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Canmore is Different Than 2005, But the Same

15 years in one of Canada's highest towns in the heart of the Bow Valley

When I moved here in April 2005, Canmore was different but very much the same as it is now. When I arrived, I parked my Chevy S-10 blue pickup truck behind the library, which at the time was located downtown behind the Sherwood House (now The Wood), with the intention of only staying for a few weeks.

I spent my first morning, before going climbing, sitting on the patio of the downtown Bagel Co. I watched spindrift on EEOR and Ha Ling and acquainted myself with the rock climbs in the area by looking at topos in Bow Valley Rock by Chris Perry. On my third cup of coffee, I noticed two skiers carving down the bowl below Miner’s Gully. They had hiked up Ha Ling for a spring lap down the classic ski line.

That night, my climbing partner and I went to the Grizzly Paw for a beer. It was almost closing time when a Bono-esque New Zealander with a pencil behind his ear tapped me on the should and said, “Have some coffee, I’ll pay you $30/hour to help me tile the washroom.” I worked all night, slightly buzzed, for Reon Sharp. No, I had never tiled before. I then helped Reon renovate the Paw patio for a month. I wasn’t climbing as much as I wanted to, but I was making a lot of money.

Reon introduced me to Joe Steele, who owned The Tile Works, and I started my two-year career as a tiler. I tiled mansions in Silver Tip during the day and climbed at night. My three-week Canmore trip turned into a permanent move. In 2005, if you weren’t working 60 hours/week for $25/hour, that meant you were hiding from the construction companies desperately looking for laborers. The town was overflowing with young climbers making big money doing jobs they weren’t trained for.

A few months after I moved here, Marra’s Grocery store on main street closed. “It’s not because we can’t make a living doing what we’re doing. We’re just tired of doing what we’re doing,” said Phil Marra. “There has to be more to life than working 60 to 70 hours a week,” added his father, Ron. “If you don’t get a monetary return for it, why bother?” The road it was on was renamed Marra’s Way.

Canmore isn’t booming like that anymore, especially with the coronavirus. Most of those tile, painting, framing and construction companies are gone. Young people who arrive in town now, come for restaurant and parks jobs. Nearly all of the keen climbers I met in 2005 have left town, and we might unfortunately see some businesses shutter their doors for good.

However, just the other day, if you walked downtown, coffee in hand, and looked up to the bowl below Miner’s Gully, you would’ve seen two skiers carving towards the trees with spindrift curling from the summit of Ha Ling. Canmore will always have ups and downs, but the people, stoke and mountain objectives will stay the same.  – First published in The Crag and Canyon here