Parks Canada Rustic Architecture
The world’s first national park was Yellowstone, created in 1872. This new concept of natural landscapes preserved for the benefit and enjoyment of all necessitated a new style of architecture that accented the beauty of nature. Architects like Robert Reamer, Gilbert Stanley Underwood, and Mary Colter pioneered “National Parks Rustic,” a style that utilized local materials and rough-hewn construction, often with Mission, Swiss, and Craftsman influences.
The style immigrated to Canada along with the concept of the national park, where it ran concurrently with the Railway Gothic style favoured by government buildings and the Canadian Pacific Railway. In many ways, National Parks Rustic influenced the expression of Railway Gothic in Western Canada. Whereas Railway Gothic buildings in Eastern Canada look as though they might have been plucked directly from France (for example, the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa), in the Rockies they were hybridized with National Parks Rustic through the use of local building stone and other adaptations.
Across Canada are several significant examples of the National Parks Rustic style.
The East Gate of Riding Mountain National Park remains one of the finest examples of pure National Parks Rustic style in Canada, and one of the few examples of a park gateway in this style. The concept of an iconic park gateway largely began with Yellowstone, whose triumphal Roosevelt Arch was completed in 1903 to add a genuine sense of arrival for railway passengers. The Riding Mountain complex, which includes several cabins, was built between 1933 and 1936 for the benefit of automobile tourists. These gateways not only demarcate the borders of the national park, but contribute to a sense of “crossing the threshold” from everyday experiences into a special, even sacred, place.
The oldest natural history museum in Western Canada, the Banff Park Museum is a “museum of a museum.” The classical 19th century-style collection of taxidermy animals are still interesting in their own right, but more so is the 19th century-style presentation of taxidermy animals in a stunning log building with its elegant interiors. Especially notable is how the architecture works to maximize light in a time before electricity.
Cave and Basin is a significant example of the syncretism between National Parks Rustic and Railway Gothic. The existing structure was designed by architect Walter Painter, who was also responsible for the Banff Springs Hotel’s makeover as a Scottish castle. Echoes of that imposing, mediaeval, imperial style are present in Cave and Basin. Yet the construction is of local “Rundle Stone” – a darkly-coloured 250-million year old marine siltstone quarried from nearby Canmore – and blends organically with the surrounding hillside and underground cave.
Constructed in 1913, the Information Centre and former administration building for Jasper National Park stands attractively in the middle of a mountain garden across from the Canadian National Railway (now VIA Rail) station. This is a subtle hybridization with the railways. The railway station is itself more rustic than gothic, as is the Jasper Park Lodge hotel. Canadian National Railway did not favour Railway Gothic as much in the mountains as it did in the cities (for example, the Bessborough Hotel in Saskatoon and Hotel Macdonald in Edmonton). At the time it was completed, the charming, rustic Information Centre and its gardens would have been a steam train passenger’s first sight of the town of Jasper.
Field, British Columbia
Frequently, the choice to use local materials was imposed upon National Parks Rustic. Trailside markers and backcountry edifices prohibited the importation of exotic wood and stone. The Twin Falls Tea House is a Swiss-influenced log chalet in the backcountry of Yoho National Park, accessible only by a 3-hour, 8km hike from the Takakkaw Falls parking lot. The Swiss style was employed by Canadian Pacific Railway along with Swiss mountaineering guides. Twin Falls Tea House is reminiscent of other tea houses, chalets, and bungalows developed by CPR, including the Plain of Six Glaciers and Lake Agnes teahouses near Lake Louise.
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