The story goes that in 1889 a rockslide temporarily blocked the rail line, leaving passengers stranded at Banff. To keep the passengers entertained, the railway hired the nearby Stoney Indians to dance for them. The event was so successful that it was repeated every year thereafter.
This story is probably apocryphal: sometimes the date is given as 1887, sometimes 1894, and there is no real record of an Indian Days event until the early 1900s. Today, the annual festival, which ended in the late 1970s, is looked down upon by some as affirming cultural stereotypes. But from about 1902 to 1978 it brought people from all over the world and put some money in the pockets of impoverished natives.
The event included dances, archery competitions, tugs-of-war, craft demonstrations, and other activities among the Stoney tribespeople. Indian Days may have helped inspire the Great Northern’s Ralph Budd to convene the Indian Congresses associated with his historical expeditions in 1925 and 1926. Certainly, Budd must have known that the artist who did the above poster for the 1920 Indian Days and the below poster for the 1930 Indian Days was W. Langdon Kihn, who had studied under Winold Reiss and some of whose paintings of Blackfeet Indians had been issued by the Great Northern in a portfolio together with some of Reiss’ paintings.
The menu itself, which was used aboard the Mountaineer, offers seven entrées with table d’hôte meals, including salmon, sirloin steak, prime ribs, chicken-and-ham pie, lamb fricassee, asparagus omelet, and “assorted cold meats, mustard pickles.” Another eight or nine entrées were offered on the a la carte side. While a baked salmon alone was $1.20 and a baked salmon dinner was $2.60, the sirloin steak dinner was $4.25. Multiply by 7 to get today’s prices.