Banff Hotel Watermelon-Ginger Fresca Elixir

Banff Hotel Watermelon-Ginger Fresca Elixir

Banff Springs.

The summer of 1966 was just a round the corner. The Beatles tunes were filling the air waves, high school was behind me and I got my driver’s license. At 16 I had already worked 10 years cooking alongside dad and at other part time positions. I was mostly a weekend banquet, breakfast and lunch cook. The Iroquois Hotel, Loft Pancake House, Knotty Pine, Moffat’s, The Kitchener Market were just a few of the places that I cooked as a junior. I was learning short order cooking and became well organized and efficient at cooking breakfast and lunch fare. I was making almost three bucks an hour and that was a lot of money for a 16 year old to make back then. I had saved enough money to go halves on a car with a friend. A 53 rusty red MG with a leaky roof and wire wheels. We worked on the car for weeks until it was fit for a trip. My friends were always talking about Calgary and the mountains and suggested that we take a trip and see the Calgary Stampede. Some of us had relatives living in Alberta that offered a place to stay.  Now any more encouragement and I would have walked to Calgary which actually happened.

I ran the trip by mom and dad and they were not as responsive as I thought they would be. My dad was really peeved that I was not going to help him at the market. Mom felt I was too young and should think about college first. I had be bitten by the travel bug so I packed a bag and started my summer journey to Calgary without their approval. I withdrew my savings and had five hundred dollars for the needed necessities and two hundred bucks for spending. I felt like a millionaire. We were just north of Sudbury when the engine quit and we coasted to a stop on the Trans Canada. The generator had burnt out and we were running off the battery for the last fifty miles. One hundred and fifty dollars later we on the road again. Lake Superior was just beautiful and there were many camp sites to catch some sleep. Sault Saint Marie, Thunder Bay, Kenora and on to Winnipeg. It was night time and raining pretty heavy when the old MG stuttered and stalled just outside Falcon Lake. The Fuel pump quit this time. Another hundred and twenty dollars and we were off again. Fred being a short fuse German was starting to get ticked off and was getting on my case. He started to get Negative about the car and with every new thud would want to pull over and take a look under the hood. The trip through Manitoba and Saskatchewan was long and arduous. The only saviour was those Husky House restaurants with the family fare they were dishing up to the truckers and road travelers. Hot beef, pork chops, meatloaf and breakfast items were practical and were a safe bet. The car needed a new Battery this time but a least we were at a garage when it wouldn’t start.

It took a day to get the right battery and other then flirting with waitresses we just hung around the station. The weather was top down beautiful as we made our way to Swift Current and the Alberta Border. Again the engine sputtered and stopped. We were twenty miles east of Medicine Hat, dead in our tracks. The wires were burning and the new battery connections melted along with about 3 feet of wire that went to the fuse box.I slammed the bonnet so hard the wind screen cracked and the mirror fell off. It was not a good sign. We pushed the car for a long distance until a farmer in a pickup helped rope tow us into the Medicine Hat . The mechanic who said it would be at least four hundred dollars to fix the car at first and then after taking it a part found more damage to the starter and generator which increased the price to six hundred fifty. I called my dad to ask for some money to get us going and his reply was you got into this mess on your own and said it was time to learn how to get out of the situation the same way.  I talked it over with the mechanic and he would accept the car as payment for work done thus far. I grabbed my bag and walked to the highway and stuck out my thumb and headed into Calgary on my own. I had hundred seventy seven dollars in my pocket and I decided that the stampede was to close by to pass up the chance to see it. I would look up my dad’s brother in Lloydminster. Sam was happy to hear from me. He said that he would come to get me if necessary and bring me back to the farm for a good visit. With a place to go too and reassurance that someone would help me out, I made my way to Calgary getting dropped off just outside the city limits. I walked down Seventeenth Avenue to the city centre and was glad to be there. The Stampede atmosphere was more exciting than I ever thought it to be. i was greeted with a free pancake breakfast and lots of carnival food made it a cheap day. I ran into  a friend whose dad was a grounds keeper for the Stampede and gave us some passes to the Indian Parade and the chuck wagon races. The horses and the costumes overwhelmed me with awe. That night I slept at the YMCA and next morning I decided to go to Banff to get a close up look of the Rockies before phoning my uncle. I hitch hiked out passed Happy Valley and went into Canmore. Wild animals all over the place and elk and deer everywhere.

The Mountains made me feel insecure and meek at first, but getting closer to those majestic peaks made me gasp aloud with amazement. I made my way to Banff and when I saw the Banff Springs Hotel in the distance I felt it was my calling to be here. While walking the main drag I met some guys from Kitchener. They offered me a place to stay for the night and I accepted. The next morning I went to the train station to stash my bag and find out when and how much it would cost for a ticket to Edmonton. I had enough money to have a meal at the Banff Hotel and went there for lunch. I walked around the manor and went for a dip in the mineral baths. Lunch was being served on the upper terrace patio looking out to the mountain peaks. A sign carved into rock read “The Mountains Shall Bring Peace”

Wow! I was blown away by the striking scenery. The whole area was so primitive and open compared to the fenced in city it has become today. I acted like a guest at the hotel and after paying twelve dollars for my burger lunch and checking out all the hotel had to offer started to make my way back to the train station and give my uncle a call.  As I was leaving the hotel a saw a bulletin board that said they were hiring breakfast cooks and I went to the office to apply. I filled out an application and the lady told me to take a seat and she would call the chef. The chef showed up almost instantly and went over my application. He was interested in my experience and when I told him my dad was a chef and that I had been brought up in a hotel kitchen he hired me on the spot for three dollars and fifty cents an hour. That was fifty cents more than I have ever got before. It made me smile ear to ear with no one around to tell my good fortune too. The chef also surprised me saying that lodging was included and meals were subsidised. My good fortune became more enticing as the person in charge of signing me in said that I would have to bunk in the female dorm until a spot became opened in the men’s. Thirty girls and I the only guy reinforced my feeling that being a chef was what I wanted to do. I started as a early morning breakfast cook and one of the brunch juices was made fresh daily.

Here is that recipe;

Watermelon-Ginger Fresca Elixir

1 watermelon 8/10 lb seeded, divided

3 cups cold spring water, divided

1/3 cup fresh lime juice

1/4 cup (or more) cane or turbinado sugar

1 1/2 tbsp fresh ginger juice (from one 3 oz piece of ginger)

Ice Cubes & Lime Wedges


To Make Ginger Juice: peel a 3 oz piece of ginger and grate it over a plate. Wrap in cheesecloth, twist at both ends to squeeze out the juice. Or put the grated ginger in a fine mesh sieve and press to release the juices.

Place 2 1/2 cups watermelon and 3/4 cup of cold spring water in blender. Puree until smooth. Pour into a large pitcher. Repeat 3 more times with remaining watermelons and cold water. Add lime juice, 1/4 cup sugar, ginger juice to pitcher and stir to blend. Add more sugar by tablespoonful, if desired.

Refrigerate until well chilled. [Can be made at least 8 hours ahead.]

Keep chilled. Stir before serving.

Fill glasses with ice cubes, pour Fresca Elixir over and garnish with  lime wedges and serve al fresco.


The Resort Kitchenman.