A Unique Place To Live For Many Reasons
Lake Louise is the highest community in Canada. The village sits at an elevation of 1540 meters or 5052 feet and the lake where we live is at 1731 meters or 5680 feet. Considering we moved from sea level on Vancouver Island, this had a profound effect on us when we first arrived. A short flight of stairs or slight incline was enough to have us short of breath and our hearts racing. After being here for 3 months we still do not feel completely adjusted to the altitude.
Other aspects of Lake Louise make it a unique place to live. First of all it is a community that exists within a provincial park. Not just anyone can live in Lake Louise, a need to reside has to be proven. Basically you have to work in the park to live here.
There are very few amenities in Lake Louise. There are not stores you can just run out to when you need to pick something up. We do not have Walmart or even a grocery store to go to. Samson mall is a small strip mall in the village. Funny enough as little as Lake Louise has, there is a liquor store. The mall has a small bakery that makes it’s own cookies and pastries. There is Trailhead cafe where you can get tasty wraps and other lunch and breakfast items. The market has most essential items you might need in a pinch like milk, bread, soup, etc; but it is very expensive and does not have a huge variety. Wilson’s Sports has everything needed for outdoor activities year round, whether it is for skiing, snowshoeing or summer hiking.
Other businesses of Lake Louise include Deer Lodge, Lake Louise Inn, The Post Hotel, Alpine Hostel and of course the Lake Louise Ski Hill.
A lot of the staff that work at the Fairmont hotel do not have a car. The village is 4 km’s down a very steep grade. So that means a long walk down and back up or a taxi just to get to the few shops that are in the village. To do any proper grocery shopping it is either a 40 minute trip into Banff or an hour drive to Canmore. For big ticket items the closest place is two hours away in Calgary.
The mall also has the Depot. It is a hub of services, including the Greyhound bus depot, the Brewster bus depot, an internet cafe, the post office and National Car rental agency for Lake Louise. There are a few other shops that cater to tourists with all kinds of the usual nick knacks and postcards. I was working at the Depot when I first arrived, but I found I was was feeling very left out of any of the social aspects of the hotel. I switched to a job at the Fairmont stores within the hotel. I was much happier that I didn’t have to drive to work. Even though it was just a short 4km’s it was a big effort in the winter. I spent more time warming up the van and scraping the windows off than it was worth. I enjoyed working at the hotel and getting to know the people up there. I liked being back in retail again and the view I get from my store isn’t too shabby either!
What is the one thing people would probably go crazy for in Lake Louise, a good old Tim Horton’s! Strangely enough, we do have two gas stations. There is a doctor’s office that offers a variety of medical care. They can even courier prescriptions in from Banff for a small fee.
Overall there is everything in and around Lake Louise to get by. The scenery is absolutely stunning year round. It’s just a matter of how much you enjoy or can tolerate the isolation of Lake Louise and the lack of amenities compared to what other places have.
Due to the isolation, lack of amenities, cold climate and long winters, Lake Louise is a place of transient workers. The most typical situation is someone coming here to stay for either the summer or winter season and then moving on. Some people stay 6 months or maybe a year or two, but the majority leave sooner than later. There is a small established community of people that have lived here for ten, twenty or even over twenty five years. Most of them are business owners or work for Parks Canada.
We are quite a bit older than the average twenty year old worker here. If you are not into the bar scene and partying then it seems to be a bit more difficult to meet people. Some of the older crowd are the more established residents in the community, they can be apprehensive to get to know you. I think most feel what’s the point if you are not going to be around for more than a few months.
Nonetheless we did make some close friends, but then it’s very sad to see them leave. It is worth taking the time to connect with people. The workers here are from all over the world. It’s an excellent opportunity to learn about different cultures or even pick up some vocabulary of a new language. What better way to make some world wide connections for future travel.
Our Apartment In The Chateau Staff Residences
The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is where we live. Not in the hotel, but only a stone’s throw away from it on the same property. We were amazed at the size and number of staff residences here. There are typically between 600 to 800 staff employed in the winter and can be over a thousand in the summer. That is just at the Chateau. There are a number of other hotels and resorts in the area as well as the ski hill. The buildings that make up the staff accommodation resemble a small sub division.
We live in Victoria Manor. It looks like your basic apartment building. There are bachelor, one, two and three bedroom units. We have two bedrooms, and two bathrooms, and an in suite storage room and our own in suite laundry. There are laundry facilities in the basement of our building for those without their own machines. We haven’t bought one yet, but we have the hook up for a dishwasher as well.
Our unit was in a pretty dismal condition when we arrived. The constant change of tenants moving in and out takes it’s toll on a place. The walls were full of dirt, holes, scrapes and dings. The bedroom door had a hole punched through it. This comes as no surprise. During Jack’s work orientation for the hotel they were talking about how the staff need to have more respect for their accommodation. The speaker asked anyone who had a door with a hole punched through to raise their hand. Jack was just one among many with their hands in the air!
The carpet was supposed to have been cleaned prior to our arrival. We are still vacuuming dirt out of it. We’re trying to work on borrowing the carpet cleaner to do it again ourselves. Jack spent a great deal of time patching and sanding the walls. We painted them a light brown colour with a bit darker brown trims and doors. It just never ceases to amaze us how much improvement paint can make. Getting rid of the dark red walls in the living room made a dramatic difference. It was too small of a space and not enough light to have such dark colours. Now that we have our belongings in place and have started to put up some pictures and things it is starting to look like home. The views out of our front room window are pretty nice. We especially love it when there are bright blue skies and the snow is glistening.
There are a lot of shared accommodations through out the other buildings. Some have dorm style bedrooms (two beds to a room I believe) with a common kitchen and bathroom, others have private bedrooms and shared common areas. All the units with the exception of our building are equipped with basic furnishings. They have kitchen tables, couches, chairs, beds and dressers, a fridge and stove. Jack accepting the job here was conditional upon having our own private accommodation. We’re a little beyond dorm style living at this stage of our lives.
Activities And Events For Staff At The Chateau
There is a colleague services building near the residences. It houses a gym, internet cafe, and a take out restaurant that has good pizza, quesadillas, etc. There is a staff bar as well. This building also houses the staff uniform dry cleaning, the laundry mat and housing administration office.
The Chateau has different activities to help keep the employees entertained. Every Tuesday is movie night. The newest release DVD is shown on a projector with a large surround sound system. There is no charge and you even get free popcorn. There are trips into Banff, Canmore and Calgary for those that do not have a vehicle.
In the summer there are outdoor activities held such as barbeque’s. There were a few bbq’s during this summer where they had live entertainment or a local DJ. There are other activities such as hiking trips, white water rafting and Edmonton Mall getaways. All the events are courtesy of the lifestyles program for the staff. Through it you can sign up for yoga classes and other activities.
There is also a staff bar attached to colleague services. The bar has many different events from themed parties, prize raffles, hockey nights and holiday dances. They are currently working on permits from Park Canada to put an outside patio for the bar and to use for summer events.
A special staff event was held for Earth Day. There was a bonfire lit near the colleague services building. All the fixings to make smores were provided. It was interesting to see how some of the staff from other countries reacted to making smores. They had never heard of them. They turned out to be a hit with everyone. For those you might not know what a smore is, first you roast a marshmallow until it is golden brown and really soft and gooey inside. Then you place the marshmallow and pieces of chocolate in between two graham crackers (flat square cookies) push it all together to allow the marshmallow to melt the chocolate. It’s delicious!
While we were all stuffing our faces with smores we got to watch a movie. They pulled up one of the big Fairmont delivery trucks and projected the movie on to the side of it. The movie they showed was one from the series Living Planet. It was a fun, but very cold evening. I think the temperature was around -15c. to -20C. that night.
The Bean is the staff cafeteria that is located within the hotel. All employees of the Chateau get one free duty meal in the Bean. You can buy other meals such as dinner and breakfast for a few dollars. They try to change up the food daily. There is usually some kind of soup, sometimes fish, burgers, pizza, pasta, different meats, veggies, potatoes and different types of casseroles. There is a least one vegetarian option each day as well. In addition to the hot meals there is a salad bar with a lot of different fixings.
Some days the food is better than others. If you talk to the staff you hear at least one story from everyone about having some kind of after effect from eating at the Bean. It could use some improvement for sure. For one thing it is always so hot in there, you practically sweat while you eat your meal.
My favorite days in the Bean are when they had theme meals, such as Chinese, Greek or Indian food. Whenever there was some kind of special event or opening of a new Fairmont they would do something in the Bean to commemorate it. Such as the opening of the new Boston Wharf Fairmont. They did a large cake and had Boston Clam chowder and Boston cream pie, yummy!
Fairmont Chateau Staff Holiday Party
The holiday party for the Chateau staff is held in the huge new Temple ballroom of the hotel. Some people got dressed to the nines. There was a large dinner buffet and a dessert table that went on for miles. Prizes were raffled off through out the night and everyone let loose on the dance floor. It was a fun evening.