconnecting with a fun and fabulous group of customers. My regular visits to the restaurants, bakery, olive oils and chocolate shop also resulted in getting to know some of Banff’s and Canmore’s best.

When Jeff and I weren’t working, we were hiking, biking and my favourite eating.

Cheers to my right hand man, Jeff and my right hand partner, Kari — both essential to this lefty and Foods of Banff Tours!


Taking the Plunge – Diving into the Food Tour business

Taking the Plunge

Never easy — diving into a new life. Sure living in Banff for three months is the Cadillac of “immigration” experiences … but a bit of a shock to the system all the same. Creating this food tour with the help of the imperturbable Kari has been a crash course in Banff history, food tour marketing, restaurant proprietor schmoozing – not to mention web design and all that other social media stuff that Kari does so well. I’ll admit that I’m probably more of a “give it a go” than a “read the manual” kind of student, but this sink or swim class has left me with pretty much the full gamut of emotions — except relaxed. While I keep reminding myself that my failures have probably taught me much more than my successes, they’ve also taught me that I don’t like failure. So a new life with the possibility of a business that doesn’t work leaves me a little numb in the extremities sometimes, like my husband, shown in the above pic. (Turns out the Bow River is as cold as it looks.)

However, the Plunge has its benefits. Instead of thinking of what I’m not doing, having retired two weeks ago from a 31-year teaching career, I’m consumed with what I am doing. I do like the research part of this job. The history interests me, and the food — well what can I say except that I think the concept of a foodgasm may be real. Last night we ate at Storm Mountain Lodge about 25 minutes away from Banff on the Banff Windermere highway.
Constructed in 1922, the lodge and its cabins are luxuriously rustic. But the food is the real star here.

I’ll let the Cornish hen do my talking for me. An appetizer of heirloom tomatoes and three flavours of creme brule rounded out the meal that was somehow subtle, interesting, and delicious. 

It left Jeff completely recovered from his earlier battle with the Bow River and yours truly feeling excited about being new in town. 

Madison continues to delight with Capital City Tours

We are on the road, headed to Banff to start up our culinary tour. When you love food like I do, no trip is complete without a food tour or two. We really enjoy Wisconsin, and planned our trip to allow for a culinary tour in Madison this time.

This is Brittney, owner and operator of Capital City Tours in Madison, Wisconsin. Check her out here. She led a food tour today in which we “ate our way through Madison.” As a cheese curd virgin, I was slightly wary of Wisconsin fare. And just what is bratwurst, anyway? But, as the saying goes, I had nothing to fear but fun itself. Check this bad boy out!

It’s a 1/4 sampler size of The Great Dane’s Burger and Brat on a pretzel role.

This award winning brew pub has become a Madison staple and has enjoyed national acclaim thanks to being featured on the Food Network. We get what the hype is about after sampling the various tastings – including the milkshake shown below which is not only only topped with real whipped cream, but also full of bits of pretzel. Yum.

Brittney gave a great tour — lots of details about the food, the architecture, and local history. She had us inside the Capitol Building which was beautiful, cool, and wide open to the public.

One end of Madison’s downtown offers the Capitol Building while the other offers the University of Wisconsin. A good food tour shows you the sights and offers you the good local eats. This one did both superbly.

In short I was able to learn from a pro in a wonderful environment. With only a few days till Foods of Banff is up and running, I will take all the inspiration I can. See you in Banff!!!

Women of Banff

“Most people know Banff as a tourism destination, and it is, and a great one – but if you look a little further into our town you discover a community.”  (Banff Mayor Karen Sorensen)

How does that saying go? Behind every great town is a great woman. Banff is no exception. In fact, it  has enjoyed the benefits of intelligent, determined women since Banff Ave was a dirt road. Pioneers such as Mary Schaffer Warren, mid-century community stalwarts like Catharine Whyte, and current Banff Boss, Karen Sorensen (my description, not hers) have been key builders of that sometimes hidden community.

Mary Schaffer Warren was a Banff “foremother” who advised others “to dare to be different.”  It’s safe to say that she lived by her own rules. Born in 1861, this privileged American Quaker began visiting the Canadian Rockies first with her husband in 1904 and later as a young widow. Over the the early years of the 20th century, Mary found hard work to be the tonic for her grief. She was a writer and illustrator of guide books and a pioneering surveyor of such park gems as Maligne Lake. In fact, in 1915 Mary married Billy Warren – her outback guide, some twenty years her junior. They lived together in Banff in their lovely home, Tarry-a-while, that still stands today. “Dare to be different” indeed. 

Similarly Catharine Whyte’s embrace of a unique path seems to have brought her to Banff.   This well-heeled American, rumoured to have dated a Rockefeller back in the day, found herself in love with a fellow artist and Canadian, Peter Whyte.  After marrying in 1930, the two became best known as artists, for landscape paintings of the Rockies.  Even more importantly, at least in local circles, are their many and varied contributions to the town they loved. As founders of the Whyte Museum, they provided visitors with a venue to admire the world’s foremost collection of Rocky Mountain Art. But, Catharine was also honoured by the Stoney people, by being named a blood sister and granted the title “Princess White Shield” by them. Moreover, she was awarded the Order of Canada in 1978,  and got her pilot’s licence at the age of 63. Check out these and other details regarding this high achieving Banffite at Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies.

Mayor Sorensen’s bio is a little more familiar to me. To my knowledge she neither dated Rockefellers in her youth nor surveyed the backcountry full-length-skirted and on horseback. But, community builder she is. A proud Banffite for over 30 years, Karen served on the local school board and town council before being elected as mayor in 2010 and re-elected in 2013. She runs again this fall with a “3peat” in mind. One of the mayor’s proudest achievements to date is the town’s new affordable rental project, the 132 unit Deer Lane apartment building set to open late in 2018. That project is particularly important because it addresses the reality of the 56% of Banff residents who are under 35 and attempting to reconcile high rents with minimum wages. Furthermore, she is proud of the Banff transit system, Roam, providing public transportation in and beyond Banff. Karen explains, “We are working hard to get people out of their cars and onto our transit system. It’s environmentally the right thing to do and frankly, easier.”  You can read all about it at Town of Banff.

These three wise and wonderful women of Banff are inspiring. Mary and Catharine strike me as women who fortified Banff because it was their chosen community –the home where they found love and adventure.  Mayor Sorensen did too. She belongs in this trio of celebrated women who represent all of those who worked hard to show Banff, itself, and the world what a wonderful community it is. Want to learn more about fascinating Banffites? Great– take my walking food tour and hear all about them!

Banff Pioneers: Tales of the Successful and the Savoury Brewster Family

Just how far back in Banff’s history does the Brewster family go?

I’m glad you asked. Pull up a chair, take a bite of Alberta beef, and let me tell ya.

In 1892 two brothers, Jim and Bill  Brewster, began to earn their Banff Forefather status at the tender ages of 10 and 12. The sons of a local dairy owner, the boys guided local tourists in the area. Over the hundred plus years since, these young men, then their families and their company, have developed and flourished just as Banff has. Although purported battles with the bottle, the occasional romantic scandal, world wars and the Great Depression brought about challenges, the Brewsters survived and thrived. Jim guided various Royal Family members in Banff over the years, even surprising his wife by having Queen Elizabeth drop in to their home during her 1939 visit. Today, Brewster holdings include hotels, lodges, attractions and restaurants. For more details, check out Brewster History.

One of the many current Brewster companies is the gondola at Sulphur Mountain. Consider this experience while in Banff. My inner introvert recommends going early in the morning to beat the crowds. But the views are magnificent all day long.

After scaling Sulphur Mountain the easy way, you can take in the views and a fantastic meal at 2,900 feet above Banff in the Sky Bistro. Take a look for yourself at Sky BistroTheir kale salad  puts to shame all other kale dishes in the world.

So, there you have it, the Brewsters – from child labour to kale salad extraordinaire. Successful and savoury indeed!


Banff: The “Bear” Facts

These delicious bear paws, from Mountain Chocolate, are the best way to experience bears in Banff… as far as I’m concerned. When it comes to eating versus being eaten, I’m a sucker for the former. However, the facts show that human and bear contact in Banff National Park has historically been much more dangerous for the bears than for the humans. You can read all about it at Parks Canada. So for both me and the Rocky Mountain bear population, I’ll keep my close contact with bears limited to Mountain Chocolate’s wonderful offerings.

Having said that, no visitor to Banff is without a little “Winnie the Pooh like” curiosity about Canada’s fierce and furry omnivores so here are a few tidbits to whet your appetite. Grizzlies and black bears, in the thousands, inhabit Alberta and B.C. That number has risen over the past few years due to efforts by Parks Canada, in the protection and fostering of both species. Black bears are smaller than Grizzlies, and do not have the humped back or dished/ski jump face as it appears in profile. Fun fact — black bears aren’t always black. Like the hair colour of this aging blogger, they can be brown, cinnamon, or blond … never grey … oh wait … that’s me.

No discussions around Banff these days about grizzlies are without reverent reference to “Bear 122 “… aka the Boss.  Not Bruce Springsteen but just as cool. This year, as is his habit, he was first to come out of hibernation in late March. Giving up about five months per year to hibernation, the Boss spends the other seven with his mind on food and fun. Again, that’s the bear, not Bruce, as far as I know. This Boss is a prolific contributor to the grizzly population.  Still not impressed? Well get this: a few years ago, the Boss got hit by a train, didn’t die, and still uses railway tracks regularly in his 2500 square kilometre roam! What does he eat when he’s low on protein — the occasional black bear!  Now if snacking on black bears doesn’t give a Grizzly a little street cred, nothing will. What’s he been up to lately? Come on my tour to find out!


The Many Views From Tunnel Mountain

No list of Mary’s Nonfood Favourites in Banff is complete without a reverential reference to Tunnel Mountain. Named for a railway exec’s mistaken belief that a tunnel through it was the railway’s best option, this mountain was first known as The Sleeping Buffalo. Check it out. It’s the little mountain, beside the townsite that looks like a buffalo.

Unlike the railway plan that included blasting an unnecessary tunnel, that name had a certain logic to it. Happily, the tunnel-less Tunnel Mountain remains and enjoys a certain popularity amongst hikers who aren’t into the delayed satisfaction thing. Tunnel pleases those who want views in exchange for exertion… and they want ’em fast. It can be hiked in a couple-hour round trip. Find the trailhead near the Banff School of the Arts on St Julien Rd. Hike the 2.3 k trail to get to 360-degree views in about an hour. At the top you can gaze upon Banff or the Bow River Valley. It’s a great hike for novice hikers who aren’t necessarily ready to commit to a big trek. For more details, go to Tunnel Mountain Trail Info.

Still unsure? How about this approach? You can enjoy this view on Tunnel practically from your car window by driving up Tunnel Mountain Road. Check out the Hoodoo’s. If you’re currently asking Hoo what? It’s a tall thin rock spire that looks a little like a sand castle on the the left side of the pic.

Camping on Tunnel is a great way to enjoy Banff without breaking the bank. The bed may be extra firm, but the views are undeniable. We have camped here several times over the years, putting our backs to the tent camping test as recently as last year. Tunnel Mountain campground is a part of Parks Canada. So hot showers, no parties, world class views from many sites, and a lots of families. Check out Parks Canada: Banff if that works for you. The bottom line on Tunnel is that it’s the mountain within town limits that offers me a lot of beauty and doesn’t take me too far from my favourite bakery. Yum on both fronts.

Banff Beyond the Crowds: Mt Norquay

Finding “the quiet” in a busy place is one my favourite travel pastimes. Therefore, a satisfying search for Banff Beyond the Crowds has been a part of many happy summers spent there. More years … ok decades… ago than I care to admit, I was a twenty-year-old transplanted university student working in Banff for the summer. My inner introvert soon found that sitting in an open area on the side of Mt Norquay gave me the peace I needed, with a great view to boot. Last summer, I rediscovered both the serenity and scenery a la Norquay while taking the Scenic chairlift, a “ride in the sky” to a lookout, cafe, and hiking area. Tremendous views, great hikes, good prices, no line up — loved it! The view from Mt Norquay is spectacular and its hiking world class.

Check out Banff Norquay Hiking for details and see below for some of my tips.

You can enjoy the ride, start a serious hike or tiny trek, and enjoy a great meal at 7000 feet at the Cliffhouse Bistro. Seems to me that this Norquay outing is the perfect pairing to go with my food tour. Yes, I am biased. But, both activities appeal to those travellers who want Banff’s beauty, its adventure, a few tall tales, and delicious food. In short, an ideal combo for the visitors to Banff who want to experience the unique, rather than the typical.

Here’s an idea: plan a day that includes both the culinary tour with me and the chairlift ride through the skies. Your day will begin with walk along the mighty Bow River and Banff’s backstreets, as you learn firsthand just how good Banff tastes. Then you’ll head up Norquay (shuttles are available) to cap off your afternoon with a ride in the sky. Maybe a drink and a bite before coming back down to Earth? Sounds like a perfect day to me. What’s not to like when exploring Banff Beyond the Crowds?

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