Bow River, Banff Alberta – Part 1


Bow River #2

Photos were water damaged from the camera being in the river.

When I lived in the mountains of Banff, Alberta I was drawn to the river and vowed someday I would make a canoe trip from Lake Louise, to Banff, a distance of about forty miles down stream. The Bow River is fed by melt water flowing from the mountains and glaciers, all along both sides of the valley.

The opportunity came in August of 1961 when I was 26 years old. I had been planning it for a couple of years and finally bought a new Cedar strip canvass covered canoe. When the day arrived I was committed, no matter how the weather turned out, as my window of opportunity only gave me three days. I started out in Winnipeg and drove a thousand miles with the canoe strapped to the roof. I was venturing off on my own and had camping gear and equipment in order to stay out overnight in the valley.

Bow river #5

This is a typical view as the river flows down the valley with spectcular steep mountains on both sides and a never ending thick green woods on the banks of the river. it is a beautiful but lonely place.

Early one morning I put my canoe in the river near Lake Louise and headed down stream for Banff. My first challenge was to pass under a new bridge that crossed the Bow River. A lot of blasting had been done to construct the footings for the bridge and most of that rock had been pushed back as fill.

The river starts out wide, swift and shallow. The current is too fast to paddle against so the run down the river is exhilarating.  The swift current limits the work with the paddle to steering, and in particular to avoiding rocks and dead trees.

Bow river #6

As I passed under the bridge, between a bridge support and the shore I immediately became hung up on a rock. I tried to use the paddle to lift the canoe up and off but the rock was steep on all sides, leaving deep water all around.  After the ordeal was over I briefly saw the pointed rock sitting about a foot below the water line.

As I bounced the canoe and tried to slip free I heard the sickening sound of canoe ribs breaking. My desperate movements were causing the rock point to first break a rib, then puncture the canvass and cedar between the ribs. Because of the camping gear and supplies in the canoe bottom I was unable to see how bad the damage was.  I had not yet noticed any water in the canoe so I assumed the canvass itself had not yet punctured.

Here I was five minutes into my trip and I was hung up on a rock and causing serious damage to the canoe.  I eventually just sat there, paddle in hand, and watched the current racing by while listening to the odd car passing overhead on the bridge.

In the end my only options was to bounce the canoe violently up and down and move off the rock enough that the canoe finally slid off and raced off down the stream.  My concern for the extent of the damage was primarily focused on how badly the canoe was leaking.

Bow river rapids #1

I was also distracted by a rapidly approaching rapids and uprooted pine trees lying about. Once I was in calmer and less dangerous waters I ran the canoe ashore, unloaded the gear and inspected the bottom of the canoe. A total of five ribs had been cracked and in the space between the ribs the floor was puncture in four places. Turning the canoe over showed serious scrape marks in the canvas but no actual hole.

I had come too far to make this trip so I decided the canoe was still strong enough to continue but I would have to stay off the rocks. I pushed off shore and went on.

2 thoughts on “Bow River, Banff Alberta – Part 1

  1. I can only comment that you must have been a terrible worry to your parents with all your adventures! ( or I should say mis-adventures!)


    1. Actually they were so used to me taking off, and coming home again, they got to the point they stopped paying attention. Of course they never got all the details so they did not worry too much.


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