The Beach House Hotel: Lake Minnewanka's First Hotel

The Beach House Hotel

Lake Minnewanka's First Hotel 

[Beach House, Lake Minnewanka], ca. 1890, A. B. Thom (Winnipeg, MB), 
Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Brett Family fonds (V83/PA/7/231)

Arriving in Banff in 1886, Willoughby John Astley, along with W. H. Desbrowne, decided to build the first ever hotel on Lake Minnewanka. A log structure was completed in 1886/87 and aptly named the Beach House Hotel.  

[Lake Minnewanka], [1890], Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, 
Astley Family fonds (V394/PA-1)

In June of 1889, Willoughby's brother, Charles D'oyley Astley, his wife Lucy Ann Andrew, and their infant daughter Violet Louisa would join him at the hotel. In 1890 Willoughby was contracted by the Canadian Pacific Railway to build a small two bedroom chalet at Laggan, now known as Lake Louise (pictured below). After the construction, Willoughby was hired to run this chalet at Laggan and after his departure, his brother Charles D'oyley Astley and his wife Lucy took up management of the Beach House Hotel.  

[Early Chalet at Lake Louise], [b/t 1890 - 1912], [Trueman & Caple],
Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Mary Schäffer fonds (V527/PS/1/243)

Guest Register, 1890-1906,Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies,
 Astley Family fonds (M265/2A)

The Beach House Hotel soon became an attraction for a wide variety of visitors and people from all over the world came to stay. From England to Australia, to Scotland and India, it became a unique getaway for those visiting the area. These people would have taken a tally-ho, a small horse-drawn carriage, to reach the shores of the lake. Some of these visitors also held positions of esteem within their communities including doctors, lords, captains, and politicians. 

769. Catch of fish, Lake Minnewanka, Banff, [1887 or 1888], 
Boorne & May Photographers (Calgary, NWT), Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, 
Boorne and May fonds (V10/PD/1/033) 

The lake was a source of food, leisure, and recreation. Soon, the Beach House Hotel became well-known for the cuisines that it offered. There was plenty of fish to be caught in the lake, and these catches were recorded in the registry of the hotel, with a fish weighing over 25 pounds occasionally recorded. This abundance allowed the hotel to serve many different dishes. Lucy Ann Andrew became proficient in puddings, candied fruits, cakes, jellied fish, clam pie—anything the guests could desire. 

[Hotels west end of Devil's Lake (Lake Minnewanka)], [ca. 1890], 
S. A. Smyth (Calgary, NWT),Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, 
S. A. Smyth fonds (V24/PA-21) 

Soon, other locals like Norman Luxton would build hotels on the lake. Pictured above is Luxton's hotel on the left and the Beach House Hotel on the right. 

[Beach House Hotel, Lake Minnewanka], [b/t 1886 to 1912], 
Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, 
Dave Whyte family fonds (V681/A/21/PA-025)

Even though more accommodation competition came, the Beach House Hotel continued to be a gathering place for those that wanted to experience the beauty of the lake and surrounding area.

Banff. Cascade Mountain from Lake Minnewanka (No. 19), 7/5/94, 1894,
 Vaux Family (Philadelphia, USA), Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, 
Vaux Family fonds (V653/NG-13) 

With popularity came development of the area. More buildings and a wharf were constructed. This wharf (pictured above) allowed visitors to gain greater access to the lake and was right outside the door of the Beach House Hotel. 

In 1895, the government constructed a small log dam on Devil's Creek with the purpose of improving the shoreline of the lake for visitor usage. In 1910, the power station at Horseshoe Falls on the Bow River was completed by the Calgary Power Company, and was quickly determined that this power station could not provide the amount of power required. To make up for these shortfalls, the Seebe Dam at Kananaskis Falls was constructed by the Calgary Power Company

Seebe Power Plant, 1918, Byron Harmon (Banff, AB), Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies,
 Byron Harmon fonds (V263/NA-4499) 

In 1903, the hotel changed hands from the Astley's to Reverend Basil Guy Way. Reverend Guy Way ran the hotel until 1912, when the development of a storage dam at Lake Minnewanka forced him to burn the hotel to the ground. The water rose over 12 feet (3.6 metres) and flooded nearly 1000 acres of land. Many of the chalets and cottages that were located on the shores of the lake had been moved to the newly established summer village of Minnewanka Landing. 

In 1940, the Calgary Power Company submitted an application to dam Lake Minnewanka. In that same year the Canadian government under the War Measures Act suspended the 1930 National Parks Act. The National Parks Act stated that there was to be no industrial development in National Parks. This suspension allowed the final dam to built on the lake, which drastically altered the lake and surrounding area by raising water levels over 85 feet (25 meters). Unfortunately, Minnewanka Landing was completely flooded. Today, many experienced divers swim down into the original site and see the ruins of Minnewanka Landing. 

[Beach House Hotel, Lake Minnewanka], n.d., Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, 
Astley Family fonds (V394/PA-2) 


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