Banff Sanitarium Hotel: Mineral Springs, Monkeys, and Medicine

Brett Sanitarium Hotel

Mineral Springs, Monkeys, and Medicine

Bretton Hall Banff, [b/t 1923 & 1933], George Noble fonds

In 1851, a baby boy was born to James Brett and Catherine Mallon in Strathroy, Upper Canada. This boy would become known as Robert George Brett, or more commonly Dr. Brett. He would graduate from Victoria College Medical School, as a Medical Doctor in 1874. 

Dr. R.G. Brett and Nurse McCall, ca. 1912, George Paris fonds

After further education, work, and travel, Dr. Brett joined the Canadian Pacific Railway on its endevour to build the transcontinental railway in 1881. During this time he concocted the vision to open a hotel and sanitarium based on the use of the mineral springs found in Banff. 

C.P.R. Engine 73 and train, [1880- 1890], Boorne and May Fonds

608. C.P.R. at Banff, [1887 or 1888], Boorne and May fonds

The site was selected and completed in 1886. At first it was called the Banff Hot Springs Sanitarium Hotel, but was shortened to Banff Sanitarium Hotel or Banff Sanitarium. 

When one hears the word, sanitarium, we picture an old, run-down building with unbearable conditions. Perhaps they picture a place where people who were mentally suffering were sent away by their families. However, the Banff Sanitarium was nothing like that. It was a place of luxury, prestigious medical treatments, and leisure. Many advertisements from the time paint the picture of a high-end resort, not a typical hospital. 

The Sanitarium, Banff, ca. 1890, S.A. Smyth fonds

The San., George Paris fonds (V484/PA-981)

The hospital, as the name implies, also had a hotel on the premises. This hotel boasted a pub, billiard room, and the finest services. The activities that were offered to both the guests and patients ranged widely based on the individual's ability. There were opportunities for leisure activities such as horseback riding, hiking, dancing, skating, curling, and of course the mineral springs. 

Banff Curling Rink- Old Log Building is Still near Boathouse- before 1900,
ca. 1900, Peter and Catharine Whyte fonds

Everyday life at the sanitarium was by no means ordinary. The guests and patients had access to not only activities but to unusual experiences like interacting with a monkey. 
Brett Family fonds (V83/PA/7/199)

Brett Family fonds (V83/PA/7/198)

In the years to come, the sanitarium would go through many expansions, moves, and changes. In 1908-9, a second hospital was constructed. This new hospital, the Grand View Villa, was built strategically placed, so the guests would disassociate the original hotel and sanitarium with sickness. The Sanitarium Hotel eventually changed its name in 1922 to Bretton Hall Hotel. The details of the final years of the Bretton Hall Hotel are unclear. However, the Grand View Villa burned down in 1931 and the Bretton Hall Hotel in 1933.

Banff Buildings, Bretton Hall Hotel fire, 1933, George Noble fonds

Banff Buildings, Bretton Hall Hotel fire, George Noble fonds

Demolition of Brett Sanitarium, 1933, George Noble fonds

In 1936, the Parks Canada administration building was built on the site of the Bretton Hall Hotel. The building is still in use today. 

927. Administration Building, Banff, Byron Harmon fonds

Info Sources:

David J. Hall, "BRETT, ROBERT GEORGE," in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15, University of Toronto, 2003, accessed July 18, 2018, 

Harris, F.C. and McDougall, G.M. "The Banff Sanitarium Hotel." In Medical Clinics and Physicians of Southern Alberta, edited by Gerald M. McDougall and Fiona C. Harris, 181- 204. Calgary, A.B.: Gerald M. McDougall, 1991. 

Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies: 
  • Info-files: Brett Family and Hotels 


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