Leisure Letters

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Leisure & landscape: Banff Springs

(Added 28 September 2006)

Mrs. Margaret Greenham’s Children’s theatre, Banff, Alberta (c 1950?) Eleanor G. Luxton

Baudelaire wrote, “You know that nostalgia for countries we have never known, that anguish of curiosity? There is a country, where everything is beautiful, rich, honest and calm. Where life …is sweet to breath; where disorder, tumult and the unexpected are shut out”. The Banff Springs Park and Resort has held just such a place in popular imagination. Teetering between the overwhelming awe of sublime natural landscape and the built fantasy-come-reality of the palatial Banff Springs resort, it plays on the publics’ fantasy and desire – a dangling and attainable fairytale. Given that ‘Landscape’ is constructed by the imagination of the subjective viewer/artist, there is frequently a blur between fantasy and reality, and fantasy and leisure. The wider public often didn’t have the chance to experience the leisure landscape of Banff in reality. Instead the lake, mountains, luxurious resort and spring, existed as an imagined subjective fantasy based on popular iconographic imagery sent out around the world – post-cards, photographs, paintings and adverts.

Similar to the ideology of Landscape, Leisure can be seen as a space freed from the control of authority and the grind of urban existence – an individually or communally constructed form of escape. The drive for leisure stems from a desire for pleasure so basic that it’s reminiscent of an Eden-like ‘State of Nature’. Comparably, landscape in its most ideal form is described as paradise regained on earth – a carefully selected vignette of easily maintained Nature. Just as landscape exists as a self reflective subjective ‘inscape’, so does leisure. Together, they form a pure, enjoyable, controlled and created space where people can invest time and energy in themselves and for themselves – whether shared or alone – without the responsibilities and distraction of urban reality. In our pursuit of the cultural impact of glamour, we are keen to investigate sites such as the Royal Suite of the Banff hotel & the Banff Park Museum and activities such as sport & dance in the landscape of the Banff national Park. Banff is a playground of leisure, a bubble of indulgence in the middle of the wilderness, skiing, horseback riding, swimming, boating, dancing, bathing in the springs, summer & winter, fish dinners & afternoon teas,

In our preliminary Banff research, guided by amateur historian & Banff native, Eleanor G. Luxton, we have developed an appreciation for the finer points of life & living in the parks in times we can only imagine. Our interest in the Banff Museum & the Banff Springs hotel has been enhanced by Eleanor G. Luxton’s colourful reports of its founding process. (reports we have yet to substantiate through official channels.) In the accounts of Ms. Luxton a number of important themes emerge, Luxury, local artefacts & exotics, Image of a nation, perspectives of Canada abroad, Hotels, Decoration & fire, glamour & popular sport.

Susannah & Meredith

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