Located in the Rockies west of Calgary and on the edge of Banff National Park, Canmore is a vibrant, outdoorsy yet artsy community
By Wendy Haaf
Susan and David Minifie enjoyed the 30 years they spent in Toronto, including the five they spent living downtown, but when it came time to retire, they wanted to be within a short distance of natural areas where they could ski, hike, and snowshoe. Nearly eight years ago, while on a ski holiday, they found what they were looking for in Canmore, AB.
Located in the Rockies roughly 80 kilometres (50 miles) west of Calgary on the eastern edge of Banff National Park, Canmore is a vibrant, outdoorsy yet artsy community of just over 13,000 where nature is so close that you can sometimes look out and see a herd of elk nibbling on the neighbour’s grass. Opportunities for both outdoor and indoor activities abound.
“I don’t think there’s another community quite like this one,” Susan says. Since hosting the Nordic ski events for the 1988 winter Olympics, the former mining town has become a training centre for young athletes, as well as a quiet weekend getaway for wealthy Albertans, and it’s attracting a growing number of active retirees like the Minifies thanks to its top-notch recreational facilities, beautiful natural setting, and inclusive atmosphere.
“It’s not just the scenery but the approach to life here,” says Laurel Paterson, who moved here with her husband, Don, in 2001. “You have no idea what people did for a living or what their background is. Everyone has such zest for doing things.”
When it comes to social events, “everyone is included,” Susan Minifie says, “whether they’re single or married. Our social life is out of control,” she adds with a laugh. The tight-knit community also forms a network of support, for instance, when someone loses a spouse.
The local seniors’ club has more than doubled in size since the Patersons arrived, to more than 800 members. The club provides access to a variety of activities: “exercise, mah-jong, dance, whatever you want to do,” Minifie says.
Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park features more than 100 kilometres (60 miles) of trails for skiing and mountain biking, and the club organizes snowshoe outings, with a range of offerings geared to different levels of ability. The most challenging of three snowshoe hikes that took place on a single day this past winter wound up mountain paths. “Everyone is so kind,” Laurel Paterson says. “They’ll wait for someone who is a bit slower.”
“At 68, I’m a junior senior,” Minifie says, “and I snowshoe and cross-country ski with a fellow who turned 90 in March. He took up cross-country skiing at 85.” In summer, women in their 80s bicycle around town alongside 20-something athletes gliding on roller-skis. “You don’t feel that you’re exclusively an old person here,” Paterson says.)
Downhill skiing is just 45 minutes away, and skaters have a choice of several outdoor rinks, as well as a recreation centre with two NHL-sized surfaces; for curlers, there’s a club with four ice sheets, plus a restaurant and lounge.
In warmer weather, residents can golf at one of three courses, play tennis, cycle, or hike. “A river runs right through town, and there’s a long walk alongside it,” Paterson says. The Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail—a 22-kilometre (14-mile) paved bicycle path—stretches from Canmore to Banff. “We have friends my age who bicycle to Banff, have a coffee, and bike home,” she adds. You can also opt to cycle one way and hop on a bus back home.
The wealth of sporting activities is balanced by an arts centre (which offers classes), a theatre group, multiple musical groups, and organizations such as the local quilting guild. “The town has a lot of artists and talent,” Minifie says. “We also get great people coming to the Banff Centre [for Arts and Creativity].”
“We have a beautiful recreation centre called Elevation Place,” Paterson says. “It has a library that’s open every day, an art gallery, a big swimming pool, and a climbing space with glass walls. You can sit and have coffee and watch the climbers, or look down from the exercise room upstairs.”
Prospective volunteers can choose among an abundance of organizations, including Alberta Parks, where David Minifie donates his time.
The six-block downtown is home to a mix of restaurants offering cuisine ranging from Brazilian barbecue to authentic Mexican, coffee shops (including one that doubles as a bicycle store), and retail standbys such as Canadian Tire and Shoppers Drug Mart, along with sports boutiques. And Calgary is just over an hour’s drive away should you be unable to find a specific item locally or want to jet away to distant destinations.
While housing isn’t exactly inexpensive (two-bedroom condos go for a bit more than $500,000), Paterson says that she and her husband pay property taxes that are half of what the couple paid in Ontario, and town leadership has also carefully maintained the town’s character by capping the height of new buildings.
Since health professionals are among those drawn to the community’s many recreational opportunities, there’s an ample supply of physicians, too. Round-the-clock emergency care and many other medical services (including a highly-regarded sports medicine clinic) are available locally—Canmore and Banff both have a hospital.
And then there’s the view. “You’re getting groceries, and when you step out of the store, there’s this ring of mountains around you,” Paterson observes. Between that and proximity to the big city, Susan Minifie says, “it really is the best of both worlds.”
Photos: Tourism Canmore Kananaskis/Paul Zizka (street); Alberta Parks (biking).