A few years later, when a different group of railway men launched a similar venture farther north, they decided they couldn't compete. Not with the opulent edifices, but with nature itself.
Stand on the grounds of the rustic, unimposing Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge today and you can probably appreciate the intimidation. This is one awe-inspiring setting.
It is encircled by glacier-crusted peaks, which rise majestically like the jeweled
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When the hotel opened in 1922, it was just eight log bungalows perched on the shore of the lake. A main lodge was added the next year, and although most of the log structures burned to the ground during a spectacular fire in 1952, the current incarnation of the Jasper Park Lodge remains true to its original unobtrusive spirit.
Rather than overpowering its surroundings, it celebrates them. The main lodge has soaring, peaked windows that frame the lake,
The hotel's 446 rooms, suites and cabins string out along the edge of the lake shore, such that about half the accommodations have views of the water. The pool and an expansive deck command a hill overlooking the lake, and a half-dozen sun platforms dot the water's edge.
The 903-acre grounds also sit smack in the middle of Jasper National Park, the region's largest such reserve, so you'll likely see plenty of wildlife during your stay - elk strolling among the cabins, or Canada geese soaring in for landings on the lake.
"The profile of our visitor has changed over the years," said Jasper Park Lodge spokeswoman Anastasia Martin-Stilwell as she led a tour of the grounds last fall. "It's gone from rustic outdoor trekking to family and spa get-aways."
The rhythm of the place is certainly conducive to rest and relaxation. On a visit in November, we were comfortable in a lake-view junior suite, but a few years earlier we'd opted for one of the lakefront suites, private and quiet at the extreme east edge of the property. It had a wood-burning fireplace, a soaking tub, a separate enclosure for the bedroom and a fine, second-story view of the lake through the trees.
You can settle into one of those rooms and never feel the need to leave it - which, in fact, conforms to historical precedent.
Because the hotel sprawls over such a considerable area, room-service waiters in the 1940s and early '50s would ride bicycles, often balancing a tray with one hand and gripping the handlebars with the other.
Room service is now delivered by van, but the bikes are still in use. The rooms have small refrigerators rather than mini-bars, and if you require anything - snacks, a bottle of champagne, ice, groceries - Fitzhugh's Express will deliver it to your door by pedal power (though the precarious balancing of trays has given way to storage in a basket mounted to a fender).
There are some other intriguing lodgings here - seven freestanding cabins, some of them historic, that are well-suited for family reunions, weddings or corporate retreats.
The Outlook Cabin - or at least the original - hosted King George VI of England and Queen Elizabeth (the future Queen Mum) on their tour of Canada in 1939.
After it burned down a few years ago, it was reconstructed according to its original blueprints, with round log ceiling beams and pillars, although its bedrooms and bathrooms got modern upgrades. The latter now feature Italian marble, native granite and commodious bathtubs, prompting Martin-Stilwell to refer to this cabin as "the chic shack."
But the royals who roughed it here would probably still recognize it. A comfy leather sofa is positioned in front of a stone fireplace. The dining room is commanded by an antique oak table. The light fixtures honor the '30s with arts-and-crafts stylishness.
The 1929 Gardener's Cabin was a working nursery, greenhouse, potting shed and tool storage area until the lodge ceased propagating its own plants seven years ago. It was converted to a themed guest cottage, with well-worn gardening tools and seed packets under the glass of the coffee table and an array of old watering can heads mounted on the stone fireplace.
Marna Praill , who used to work in the landscaping operation (and now does flower arrangements), showed us around the cabin, noting that it has both hardwood floors and ceilings, and has a feature sure to capture the fancy of families with teenagers - a basement with a pool table.
Bing Crosby, who visited the Jasper Park Lodge in the 1940s for the filming of "The Emperor Waltz" (during which the Canadian Rockies were passed off as the Austrian Alps), was said to be fond of the 1931 Viewpoint Cabin, which is set well back from the other lodge accommodations. In addition to such classy touches as carved Newell staircase posts and hand-painted postcards above the mantel, it has its own sauna in the basement.
The 1928 Point Cabin is the oldest structure at the hotel. It has a little reading room high in its peak, reached by a staircase so narrow and steep it will stop your heart.
As comfortable as the woodsy guest rooms are, the main lodge, with its towering ceiling, grand fireplaces (two of them) and comfortable furniture, is an irresistible lure. We inevitably found our way here each midday, making a lunch of the light fare served in the Emerald lounge.
The setting was unbeatable, with sunlight streaming through the lake-view picture windows. We would linger over gourmet sandwiches and salads and perhaps a draft of Cleopatra lager, a local microbrew.
One afternoon we were dismayed to find that a special function at the hotel, Christmas in November, had completely taken over the Emerald for check-in and a reception. Not to be deterred, we slipped downstairs to Fitzhugh's deli shop, bought provisions piecemeal, and returned for a makeshift picnic at one of the nearby tables.
In the evening, the Edith Cavell dining room offers an elegant, dark-paneled space where candles flicker romantically on the tables. James Kendal , the restaurant's manager and wine director, could detect a corked smell in the chardonnay we selected just by passing the bottle quickly under his nose, and whisked it away before we even tasted it.
His grasp of the wines of western Canada - from British Columbia's famed Okanagan Valley to the Venturi-Schulze winery on Vancouver Island - proved to be impeccable, and we never went wrong with one of his selections.
The fall-winter menu featured plenty of game - quail appetizer, venison rack, duck breast - but we can never resist the seafood in Canada, and were pleased with such unusual preparations as roasted monkfish wrapped in wild boar bacon.
Unfortunately, the pacing of dinner did not prove the equal of either the cuisine or Kendal's wine expertise. The first night, we endured an interminable wait between the first and second courses. We assumed it was an anomaly - until the second night, when the wait between the entree and dessert was even longer.
Beyond the cozy rooms and tasty dining options at the Jasper Park Lodge, there is plenty to do out of doors, especially during the small window of summer weather in the Canadian Rockies.
Canoes, kayaks and row boats can be rented for a leisurely tour of the lake. Bikes are available for rent, and the terrain here in the Athabasca River Valley is pretty flat. The 18-hole golf course is considered one of the best resort courses in the country - perhaps for the views alone.
A simpler pleasure is an unhurried walk on the 2.2-mile trail that encircles the lake. After we bundled up in November, we strolled among Douglas fir, lodgepole pine, white spruce and trembling aspen at the water's edge, startled from time to time by the groaning sound of the lake freezing over.
We encountered elk along the way, chomping away on the bark of some white birch trees, stripping the trunks bare to the height of ... well, an elk snout.
Elk used to be ubiquitous on the hotel grounds, roaming and grazing leisurely. Ironically, that changed when the resort undertook a program to make its property more wildlife-friendly. A fence that enclosed the golf course was taken down, and smaller loops of fencing were installed to preserve natural travel corridors for animals.
As a result, wolves that used to circle around the property on Signal Mountain began to cross through the heart of the grounds at night. This apparently made the elk nervous and sent them deeper into the protection of the forest.
But a few elk still can't resist the tender salad bar that is the Jasper Park Lodge's landscaping. One night, we looked out our window to see a massive bull elk, with a huge hat rack of antlers, climb the steps of the neighboring room and calmly munch away on a tree growing over the porch. The occupants, utterly unaware, were getting ready for dinner, too. Imagine if they'd opened their door and been just inches away from the face of that beast.
Hard to fault the elk, though. Here at the Jasper Park Lodge, humans shouldn't be the only ones to partake of gourmet dining in such a lovely setting.
- Eric Noland, (818) 713-3681, email@example.com