At the heart of Yoho you’ll find the town of Field

Field offers base camp while exploring Yoho

Omar McDadi

Parks Canada /Parcs Canada

A trip to Yoho National Park isn’t complete without a visit to the historic town of Field, B.C.

Located just 25 kilometres(km) west of Lake Louise, Alberta, and 58 km east of Golden, B.C., Field offers visitors the perfect setting for a short stopover or as a base camp while exploring Yoho.

Field was a town born of its surroundings. Originally called the “Third Siding”, it was established in 1883 when the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) advanced westward.

Following a visit by a wealthy Chicago businessman, and potential CPR investor, Cyrus West Field, the Third Siding earned its enduring namesake. Despite the honour of having a town – and a nearby mountain – named for him, Mr. Field chose not to invest in the railway. The town served as a hub for railway workers until the last spike was hammered at Craigellachie, B.C. in 1885.

With the completion of the railway through the Rockies ushering in the ‘golden age of mountaineering’ in Canada, tourism flourished in Field. Executives at CPR saw the potential of attracting tourists to the numerous unconquered mountain peaks in the area and brought over Swiss Guides to ensure mountain ascents were safe and successful. Marketed as a world-class hiking destination, Field attracted visitors from across North America and Europe.

Italian born Lawrence Grassi is credited with establishing many of the trails around Lake O’Hara – considered to be some of the finest in Canada, if not the world. Often climbing with little equipment, he once found himself perched on the face of Castle Mountain, with a 700m drop to the ground below.

Of his precarious situation he simply said “I don’t think I’d have suffered very long”… “Nowadays climbers practically build themselves ladders to climb cliffs.” It was later in life that Grassi became a trail builder. After spending 27 years working as a coal miner near Canmore, in retirement he became a Parks Canada Warden in Yoho, spending many summers working on the O’Hara trails.  He modestly reflected on his trail building contributions as just “scratching out a few sods”.

The dangerously steep 4.5 percent grade of the Big Hill east of Field made it treacherous for hauling heavy dining cars up or down the hill. In order to feed travellers, CP decided to build a “permanent dining car” in the town which led to the construction of Mt. Stephen House in 1886. The luxurious Mt. Stephen House was one of the first in a series of CPR hotels built to accommodate guests, including the Banff Springs Hotel and the Chateau Lake Louise.

Following a decline in tourism after WWII, the historic hotel fell into disrepair and was eventually demolished in 1963.

According to Mr. and Mrs. Doyle, who were long-time Field residents, the town mourned the loss of the hotel, saying “In 1964 they took the last part of the Mt. Stephen House down… the people of Field could have cried when the top came down, you know that cupola up on top, when it fell in – oh, it just put a depression on this town.”

Road construction in the early 1900’s allowed travel by horse and buggy, continuing to draw visitors and industry to the Yoho Valley. Mining and logging operations continued following the creation of the Mt. Stephen Dominion Preserve (now Yoho National Park), attracting more settlers to Field. Despite no new permits being issued after 1930, mining continued in the area until 1952 and logging until 1968. With the completion of a “scenic highway” in 1926, automobile traffic was opened up between Lake Louise and Field. This highway, in addition to the Banff-Lake Louise Highway was a precursor to the existing Trans-Canada Highway.

Today, the town of Field remains a peaceful getaway and place for exploration. With numerous guest houses, 20 historic sites, and plenty of excursions and activities in the area, Field is still the picturesque mountain town it was over 100 years ago.

This summer, Field will host a number of activities to celebrate Yoho’s 125th anniversary.

For more information on these events and others, visit www.pc.gc.ca/yoho or stop by the Field Visitor Reception Centre.