Parks Canada Bison Plan


History > Bison in North America > Bison in Banff

Wild plains bison (also called buffalo) are a natural part of the Banff National Park ecosystem. Unfortunately they were wiped out in the 19th century when almost all plains bison were rendered extinct.

Here is a brief outline of the long association of plains bison with Banff and the Bow Valley:

When excavations were untertaken for the Whyte Museum in Banff, in the 1960s, a large bison skull was found buried in the soil. Similarly, when excavations were undertaken for the Bison Courtyard on Bear Street in the 2000s a bison skull dating from 4,000 years ago was found.

Reverand George MacDougall was invited by the Stoney people to build a mission in Bow Valley and he determined to build it at Morley because of the presence of bison and rich pasture.

Learn more in the gallery section...

Alloway and Mackay captured wild bison calves during hunts in Saskatchewan that evolved into a herd kept in Manitoba that ultimately became owned by Donald Smith, Lord Strathcona. Some of these bison would find their way to Banff in 1898.

Professor C. A. Kenaston spotted the trail of the last wild bison in South Saskatchewan watershed (the Bow is part of the South Saskatchewan) at the "elbow of the South Saskatchewan" (source Hornaday W.T. 1889 (reprinted 2002), The Extermination of the American Bison, Smithsonian Washington, DC, p.504 2)

Banff National Parks begins

Rocky Mountains National Park (Banff Park) Superintendent Howard Douglas fenced in 500 acres of Banff Park as "buffalo park" to receive a gift from Toronto laywer T.G. Blackstock of three formerly wild bison purchased from a remnant population held in Texas. Three months later Donald Smith shipped thirteen bison from the Alloway and Mackay herd to Banff which includes the great Sir Donald, the largest and oldest bull surviving from the wild herds (source W.F. Lothian, 1979, "Sir Donald, Last of the Canadian Wild Buffalo", Intercom, Indian and Northern Affairs, Hull, Quebec).

Rocky Mountains National Park (now called Banff National Park) Superindendent Howard Douglas asked Norman Luxton of Banff to help him buy for Canada the Pablo Buffalo Herd of Rivalli, Montana. The Pablo Herd started from a few calves and had been bred up to become the largest surviving plains bison herd. Luxton travelled from Banff to Winnipeg to persuade Minister of the Interior Frank Oliver who was receptive to the idea and the purchase was made. Douglas and Luxton participated in the great buffalo roundup which took six years. Ultimately, 708 buffalo were shipped to Canada, mostly to Elk Island National Park, Alberta and some would come to Banff in 1911. (Source Luxton, N.K., 1912 "The Pablo Buffalo Herd" in Eleanor G. Luxton 1974 Banff: Canada's First National Park, Summerthought, Banff).

Sir Donald dies in the Banff "buffalo park".

Thirty three Pablo Herd bison come to Banff's "buffalo park" also known as the Buffalo Paddock (source Luxton, 1912).

A bison bull escaped from Banff's Buffalo Paddock and resisted all attempts to round him up. He successfully wintered in Banff's Bow Valley in and around Hillsdale Meadows before voluntarily returning to the buffalo paddock in search of females in spring.

See his picture in our gallery section...

Banff Bow Valley study recognizes that the fence around the Buffalo Paddock combined with other recent developments in and around the Town of Banff formed a serious impediment to the movement of non-captive wildlife in the Banff Bow Valley.

Banff National Park Management Plan provided that the Buffalo Paddock fence and captive herd be removed but also stated that the release of wild bison into the park should be studied.

Canada National Parks Act calls for the restoration of the ecological integrity which includes native species and processes like grazing by bison.

Banff Park Management Plan review draft contemplated re-establishment of a wild buffalo herd in Banff National Park.

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(March) IUCN the World Conservation Union, issued scientific report on the ecology and history of bison in North America and the Canadian release is accompanied by a call to reintroduce wild bison to Banff National Park.

Read the full report...

125th Anniversary of Banff National Park

History is in the making as Parks Canada and the Bow Valley community responds favourably to the Eleanor Luxton Proposal and the Bison Belong Campaign.

MOU between Parks Canada and Bison Belong results in a display at Cascade Ponds depicting the silhouettes of bison, a symbol of the pending return of bison to Banff National Park.

The Honourable Peter Kent, Canada's Environment Minister and Minister responsible for Parks Canada announced, Friday January 27, 2012, the beginning of public consultation on the reintroduction of Plains Bison to Banff National Park.

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