From working in finance on Toronto’s busy Bay Street to becoming CEO of Banff and Lake Louise Tourism and eventually owning and operating Banff Trail Riders, the original and largest horseback outfit in Banff National Park, Julie Canning is both a leader in the tourism industry and an advocate for living the mountain life.
Q: What made you want to move to Banff?
A: It was all about a boy. Dave and I went to university together in the 1980s. He applied to med school and didn’t get in, so he came out here to ski for six months and figure out what he wanted to do with his life. I was living in Toronto at the time, working in finance on Bay Street. We dated across the country for a while and decided someone had to move or we were done. We went through a process of pros and cons about moving out west or settling in Toronto. Finally, we flipped a coin and I lost. So I quit my job and moved to Banff.
Q. What was your first impression of the mountains?
A. My first impression when I came to Banff was the people I met who worked at the ski hills. They were ski patrollers, first responders, and avalanche specialists. These people were beyond cool. They had the coolest sunglasses, the coolest gear, and my first thought was I wasn’t cool enough to be here. They inspired everything that was the mountain lifestyle.
Q. What’s so unique about the mountain lifestyle in Banff?
A. Within the National Park, we’re a bit different. The backcountry is a special place because there are no motorized vehicles. There are great places for those elsewhere, but here in Banff, the pristine authenticity of the backcountry is still intact. We ride horses along the same trails we’ve used for over a century. There’s no better place to ride a horse.
Banff also has a strong sense of place for women in the backcountry. This has always been a place that inspires great women. We see young women coming out of this community who go on to be great leaders in so many different fronts. We underestimate how encouraging, inspiring, and fostering this place can be for women.
Q. What’s your favourite part about living in Banff?
A. Definitely our community. We have an amazing group of friends, and we share a phenomenal quality of life. We are very privileged to live in a National Park. Our friends are close and our lifestyles are beautiful.
People underestimate how tight our community is. Everyone who lives here also works here. When we face adversity, the ability of this community to come together is inspiring. Covid has shown our ability to share that strength. We’re one big family. We always have each other’s backs.
We also have the unique opportunity to be inspired by seasonal workers. Every season we get to see this place through the lens of young people seeing the mountains for the first time. It reminds us how lucky we are to live here.
Q. Do you have any advice for people looking to move to the mountains?
A. Lots of people talk about wanting to move out here, but it’s not a lifestyle for everybody. There are people who love the creature comforts of the city. If that’s where your happy place is, that’s great. There is a unique lifestyle and sense of place here. You need to love that sense of place to find your way into this community. We will never be a city. Banff is unique that way. Living in the National Park is a privilege, and it comes with a sense of responsibility. You need to connect to the place and community in the greatest sense.