The listing: 301 Buffalo Street, Banff, Alta.
Asking Price: $5,911,000
Taxes: $15,740.00 (2019)
Lot Size: 0.37 acres
Agents: Christopher Vincent and Laura Wright, Sotheby’s International Realty Canada
The back story
Thomas Wilson was an explorer and mountain guide when he set up his backcountry outfitting business in Banff, Alta., in the late 1800s.
According to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Mr. Wilson’s trailblazing took him to places that were known only to the area’s Indigenous peoples. One was a glacial lake called Lake of the Little Fishes by the Stoney Nakoda First Nation. When Mr. Wilson’s native guide led him through the bush to its shores, he was credited with being the first white explorer to see the natural wonder known today as Lake Louise.
Mr. Wilson’s work for Canadian Pacific Railway added to his legendary status when he guided the surveyors and engineers seeking a route through the mountains.
The railway opened up the west to visitors and soon Banff was a burgeoning resort town for Victorian-era travellers keen to hunt, fish and climb the peaks of the Rocky Mountains. Mr. Wilson outfitted them for their adventures and built a homestead on the banks of the Bow River.
Today, that homestead is known as 301 Buffalo Street and sits about 25 metres from central Banff Avenue.
Real estate agent Christopher Vincent of Sotheby’s International Realty Canada says Mr. Wilson owned the existing 0.37-acre parcel and perhaps a bit more of the surrounding land. He may have kept one or two horses close to home, but the stables were on the edge of town.
Mr. Wilson’s first dwelling was likely a log cabin that became worn down over the years, Mr. Vincent says.
“Most of them weren’t built to last.”
In 1946, the American architect John Carl Warnecke designed a new residence at 301 Buffalo Street. John Carl Warnecke & Associates is known for many notable buildings in the United States, but the architect’s most famous commission was the grave site of John F. Kennedy at Arlington National Cemetery.
Mr. Warnecke embraced the architectural theory of contextualism, which aims to harmonize a building with its setting.
The Banff residence has been expanded over the years, but it is still centred on Mr. Warnecke’s mid-20th-century design.
The house today
The house designed by Mr. Warnecke has changed over the years, but heritage conservation rules in Banff have protected the exterior.
“The town considers it a bit of an architectural treasure,” Mr. Vincent says.
As a result, the stone and cedar facades – along with the cedar shingle roof with sloping dormers – on the exterior of the main house have changed little in appearance since Mr. Warnecke designed them in the 1940s.
Owners Michael and Erla Laurie extensively renovated the interior between 2013 and 2017. In 2000, a previous owner had added the three-car garage with living space above, so the Lauries also added a connection between the garage and the main house.
Today, the house has six bedrooms and six bathrooms in more than 8,000 square feet of living space.
The Lauries say there was ample space in the house when they purchased it, but the layout did not work for their family. They relocated the kitchen, juice bar and dining area so that they could have mountain and river views from the rooms where they spend the most time entertaining.
They also took down walls to create a more open plan.
Today, the focal point of the kitchen is a La Cornue range imported from France. The kitchen has two islands topped with stone.
The dining area has a wall of Onyx, which also shows up in other areas of the home.
The great room leads to a large stone patio with a fire pit.
The master suite has a bedroom with gas fireplace, a dressing room, coffee bar and a bathroom with stand-alone tub. The bathroom windows provide views of Cascade Mountain.
The lower level has a media room, a gym and a golf-simulator room.
The couple says they were drawn to the house for its setting and the fence built of stone quarried from Mount Rundle. From various locations on the property they can see Mount Rundle and three other landmark mountains nearby.
Mr. Vincent says the closest ski resort is Mount Norquay, which is a short drive away.
“You could be ‘boots on’ in 12 minutes.”
The home’s garages and storage areas have ample space for skis and mountain bikes, he says.
Bike paths and walking paths criss-cross the region, he says, and canoeing and paddle boarding are also popular.
“You’re not going to come to the mountains without your toys.”
One significant difference between Banff and other locations in Alberta is that the resort town sits inside Banff National Park.
As a result, every property is a leasehold property and leases are renewed every 42 years.
Mr. Vincent says there are intricacies to this type of ownership, such as rules governing where and how people can build. The footprint of the town cannot expand any further, according to the regulations, so new development will bring increased density.
“It’s Canada’s first national park. We’re trying to keep it wild,” Mr. Vincent says.
Another quirk is a requirement called the “need to reside," which is a rule designed to keep Banff from becoming a community of vacation homes.
According to Parks Canada, two of the ways buyers can become eligible are by working or owning a business in the park. In the case of a business owner, his or her presence must be necessary for the daily operations of the business.
If a retired person wants to purchase property, he or she must have worked or operated a business in Banff National Park for five years before retirement.
Mr. Vincent says the rules do deter some buyers because those who live far away can’t meet the residency requirement.
“We typically don’t see international buyers.”
“If you already live in Banff that’s not a concern,” he says. “Local people are certainly looking at it,” he says of 301 Buffalo.
Mr. Vincent says the regulations mean that prices for comparable properties tend to be slightly lower in Banff than in nearby Canmore, where traditional property ownership is the norm.
“It may not be for everybody,” he says.
The best feature
From the back gate, residents at 301 Buffalo can step onto a foot path that runs alongside the river to Bow Falls.
“When you’re in the backyard, you would not know you’re in town,” Mr. Vincent says. “It’s a total oasis.”
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