Seeing Alberta - 1941: An early map and travel guide to the Banff - Jasper Highway

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Printed on a single sheet, the guide forms a six-page (21 x 30.5 cm) brochure when folded twice. Folded a third time, the map (15.2 x 21 cm) becomes the front cover. Each page is arranged by region, with mileage tables and short descriptions of national parks, highways, and recreation areas. Page One begins with Calgary and the route south to Waterton Lakes Park, “the Canadian Section of the International Peace Park.” Page Two of the guide covers west from Calgary, through Cochrane, Canmore, and Banff, to Lake Louise. Park entrance fees ($2/year incl. fishing1) and attractions are listed. There is an assumption that the reader is moving from Calgary to Edmonton. “Banff is reached by road (Highway 2) or rail.” Later, “[l]eaving Jasper you travel 32 miles within Jasper National Park before reaching the East Park Gate.” The reader then moves down “Highway 16, the gravelled northern trans-provincial highway” to Edmonton, the North, and Elk Island Park. This seems to be the standard narrative.

The Canadian government began the Banff - Jasper Highway project in 1931 as one of many Depression-era work projects. Working largely by hand, one team began at each end, meeting at Big Bend eight years later. Immediately recognized as “twenty Switzerlands in one,” the Banff-Jasper Highway was redeveloped in 1961 and renamed the Icefields Parkway (Alberta Highway 93).2 Today, it remains one of National Geographic’s, 50 Ultimate Road Trips.


The map itself is a highly-simplified, black and white rendition of south-west Alberta with a small inset of Route 3, Waterton, and the B.C./U.S. borders. In the style of many tourist maps, this one shows only the route being promoted. No secondary roads, except those leading to advertisers, nor railways are shown. Travellers planning a return to Calgary via Red Deer must rely on the mileage table for “Route 1” (today’s Highway 2) or go back the way they came. The map title obscures Route 1, not by accident. It would have been simple for the cartographer to shorten the title and place it in the centre of the map. I think the intention of the guide is to present an alternative to the long-established and well-known Route 1.

No map scale is given but it is about 45 miles to the inch and seems consistent throughout the map and the inset. The exception, of course, is in the width of the roads. At this scale, the 1/32” wide roads would be about 1½ miles wide. The map is marked, “Copyright - A.T.S.”, who I’ve yet to track down. Knowing who drew the map would go a long way toward identifying where the guide was printed, as there are no other credits or publication information. I’ve placed an approximate publication date of early (January - April) 1941 on this map, based on an ad for the upcoming Calgary Stampede (July 7 - 14, 1941).

Only a few towns appear on the map that do not have a corresponding advertiser in the guide. Most of these appear in the inset map. High River is shown, although none of its businesses have taken ads. Meanwhile, Black Diamond Highway 16Highway 16(near Turner Valley), with five advertisers, does not appear. There are also five towns along Highway 16 that appear in the ads but not on the map. Each has only one ad and was probably left off due to lack of space. Highway 16 has more ads than any other section (36).

Calgary has a much more detailed entry than Edmonton, with a seperate entry for the Stampede. “Turner Valley - the Empire’s Newest Oil Field” would be a ‘point of interest,’ I guess. Oil supplies were definitely an issue in WWII. It would be interesting to hear from someone who knew what role Alberta’s oil played in the war. Alberta Beach is mentioned as “[o]ne of Alberta’s foremost resorts...”


The “Corner Drug Stores” stamp on the upper right corner of the map was probably added by the business giving away (selling?) the guide. The “81058” telephone number identifies this copy as coming from their “West End” Edmonton store on 124th Street. This stamp has not been included in the breakdown below.

There are 117 ads in the guide.3 Food makes up the largest category, with 28 ads. This includes the cafes and coffee shops mentioned in the subtitle, as well as several bakeries and meat shops. Six more food ads are from mixed businesses that also mention auto services. Most of these (5) are from along Highway 16. In fact, most of the ads I’ve marked as mixed (13) are from this area, as well as three more listed simply as “General Store.” Obviously, in a rural setting fewer businesses have to do it all.

The second category is a hodgepodge of 25 “other” businesses ranging from photographers and beauty salons to china shops and a hat store. No single category has more than two ads. These specialty shops are predominantly (72%) from the cities of Calgary (6), Jasper (7), and Edmonton (5). Two of the ads are for events: the annual Calgary Stampede and Edmonton Exhibition.

Auto services come in third, lower than I expected. The thought of 700+ kilometres of gravel is daunting, even without the mountains, and I expected a higher need for repairs. Of the 20 auto ads, fourteen are on Highway 16, as are six of the mixed ads mentioned above.

Accommodations are fourth with sixteen ads. Three more also mention food in their ads. These range from hotels and inns to cabins and camps. Almost all of these are inside a national park and none is from Calgary or Edmonton.

Finally, there are 12 drugstore ads spaced fairly evenly throughout the guide. The drugstore, I think, played a larger role before the advent of the department store. Corner Drug Stores have a single ad mentioning three stores and I’m assuming that the 116 other advertisers would have received copies of the guide for distribution. I’d be surprised to find if there were more than 2400 (c. 200 each) copies produced.4

I’ve broken down the major advertising centres by region and city below.

The majority of the ads are from businesses between Jasper and Edmonton (75%) and just over half (53%) are from Highway 16 and Edmonton. Ads from Edmonton alone (23) make up almost 20% of the total. This is almost three times as many ads as Calgary (23:8). but suspect that if the guide was not the initiative of these northern businesses, they were certainly the target.


All the businesses listed in the guide seem to have had to pass an entry test before placing their ad. The subtitle of the guide states it includes “...Canadian-Operated Restaurants, Cafes and Coffee Shops.” My first thought is that this is a reflection of the anti-Asian prejudices so prevalent in the west. Mind you, in early ’41 I think we were somewhat allied with China and we were yet to declare war on Japan. Canada was at war with Germany and Germans are Alberta’s second largest ethnic group today. Whether the intentions of the publishers were to exclude Asians, Germans, or both isn’t entirely clear. (Note: If you received a reproduction of this map during the GeoAlberta conference, you'll see that this subtitle was removed. The intention was to insert the GeoAlberta logo, not to paper over past racism.)

Update: MP suggests the title may say "Canadian-Operated" because it was produced in the US. This may also explain the inclusion of the Waterton Lakes inset which is a little off-topic. I still lean toward my original line of thought, but stand ready to be corrected.

 I’m not sure what all the above means (except that I probably have too much free time). No one type of advertiser is significantly over-represented, however there seem to be a high number of drugstores from today’s perspective. I think that several factors contribute to the high number of ads from Edmonton. Two important ones would be the highway's location within the national parks and its very recent opening, both of which would limit development along that section. I also think those along Highway 16 and in Edmonton had the most to gain from a new tourist loop that drew dollars north. Edmonton had yet to benefit from a mini-boom in US Army business.

To date, I haven't been able to locate another copy of this item.


1 However, "... those arriving by train, must obtain a fishing license at $2.25." (p. 2, col. i)
2 "Icefields Parkway Project." Presentation by Terry Perkins, Lake Louise, Yoho, and Kootenay Field Unit Superintendent.       Banff Planning Forum 2006.
3 The one ad on page six (Edmonton Auto Spring Works) has been added to the total for page five.
4 (For those keeping track, that’s: 28 Food + 25 Other + 20 Auto + 16 Accom. + 12 Drugstore + 13 mixed + 3 General Store = 117)