With Banff shut down to outsiders, its tourism and visitor economy has been “decimated” according to local MLA Miranda Rosin who says the mountain town is experiencing up to an 85 per cent unemployment rate as businesses and people react to ordered closures and self-isolation directives.
“That entire economy has really crumbled in the last couple weeks,” said the provincial representative for Banff-Kananaskis.
“To not have any tourism or any visitors has completely decimated every business in town.”
But in the close-knit community, even hard-hit businesses are trying to help neighbours.
The Grizzly House, an iconic lodge-style building on Banff Avenue had to lay off 56 employees — many of them long-term staff — keeping just eight as the restaurant closed its doors.
The restaurant has been serving its famous fondue for more than 50 years and on March 17, general manager Francis Hopkins had to close the doors and say goodbye to staff.
“People raised families while working here,” said Hopkins.
Determined to make the best of a bad situation, the GM and owner went to the town to see how the Grizzly House and its fully functional but idle kitchen could help.
The Town of Banff provided Hopkins a list of 50 people, many of them seniors, who would benefit from a comfort food meal delivered every other day.
Sunday night’s supper included roasted pork with stuffing and apple sauce, mashed potatoes and glazed carrots.
Hopkins says they are feeling the love.
“It’s amazing for us, we feel almost selfish for how uplifting and positive it is,” says Hopkins.
Restaurants, ski hill, hotels and other businesses in Banff have laid off about 5,000 people, according to Leslie Bruce president and CEO of Banff Lake Louise Tourism.
The Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, one of the town’s largest employers, laid off 75 percent of its staff — 400 employees.
“This has had an unbelievable, unimaginable impact on people,” says Bruce.
With the community facing an economic shutdown people like Bruce are turning their minds to what a rebuild will look like.
Bruce says travel is a force for good connecting people and she feels strongly, it will come back. But the new culture around connection and physical contact could have long term effects on places like Banff.
“How do we rebuild trust, how do we feel safe to travel, how do we feel safe to share a meal or a cup of coffee again?” says Bruce.
“It’s not just going to be flipping a switch or turning the tap back on, we’re going to have to figure out what’s the best way to do this.”
‘Elk poop on every sidewalk’
Banff typically attracts about four million tourists a year.
Right now, without visitors and a population of less than 10,000 and orders to stay home, the community, according to Rosin is “completely desolate.”
“It looks like a ghost town.”
But there is an increase in some foot —or hoof — traffic.
The townsfolk say deer, elk and other wildlife are taking over Banff’s main streets.
“There’s elk poop on every sidewalk,” says Hopkins.
Hopkins says he fully intends to re-open the Grizzly House and hire back his staff.
“It’s not the right time for the people of Alberta to come here right now but we look forward to welcoming them back; we can’t wait for hem to come back when the time is right.”