Written by: Michael Gourlie, Government Records Archivist, Provincial Archives of Alberta
One of the stereotypes of beauty pageants is the behind-the-scenes rivalry among contestants. Typically, these are just plot devices in film or TV designed to create degrees of drama, comedy or controversy. But apparently there is beauty pageant drama in real life, and one of the rare times when these battles spilled out into the public is the controversy surrounding the Banff Winter Carnival Queen competition of 1955.
The idea for a winter carnival in Banff originated with Norman Luxton, the man known as “Mr. Banff.” A strong booster of the community, he was a prominent local entrepreneur who owned, among other ventures, the Crag and Canyon newspaper, the King Edward Hotel (Banff’s first all-season hotel), the Lux Theatre, the King Edward Horse and Auto Livery and the Sign of the Goat Curio Shop. According to a 1939 Calgary Herald article, the idea came up during a brainstorming session between Luxton and his friend B. W. Collison in December 1916 regarding the best way to attract more tourists to Banff during the winter season, which was not a consistently busy time in the town. Given Luxton’s extensive local business investments, having the town bustling with tourists year-round was definitely in his interest.
A local committee led by Luxton persuaded the town to host a festival that would run from February 5-17, 1917. The list of events featured at the first carnival was impressive – it included a curling bonspiel, tobogganing, snowshoe races, men’s and ladies’ hockey matches, speed skating, “art skating,” trap shooting, pony ski races and swimming competitions in the hot springs. A large ice castle maze, built by internees and reputedly the first such castle built in Western Canada, was the centrepiece of the celebrations, especially during the fireworks on two evenings of the carnival. Brewster Hall hosted a grand ball on February 9 and a fancy dress ball on February 15, and this second event featured a crown awarded, “to the most popular lady attending the carnival.” The Carnival was such a success that it became an annual community event.Read more