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I Found a Mysterious Sunken Boat in Banff

And the story of one of Banff's most famous hermits

Banff National Park’s history is full of trekkers, hikers, climbers, skiers, travellers and paddlers. There are dozens of popular lakes from Waterton north to Jasper, with a few of the most-visited found around the town of Banff.

I’ve written about some paddling adventures across Canada over the past year, including visits to a few lakes in Alberta’s mountains, and finding anything unnatural in a lake is rare. Whereas finding sunken boats, tires, shopping carts and even car bumpers in bodies of water in other parts of Canada is common.

That’s why my interest piqued when, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a very old sunken wooden boat under the water of Johnson Lake; an 18-hectare lake located about 11 kilometres from the town of Banff. I was killing some morning time until my climbing partner arrived for a session at Black Feather crag.

I had paddled past that shoreline a number of times, but only when the angle of the sun at around 7 a.m. illuminated the lake’s bottom did the obvious shape of a boat pop out. It appeared there’s only half of the boat, with decomposed sides, a flat hull, a few vertical frames and a bow. Not only that, but I couldn’t see anything boat-related anywhere nearby, just a lot of logs and branches.

I’m guessing it might be a skiff, a small flat-bottomed open boat with a pointed bow and a flat stern used by fishers or folks out for a day on the water. But where did it come from and how old is it?

People have been paddling around Banff for hundreds of years, but I doubt a boat more than a few decades old would still be in this condition. Johnson Lake is a human-made body of water, much like its neighbours Two Jack and Lake Minnewanka. Over the years, only a few mysterious figures have been associated with Johnson.

The mysterious sunken boat in Johnson Lake

One such person was Billy Carver, known as the Hermit of Inglismaldie, so named for Mount Inglismaldie, the second-tallest peak in the nearby Fairholm Range. He lived a recluse life in a small cabin that he built in 1910 near Johnson Lake, for nearly 30 years. Carver sometimes worked coal seams below Cascade Mountain, but other than that he was never seen.

Carver’s only friend was Gee Moy, owner of the Market Garden in the town of Anthracite, who’d often bring supplies to his cabin. In 1937, locals found Carver dying in his cabin and help brought him to town, where he later died. More than once, hikers have reported seeing Carver’s coast at his cabin, which still stands near Johnson Lake.

The sunken boat was only a few hundred feet from Carver’s now protected 111-year-old shelter. Could it have been his? I’m going to dig for answers over the next few weeks and hopefully find some answers as to whose boat sunk, when and why?

If you have any information about the sunken boat, please let me know at brandon at gripped dot com.

Billy Carver’s 1910 cabin in Banff National Park