Monday, August 14
The Banff legend, Wild Bill Peyto.
The Banff legend, Wild Bill Peyto.
Over the years, there have been many colorful characters who’ve left weaved their personas into the tapestry of Banff. Like any town, the legends of Banff are imprinted in the DNA of our community. Their name synonymous with adventure in the Canadian Rockies. Of Banff’s legend none are as Famous as (Wild) Bill Peyto.
Upon first step onto the streets of Banff, you'll quickly realize that there's one name that seems to repeat through the town's history louder than any other — That name “Wild Bill” Peyto.
Bill Peyto—The Early Years
Born in England in 1869, Ebenezer Bill Peyto longed for rugged freedom—one that his homeland could not offer. In 1887, at only 18 years of age, he embarked on a daring adventure that led him to the heart of the Canadian Rockies. He left behind the familiar streets of Welling and embraced the untamed spirit of 19th century Canada.
From Laying Rails to Climbing Peaks
Peyto's early days in what is Canada were spent working on the transcontinental railways. He was a labourer who assisted in laying the tracks that connected Eastern Canada to the Pacific Ocean. His work on transcontinental railway, laid the very tracks that cement his legacy. As the railroad steamed through the Canadian Rockies, Bill Peyto found himself bewitched by the rocky peaks. On arriving in what is now Banff National Park, Bill Peyto resigned from the railway project and set up camp in the mountains. By the mid-1890s, Peyto built himself a small log cabin near the banks of the Bow River near Banff. This rustic outpost became his home base for his outfitting and trapping endeavors.
Rise of the Guide
Hungry for adventure, Bill Peyto acquainted himself with of Tom Wilson, another key player in Banff's history. Peyto’s zest for exploring the mountain ranges, inspired Wilson to take on the young labourer as a mentee. Under Wilson's wing, Peyto honed his skills as a guide. Peyto learned to lead expeditions in challenging terrain to remote areas like Mount Assiniboine. When leading expedition, Peyto would often bring travellers up through Sunshine Meadows and he was one of the first to recognize its rare beauty. As a guide, Peyto’s reputation spread like wildfire among outdoorsmen and high-status travelers. Adventure hungry travellers flock from around the world to explore the rugged terrain of Canada’s Mountain Parks with the one and only “Wild Bill.”
To locals and visitors alike, Peyto was as much a legend as he was a man. Described vividly as a character straight from an old western film, Peyto wardrobe emboldened his persona. Always dress for the occasion, Peyto was never without his signature sombrero, white kerchief (often doubling as a napkin), and his fringed buckskin coat.
In 1913, at age 44, Peyto's took on the role of the very first park warden for Banff National Park. In his new role, Banff’s wild became more than his playground. With his promotion, the wild playground he built his life in, became his responsibility to protect, preserve, and educate the world on Canada’s Mountains. Peyto believed that mountain parks should be protected so all Canadian can enjoy them.
The stories of the Wild Bill
When it comes to stories of Peyto, there’s no shortage to be found. His nickname “Wild Bill” refers to doughty spirit. He was brave, persistent, and to many fearless. It said, Peyto raised cougar kittens to maturity and that on more than one occasion he brought the “kittens” with him to the bar so he could enjoy a drink in peace.
Legacy Beyond Time
As the years went by Peyto's story evolved. He navigated love and loss, being widowed twice, and was a father to one son. After 34 years as serving Banff as Park Warden Peyto hung up his boots and retired in 1937, marking the closing of an extraordinary chapter.
In 1943, Wild Bill Peyto passed away, at 74 years of age.
The spirit of Peyto is alive and well through out Banff National Park. His friendly ghost is said to wander the mountains he so loved assisting adventures in need. In Banff Peyto’s story lives on - from Peyto Lake's mesmerizing blue waters to Peyto Glacier that feeds it, and of course the iconic welcome to Banff Peyto sign that we sadly lost this year in a forest fire. Wild Bill Peyto will always be a part of Banff. He, like so many that find themselves in Banff, was a man who defied convention and embraced the untamed wilderness with open arms.
To learn more about the Wild Bill Peyto, and Banff’s incredible history, take the time to visit the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, located on Bear Street in Banff.