You could drive past Canmore many times -- indeed, you could pull off the freeway and drive down the hotel- and mall-laden Bow Valley Trail -- and think you've seen all the town has to offer. In fact, the booming modern development that you'll glimpse from the freeway started before the 1988 Olympics, when Canmore was the center for cross-country ski competition. The pace of development has greatly quickened in the last decade, as Canmore has become a retirement mecca, and vast subdivisions now rise from the slopes of the Bow Valley just outside the gates to Banff National Park. A little less than an hour from Calgary, Canmore is also starting to swell as a bedroom community for the city to the east -- a fact that would have seemed ludicrous just a decade ago, but is now a fast-developing reality here, where, thanks to the oil industry, money seems to grow from trees. In fact, there's a kind of perverse pleasure to the long commute, burning the gasoline that is the foundation of the province's vast wealth -- enhanced, of course, by some of the most spectacular scenery that can be found. You're not likely to find more beautifully situated suburbs anywhere on earth.
For all the booming, Canmore's old town center has been largely bypassed by this kind of "progress" and is pleasant to explore. Canmore has actually been around since the 1880s, when it was the headquarters for the coal mines that fueled the Canadian Pacific Railroad's transcontinental trains as they climbed up over the Rockies. The old downtown area is on an island in the Bow River, and is reached by turning onto Main Street off Railway Avenue. Downtown is undeveloped by Banff standards, but three pleasant, pedestrian-friendly blocks are lined with shops, brewpubs, restaurants, and boutiques.
The Canmore Museum, at Seventh Avenue and Ninth Street (tel. 403/678-2462), tells the story of the community from its days as a coal-mining camp to its pinnacle as Olympic host.