Jasper's earliest incarnation, in the 1840s, sounded less than inviting. It was described by a visiting painter as "composed of two rooms of about 14 and 15 feet square. One of them is used by all comers and goers, Indians, voyageurs and traders, men, women, and children being huddled together indiscriminately."
An inauspicious beginning. But that's hardly the Jasper of today. Established as a park in 1907, in the intervening 170 years, Jasper has expanded from such humble beginnings to become Canada's largest mountain park, with crowds flocking there for its hiking, biking, climbing, horseback riding, and rafting. Visitors will also be able to find shopping and fine dining in Jasper, but such urbane attractions are not the focus, as in Banff; Jasper's tourists seem more interested in what lies outside of town than what's in it. The result is a charming alpine village with a few fancy frills, but nothing approaching the commercial theme park vibe that has befallen Banff. For more information on the park's attractions, contact Jasper National Park (P.O. Box 10, Jasper, AB T0E 1E0; tel. 780/852-6176; www.pc.gc.ca).
Jasper Towmsite -- Born as a railroad division point, Jasper Townsite lacks its southern neighbor's fame, but locals -- and many tourists -- prefer its unpretentious air and smaller, outdoor sports-crazy crowd. Compared to Banff's amusement-park idea of alpine adventure, Jasper provides an authentic, friendly atmosphere that is refreshingly rough around the edges. Although new development can be seen on boutique strips such as Patricia Street, with shopping malls and nightspots jostling for space, Jasper retains its small-town, lived-in charm: You can sense that real people live here.