Banff reimagines 1920s cabin from storage shack to off-grid community space

·3 min read
The Rundle Cabin spent most of its life as a storage shed, but is now home base for a children's wilderness program in Banff.  (Helen Pike/CBC - image credit)
The Rundle Cabin spent most of its life as a storage shed, but is now home base for a children's wilderness program in Banff. (Helen Pike/CBC - image credit)

For most of its life, the Rundle Cabin has been used as a storage shed.

Now after a move, a fresh foundation and major restoration, the Town of Banff has breathed new life into the historic cabin and turned it into an off-grid, solar-powered building the community can use.

"You know, there may not be a use for a building at a certain time, but if it can be kind of set aside and saved, I think this is a great example of how, when the right time comes up, a new use for a building can appear," said development and heritage planner, Eric Bjorge.

Solar panels now adorn the roof of the Rundle Cabin.
Solar panels now adorn the roof of the Rundle Cabin.(Helen Pike/CBC)

The town's recreation initiatives coordinator, Colin Harris, said it's a return to what the Rundle Cabin was built for: bringing people together in the wilderness.

"It's an opportunity for kids to, you know, to really strengthen that relationship with the national park and with the natural environment around them," Harris said.

He said the cabin will serve as the home base for the town's Into the Wild program.

The children's programming focuses mainly on fostering a relationship with the outdoors, but Harris said the cabin will help create a space for kids to warm up and learn more about the history of Banff National Park.

Origins

The cabin was originally built to serve as an administrative building for the Rundle Campground, from what Bjorge knows. But the details are slim. He said there's only one surviving black and white photo of the cabin, and the history of the campground it sat on.

"There's a unique kind of concession window at the back of the building," Bjorge said. "Someone inside could have interacted with guests who are arriving by car to check them in."

It would only serve its original purpose for a couple of years.

The Rundle Campground was built to serve automobiles, which were quickly gaining popularity when the grounds were first established in 1917.

As car use soared, there wasn't space to expand the Rundle Campground — the Banff golf course took up all the room that would have been ideal for expansion.

Instead, the Tunnel Mountain campground was built and opened in 1928, rendering the Rundle Campground obsolete.

Moving the cabin

In 1999, the cabin was moved from the golf course to the Recreation Grounds, then moved again in 2020.

"It's pretty cool to see these contractors sort of lift the building inch by inch." Harris said. "It's quite the process."

While it only had to be moved about 400 metres from where it sat near the town's skatepark, the cabin was loaded up and taken the long way round, through the street and back, crossing a small bridge before resting on a pre-poured foundation.

The Rundle Cabin was moved in summer 2021.
The Rundle Cabin was moved in summer 2021.(Submitted by Colin Harris)

Once the cabin settled, the restoration work began, with only that one black-and-white photo to go off of.

Flooring and built-in furnishings were put in, and the windows and doors were redone. One of the biggest mods was adding solar panels to its roof, which required some work to strengthen the old beams. Finally, to keep the cozy vibes, a wood burning stove was installed.

"There's a couple of tables for kids to work on projects, maybe do some arts and crafts and then some storage space," Harris said. "A nice cozy space to have, especially during the winter. It would actually make a really cozy cabin."