Opened on July 1st, 1933, the Canadian Youth Hostel at Bragg Creek, Alberta stands as the earliest such facility in North America. Offering an affordable place to stay for traveling young people, the hostel’s success initiated the creation of a network of such facilities during the Great Depression and served as an example for the establishment of similar institutions in other regions of Canada. This institution reflected the energy and drive of Mary and Catherine Barclay, who were the pioneers in the youth hostelling movement in Canada. Finally, this founding camp represents the beginning of the Canadian Youth Hostels Association and Canadians’ involvement in the international youth hostelling movement.
More on the history of hostelling from the Glenbow Museum http://www.glenbow.org/collections/search/findingAids/archhtm/hostelling.cfm
Inspired by western European camps dating to the years following the First World War, the Bragg Creek youth hostel encouraged young people to travel in rural areas, imbibing the glories of nature and engaging in the kinds of vigorous physical activities which, many contemporaries believed, would improve the nation’s youth both morally and physically. Such facilities offered safe and inexpensive overnight accommodations to people in their teens and early 20s who were keen to explore Canada’s natural wilderness.
The Barclay sisters were well positioned to introduce hostelling to Canada. Resident of Calgary, they had connections with the British hostelling movement and, working virtually alone, they initiated the hostelling movement in Canada with the Bragg Creek camp. This primitive pioneering facility – a donated canvass tent measuring 12 feet by 14 feet, and a horse and a Model T Ford for transportation – was expanded by the construction of a frame cabin on land donated by Tom Fullerton the following season. The idea of inexpensive rural camps for Canada’s youth took hold during the Great Depression. The Canadian Youth Hostels Association was formed in 1934 and, inspired by the Bragg Creek example, hostels were established in various rural locales across the country, especially in the National Parks.
The nature of the hostelling experience has changed dramatically over time. Largely in response to Canada’s centennial celebrations in 1967, hostels were increasingly established in urban locales and were opened to people of all ages. Yet the spirit of the hostelling movement remains largely as the Barclays defined it in 1934, “to enable youth to find wholesome companionship … traveling inexpensively, and acquiring a knowledge of their neighbour’s land and customs…” Though the scope and nature of hostelling have changed somewhat from the Barclays’ founding vision, our system of hostels rests on the visionary foundations embodied in the Bragg Creek Youth Hostel.
There were three hostels in Bragg Creek
The first Youth Hostel opened in Germany in 1909. In 1933 Mary Barclay got permission from Ida White, owner of the Wake Siah Lodge on the shore of the Elbow River in Bragg Creek, to set up the first Youth Hostel in North America. The Barclay sisters, Mary and Catherine, borrowed a 3.6 x 4.3 metre canvas tent, furnished it with apple crates and established the first Youth Hostel in a clearing near the lodge. Sixty-four guests paid 25 cents each per night to stay at the hostel that first year.
The following year the sisters went looking for a more secluded location and found it on Tom Fullerton’s “Last Break Ranch” about 3 km north of Bragg Creek (now the road to Wintergreen). It took a couple of years to dismantle and rebuild the hostel. Joe Clitheroe helped move and upgrade the hostel, building a stone fireplace to keep it warm and cozy. Tom Fullerton blazed trails for the young people so they could hike to Priddis and Jumping Pound. That hostel had a large dining room and two bedrooms. Tom and his wife Lilly became the house parents for the hostel. That era of hostelling in Bragg Creek came to an end around 1947.
Quite a few years passed before the third and final hostel opened inside the area now known as the West Bragg Creek area of Kananaskis. It only lasted a few years before it was destroyed by fire in 1984. It was located about 1 km west of the cattle guard. Access to the site is along the old hostel road that begins just inside the gate or up the east end of the snowshoe trail from the day use area. The foundation of the hostel can still be seen at the eastern end of a large field which now has the snowshoe trail on it. Guests at the hostel got a great view of Moose Mountain from the front porch. There is a cycling/skiing trail in the area known as the Hostel Loop.
Don Gardiner was instrumental in developing the trails in the West Bragg Creek area of Kananaskis. He recalls that the last hostel was a two storey, wood frame construction.
The Hostel Loop Trail
This foundation is all that is left of the third hostel. This one was built inside Kananaskis. It burned in a fire in 1984.
This is part of the Hostel Loop Trail in the West Bragg Creek Area of Kananaskis.