Students add life to Banff history

By Lynn Martel - Bow Valley

They wrote about grizzly bears, railway workers, Banff Springs Hotel ghosts, a forest-dwelling hermit and a beloved hockey coach.

They wrote poems and short stories that were funny, clever, insightful and original.

And last Thursday (June 25), four Banff Community High School (BCHS) students were awarded $50 each at the school's Awards Assembly for their submissions to the fourth annual Eleanor Luxton Creative Writing Contest.

Language Arts teachers Dale Martin and Carol Beaton submitted 67 entries to contest organizer Ralphine Locke, a board member of the Eleanor Luxton Historical Foundation. Three judges - long-time Banff resident Margaret Watson, Banff playwright Lance Woolaver and Canmore writer Lynn Martel - then helped Locke select the winners.

First place in the Junior High Poetry category was awarded to Grade 7 student Tobie MacDonald for Memoirs of a Grizzly, which described changes to the Bow Valley landscape as seen from the eyes of a great bear.

Winner of the Junior High Short Story category was Grade 8 student Hana Kujawa, for her imaginative piece Gregory's Night at the Dead Animal Museum, in which the stuffed animals at the Banff Park Museum came to life in the dead of night.

Taking first place for Senior High Poetry, Matthew Harding's Of Raymond Edward Alan Christopher Paley combined rhyme, an extensive vocabulary and sharp humour to tell the tale of early Skoki Lodge guest Dr. Kit Paley, who died in an avalanche.

And Kayla Feragen took the top prize in the Senior High Short Story category for her tale No Film, which painted a snapshot of a day in the life of then-aspiring Banff photographer Byron Harmon.

Modelled after a contest Locke has run at Calgary's Strathcona Tweedsmuir School for more than 30 years, BCHS students were asked to write a short story or poem celebrating the natural or human history of the Bow Valley.

"I think it encourages young students to write creatively," Locke said. "Writing about Bow Valley natural and human history encourages them to learn more about their area and their history and their values."

Locke, who was born in Lake Louise and grew up in Banff, lived most of her adult life in Calgary, where she raised her son, Y2Y founder Harvey Locke. She moved back to Banff in 2004 to devote much of her time and energy to the Eleanor Luxton Historical Foundation, named for a distant cousin of hers.

The foundation supports three historic homes in Banff, including the Luxton home, which is open to public tours through the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies.

Through working on their contest entries, Locke said students were encouraged to make use of the Whyte Museum archives, which she considers among Banff's greatest treasures.

"We didn't have the archives back then, and the kids use the archives now," Locke said. "I think it's wonderful."

When Locke attended school in Banff in the 1930s, there was no public library, and the school library consisted of a small cupboard under a staircase.

"Most of the students couldn't name a mountain or even the river," Locke said. "Fortunately, my sister and I had access to Colonel Phillip Moore's library at his home - the log house with the blue shutters near the Whyte Museum."

Locke's own inspiration for the contest came from one of her own teachers, Eleanor Luxton.

Luxton taught Grades 6 and 7 in Banff in the 1930s and went on to earn degrees in education and history from the University of Alberta. She also earned a mechanical engineering degree from Montreal's McGill University in the 1940s, which led to her working on a locomotive design for the Canadian Pacific Railway. In the 1960s, Luxton worked as a researcher at Calgary's Glenbow Museum until poor health prompted her to move back to Banff, where she wrote a comprehensive book on the history of the Bow Valley titled Banff: Canada's First National Park.

She followed that publication with Luxton's Pacific Voyage, which was based on the diary her father, Norman Luxton, kept while crossing the Pacific in a dugout canoe in 1901.

Locke said the creative writing contest is designed to offer tribute to a woman who overcame poor health and the prejudices of her time to excel in a variety of fields, and to offer an opportunity for high school students to develop their creative talents.

"People still talk about how she was their favourite teacher," Locke said. "She had her studies in art and music and she brought that richness to the classroom. I had Eleanor for two years, I was lucky that way."

Often a young person will learn something valuable from someone in their life, outside of their home, Locke said, adding that the creative writing contest offered just one way that sort of circumstance could be encouraged.

"I think the contest is improving every year," Locke said. "I think it's wonderful they're learning about their environment, and all about the fabulous characters who have helped build the town."

Find CAREERS in Canmore or Banff at:

Town Info

Town of Canmore

Town of Banff

Bow Valley Real Estate


Travel Alberta

Canmore B & B Assn

Arts and Culture

Summit Gallery of Fine Art

Canmore Museum

Canada House Gallery

Whyte Museum

The Banff Centre

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