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Rise and Fall of the Hippie Camps: Making Room for Counterculture Youths in Banff and Jasper National Parks, 1960-1975

Thu, April 11, 10:30am to 12:00pm, Hyatt Regency Columbus, Champaign


This paper examines the rise and fall of illicit camping in the forest fringes of Banff and Jasper, and the responses of park officials, town residents, and tourists to contraventions of park policy and accepted camping norms.
Banff and Jasper National Parks are the ‘crown jewels’ of Canada’s national park system, and have long been perceived as pristine mountain wilderness. Inside them, the forests immediately surrounding the tourist towns of Banff and Jasper were managed as a scenic and recreational transitional zone between townsites and backcountry areas. These forest fringes saw infrastructure developments including hiking and riding trails, but were rarely used as dwelling places, except at officially designated campgrounds.
That pattern began changing in the mid 1960s, as a growing number of youths took to the trees for temporary and, in a few cases, long-term shelter. Initially, carving out illicit campsites was a way that young seasonal workers in the tourism industry responded to high rent and housing shortages. Later, the growing popularity of hitchhiking drew a larger influx of Canadian and American counterculture youths, who were looking more to “make the scene” than to make money for tuition. Park officials responded to the proliferation of illicit backwoods encampments with evictions and prosecutions. The headline-grabbing disruption of ‘hippie sex camps’ in 1969 led Parks Canada to establish new, segregated campgrounds especially for counterculture youths: Echo Creek (Banff) and the Free Camp (Jasper). They were separated from the townsites and did reduce fire hazards and some social tensions, but were nevertheless associated with ‘freaky behaviour’ that drew the wrath of merchants, journalists, the courts, and concerned citizens. With the towns’ reputation as Canada’s premier tourist destinations perceived to be at risk, community sentiment turned against these ‘official’ hippie camps and they were closed during the 1970s.