By Jim Farber
In the pantheon of thrilling stories about the Wild West, surprisingly little ink has been allotted to the enterprising men and women who built the hotels and served the meals that turned the frontier into a more user-friendly place to visit.
In the American West the names of Fred Harvey and the Curry clan loom large. But in Alberta, Canada, it’s the Brewsters. It all began in the late 1800s, when John Brewster, the son of Irish immigrants, accepted a contract to supply the Canadian Pacific Railroad with dairy products. Next the family branched out into transportation, providing livery from the train stations to the grand hotels of Banff and Lake Louise. And even though they no longer own the company, the Brewster name still adorns Western Canada’s primary fleet of motor coaches.
In 1923 the new matriarch of the clan, Missy Bagley Brewster, transformed the family’s sprawling homestead on the banks of the Bow River into Brewster’s Kananaskis Guest Ranch. It’s a family tradition that continues to this day.
One of the Brewsters’ most adventurous accommodations is the Shadow Lake Lodge, a cluster of log cabins with surprisingly elegant interiors that look out on an idyllic high mountain meadow surrounded on three sides by dense pine forest in Banff National Park. Getting there, however, involves a nine-mile hike through woods that are, as the old folk song says “as thick as fleas on the back of a dog.” The hike begins at the Red Earth Creek parking lot 12 miles west of Banff.
If you are lucky, at the end of the trail you’ll find Alison Brewster (representing the fifth generation of Brewsters) waiting for you in the main lodge dining room with the afternoon tea service that always includes a platter of fresh-baked scones. She’s the ideal hostess — probably because it’s in her blood. And over tea or just hanging out in her kitchen, Alison is more than happy to tell you all about her illustrious family’s history in Western Canada.
As you sit on the porch of your cabin at sunset looking out across the meadow toward the distant snow-capped peaks of the Canadian Rockies, it is difficult to imagine a more picturesque setting than the Shadow Lake Lodge. You may even see a moose grazing in the tall grass along the banks of Red Earth Creek.
Shadow Lake itself is about half a mile from the lodge and is an easy walk through the woods. Like a setting from a picture postcard, its deep blue water is framed by thick green pines and the 10,862-foot summit of Mount Bell. The lake also offers excellent fishing.
There was a time when I was more than willing to lug a 40-pound backpack, cook my own meals and sleep on the ground beneath the stars. Now I am more inclined to carry a much less ponderous pack, relish a hot shower at the end of the trail, sleep in a comfortable bed and sip a glass of Cabernet with dinner. This is the type of “wilderness” experience Brewster’s Shadow Lake Lodge affords. It’s an especially good place to stay for hikers and also for cross-country skiers since the lodge is open in winter.
The hike in is pretty boring as you make your way through miles and miles of densely crowded trees with nary a view except up. But once you are accommodated at the lodge, the hiking around the Shadow Lake area is spectacular and varied, with an abundance of wildflower meadows, rushing streams, timberline lakes and shimmering ice fields. On the second day of our visit, my girlfriend, Nance, and I explored the meanderings of Haiduck Creek and the Whistling Valley up to Haiduck Lake at around 7,000 feet. Along the way we encountered fields of wildflowers blooming in profusion. We also encountered a pretty intense summer thunderstorm on our way back to the lodge.
In addition to its cowboy air of Canadian hospitality, the Shadow Lake Lodge offers three delectable meals per day and afternoon tea included in the cost of your visit. You can also arrange for a lunch to carry with you on the trail. And if you catch a trout or two, Alison and her staff will be happy to serve them up.
All of the cabins are heated and include solar-powered lighting and a wash-basin area. They do not include toilets or showers. Shower and restroom facilities are located near the main lodge. For entertainment at night most guests gather in the lodge cabin to talk about their day’s adventures, play board games and enjoy the warmth of the fire burning in the old iron stove.
IF YOU GO
Summer rates at the Shadow Lake Lodge (June 17-Sept. 26) begin at $192 per night based on double occupancy. A minimum stay of two nights is required. Most rooms include two double beds, but you can upgrade to a “Queen Cabin” for an additional $20 or a “King Cabin” for $35 more. Your backcountry pass is included in the cost of your stay: www.shadowlakelodge or 866-762-0114.
Jim Farber is a freelance travel writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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